It seems like only yesterday that Arsenal beat Leyton Orient 5-0 in their FA Cup fifth round replay, but it's back to action for them again today. At this time of the season all of Arsenal's games are must win, as they are still challenging for three trophies. Unfortunately their chances of an unprecedented quadruple are over after their Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City last Sunday at Wembley. Arsene Wenger picked 10 different players in the Wednesday night victory over Orient, and he is bound to make quite a few changes today too.
The team will be far from full strength though, as Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song have not recovered from their injuries in time to play today. They will join Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott in the stands today, as well as Thomas Vermaelen who has not played for Arsenal since August. The last injury report I heard on Vermaelen said he should be playing for the reserves by now, but he still has not made an appearance. The reserves have a game away to Newcastle next Wednesday night, and if he doesn't get a few minutes in that game I think it can be taken that he has fallen even further behind schedule with his recovery.
The boss just has to play his strongest team today, as the chance to close the gap on the league leaders is too good to miss. If Arsenal can win today they will be one point behind "Manure", and both teams will have 10 games left. "Manure" then travel to Anfield tomorrow to play Liverpool in a game that is always very intense. Their away record is pretty poor this season, and I really think they are going to drop some points in that game. Arsenal still have a home game against "Manure" as well, and they cannot afford to drop any points today.
The starting 11 will be pretty close to the one that played in the Carling Cup final last week with the exception of the injured players. I would imagine Nicklas Bendtner will take RVP's place, and Abu Diaby will take Alex Song's. The boss said yesterday that both Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey will be back in the squad which should mean Koscielny plays. I hope Samir Nasri plays in the midfield trio with Diaby and Jack Wilshere, and if Tomas Rosicky is to play I think he should get a wide right role. Bendtner scored a hat-trick against Orient on Wednesday night, and hopefully he can bring that goalscoring ability into this game.
Sunderland had a good start to their season, and they managed to get a point at home to Arsenal with a very late goal last September. Arsenal led through an early Cesc goal, but he injured himself scoring, and when they were awarded a penalty later in the game Rosicky put it into row Z. That led to the boss deciding the penalty taker before games, as Nasri should have taken that penalty. He was the man taken down, and the ridiculous tradition of the man who is fouled not taking the penalty continued. Thankfully that tradition has now ended, and if Arsenal get a penalty today I'm sure Nasri will take it.
Sunderland are still eighth in the league, and they have a real chance of finishing sixth which could possibly qualify them for the Europa Cup next season. To do that they will have to halt their current run of four Premier League defeats in a row. In those games they have conceded 11 goals, and Arsenal will hope their defence will be as leaky today. Earlier in the season their defence was one of the best in the league, but it's there for the taking today.
It's hard to imagine Arsenal will be at their very best as Cesc, Song and RVP are all very important players, and Walcott and Vermaelen are guaranteed first team players too. They will be missing five of their first choice 11, and two of those players are the most likely match winners in the squad. The depth of the Arsenal squad will be tested today, but I think they have enough influential players available to get a result. I'm hoping to see Nasri and Wilshere taking hold of the game and controlling the midfield. Arshavin will have benefited from not playing on Wednesday night, and I hope to see him step up and be counted too.
The Arsenal defence may get a hard time at times for the amount of goals they concede, but only Chelsea and Man City have conceded less goals than them this season. At the other end of the pitch only league leaders "Manure" have scored more than them, and they will be hoping to close that gap a little today. Johan Djourou has played very well alongside Koscielny in defence, and thankfully they should both be playing today. Koscielny will hopefully get the chance to put his dreadful mistake from last Sunday behind him, and hopefully he will have learned something from it. That lesson should be not to be so indecisive, and if you go for the ball don't pull out at the last second.
There's a chance that the Arsenal fans will eventually get to welcome Ramsey back on the pitch today, and I expect him to get a fantastic reception if he does make an appearance. I can't imagine he will start, but he could well get a few minutes before the end of the game. It's been more than a year since he last played for Arsenal, but hopefully his loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City will have done him some good. His injury in February of last year was an awful one, and I still think he won't be back to his best until next season.
It would be great to see Arsenal come out and go for the jugular from the first minute, but as long as they win I'm not too bothered how the win arrives. I think Arsenal will win 2-0 with the goals coming from Bendtner and Nasri. As long as they take three points and make it through the game without any more injuries it will be a good day at the office. They can then concentrate on the next challenge which is of course a trip to play Barcelona on Tuesday night.
It looks like both Cesc and Song might be available for that trip to Barcelona on Tuesday night, and they will both be badly needed in that game. RVP is definitely out of course which means Bendtner will be the centre forward on the night. It would be nice to see him put himself about in that game, and dominate the Barcelona defenders in the air. His headed goal against Orient on Wednesday was very good, and hopefully there will be more of the same against Barcelona. That game is a huge one for Arsenal and once the important business of Sunderland is out of the way I'll concentrate on it. I have to put it to the back of my mind for the moment though, as do the Arsenal players.
Today is going to be a very nervous game for all Arsenal fans, as a win is vitally important, and a loss would be a huge blow to their title chances. The next week is a huge one for Arsenal, and if they are still in with a chance of winning all three trophies by the end of it they will have had a great week. If I had to choose a competition for Arsenal to win out of the three I would definitely opt for the league, as the team have worked so hard for it all season. Of course I want them to win all three, but I don't want to be too greedy either, and I would settle for another league title.
That's it for today.
Here's a favourite goal of mine from a few years ago when Kanu showed the art of beating the goalkeeper with his eyes.
See You Tomorrow.