After what seemed like the longest two weeks of my life, it's finally back to Premier League football today as Arsenal take on Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates. Thankfully there will be no more interruptions for international football between now and the end of the season, and Arsenal can concentrate on the task of winning the Premier League for the first time since their invincible season. Their task is a simple one on the face of it, as they will be champions if they win their remaining nine games, no matter what any other team does.
However, football is never that easy, and being an Arsenal fan has taught me to take the ups with the downs. There are bound to be loads of twists and turns between now and the end of the season on May 22nd. There's every possibility of Chelsea pushing their way back into contention, but along with "Manure" they still have the Champions League to distract them. In fact "Manure" also have an FA Cup semi final against Man City to occupy their thoughts, as they look to emulate their treble winning team of 1999. That cannot be allowed to happen, as their current team is a pale imitation of that team which luckily snatched a double from Arsenal in 1999.
By the time Arsenal kick off they will already know how their two main rivals have fared, and hopefully they will both have dropped points away from home. West Ham will be no pushover for "Manure" in the early kick off, and Stoke RFC will be hated just a little less by all Arsenal fans If they manage a result against Chelsea. Regardless of the outcomes of those games, Arsenal simply have to beat Blackburn.
Thankfully there was some good news for Arsenal yesterday, as Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Abu Diaby have all managed to overcome their injuries which kept them out of recent games. There was some suggestion Robin Van Persie might miss the game after he picked up a knock playing for the Netherlands on Tuesday night, but thankfully he has been given the all clear too. By my reckoning those players have 26 Premier League goals between them this season, and 41 goals in the 49 games Arsenal have played in all competitions. It's nice to have all of that goalscoring ability available again, and hopefully Blackburn will pay the price for it.
The only players missing from an ideal Arsenal team will be Wojciech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou, and it's a situation Arsenal haven't found themselves in at the business end of the season in recent years. Unfortunately the next two choices to play in goal would be Lukasz Fabianski and Vitto Mannone, and neither of them are available either. It means Manuel Almunia will again be Arsenal's keeper, and that strikes fear into the heart of every sane minded Arsenal fan. Hopefully he can put the dreadful mistake he made against West Brom behind himself, and put in a solid performance today. Arsene Wenger stated yesterday that he will start the game, which means Jens Lehmann will be on the bench at the ripe old age of 41.
The other defensive concern for Arsenal is the partnership between Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci at the heart of the defence, as it's a combination which has quite often struggled this season. Hopefully there won't be too many moments to concern the Arsenal fans, and to be fair to the two of them I thought they played well enough against West Brom. There was nothing Squillaci could do about the second goal, but I would be surprised if he has a lot of confidence in Almunia after that incident.
With all of those players returning the boss will have a few selection headaches, and the biggest one of them will be whether Walcott plays from the start or not. I suspect he will play Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin on either side of RVP, and Walcott will be introduced from the bench at some stage. It's good for Arsenal to have so many options in attack, as it will give Blackburn a lot more to think about defensively.
With Jack Wilshere and Song playing behind Cesc in midfield, Arsenal will have what I consider to be their best midfield combination. Those three players have developed an understanding this season, and they will be very hard for an average Blackburn team to contain. In Blackburn's 15 away games so far this season, they have lost 11 times, and conceded 38 goals. With Arsenal's best attacking players on the pitch I expect Blackburn to really struggle today.
Cesc is Arsenal's captain, and he has stated his desire to win trophies with Arsenal. After the recent exits from the Carling Cup, FA Cup, and Champions League, there is only the Premier League left for him to fulfill that ambition this season. I am hoping he will step up in the last nine games, and show why he is rated as the best playmaker in European football. If he can stay fit and play in all of those games I believe Arsenal have a real chance of delivering that league title.
It's vital for RVP to play in those games too, and his return of 11 goals from 10 starts and six substitute appearances is absolutely top rate. If he can manage to stay fit for those games, I would hope for six or seven goals from him. With Nasri and Arshavin(or Walcott) also on the pitch, Arsenal will have so much potential for goals that I expect to see loads of goals from them in those games.
In fifteen days time Arsenal have a really tough week when they have to play both Liverpool and the Spuds, but I'm hoping for both Szczesny and Djourou to be available for those games. I know it's a lot to hope for, but I'll be anxiously awaiting the news from Szczesny's scan on his injured finger on Tuesday. If Arsenal can win today, and against Blackpool next week, and those players can return, then their chances of winning the title will be greatly increased in my opinion. I know there's a lot of ifs in there, but I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible.
I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal today, but if Blackburn fall apart like they did away to "Manure", it could be a whole lot more. I can't predict a clean sheet for Arsenal with Almunia playing, but it's hardly his fault that he has been called back into action. His shot stopping is still good, but hopefully his decision making won't let him down again. I think both Cesc and RVP will get their names on the score sheet today, and I would love Arsenal to score early to ease my nerves.
When Arsenal are on fire they are the best team in the Premier League, and I want to see that form today, and in the rest of their games this season. If they are going to win the league, the players are going to have to give everything they have in every single game. There will be no distractions with cup games, as they are now "concentrating on the league", and hopefully that will be to their advantage too.
The Arsenal way is usually to put their fans through a tortuous ordeal before finally getting the goals that are needed, but I have a funny feeling there won't be so much torture today. West Brom only had two attempts on target in Arsenal's last game, and they scored from both of them. It would be a pleasant change if today's opposition didn't score from all their attempts on target, or if their keeper wasn't the man of the match either.
Thankfully Blackburn's goalkeeper is Paul Robinson, and he has made a habit of conceding goals against Arsenal. Let's hope he keeps up that habit today, and he ends up with a sore back from picking the ball out of the net so often.
I'm hoping to make my way out to the Arsenal supporters club in Bray to watch the game on TV, but if that isn't possible I'll be looking for a good stream to watch it on my laptop, as I tweet constantly throughout the game.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at how good Arsenal's returning captain is.
See You Tomorrow.