Arsenal play Chelsea in the early kick off tomorrow in a game they just cannot afford to lose. They had the chance to open up a substantial gap over the chasing pack on Monday night, but they were turned over at home by Wigan. It was a costly defeat for Arsenal in more ways than one.
Besides the setback to their chances of finishing third in the league Mikael Arteta also suffered an ankle injury which will keep him out of Arsenal's remaining four games. Arteta has been the driving force in Arsenal's midfield since he signed from Everton late last August. Others may have been more spectacular in that time, but Arteta has been the player around who Arsenal's stability has been built.
At least Laurent Koiscielny will return from suspension to strengthen the Arsenal defence. He has had a very good season and he has been the best defender at the club by a long way. Bacary Sagna could possibly challenge him for that accolade, but for his three month absence through injury.
Sagna had a bad night against Wigan on Monday, and he found Victor Moses very hard to deal with. He didn't get as much help as he needed at times, and both Theo Walcott and Johan Djourou were found wanting I thought. I am sure the return of Koscielny will strengthen the defence, and Sagna surely cannot play so badly again.
There is a possibility of Kieran Gibbs returning in place of Andre Santos, but I think Santos will retain his place unless he picks up an injury or has a real off day. He was no worse than any of the other players against Wigan with the exception of the few players who did play well. I'm not too sure about the defensive abilities of either player, but Santos probably has more to offer going forward.
The real problem for Arsenal against Chelsea could be their midfield with Arteta injured. The chances are Aaron Ramsey will replace him, but they are far from similar in their playing style. I'm not sure if Ramsey can play the role Arteta does, as he is more likely to be seen pushing further forward.
There are not too many other options for Arsene Wenger in that position at the moment though. Jack Wilshere is still injured, and Abu Diaby has only just returned from his injury. Francis Coquelin is another possibility, but I can't see him making the team as he hasn't been in the squad for quite a while now.
Yossi Benayoun might have been the player to play there, but he cannot play as he is on loan from Chelsea. There is also a possibility of Alex Oclade-Chamberlain playing a central role like he did in the 3-0 win at home to Milan. I can't see Chamberlain being risked there though, but he might just get a chance in a wide role.
Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott are sure to start in the attacking trio, and Wenger has to decide who should play on the left. The chances are Gervinho will get the nod, but I have been wholly unimpressed by him since his return from the African Cup of Nations. His shoot-out penalty miss in the final looks like it may have had a serious effect on his form for Arsenal.
I'm sure the game will be a very tense affair, and the players will have to get really stuck in at times. I just don't think Gervinho has the heart for such a fight at the moment. Hopefully he can put it all behind him in the summer, and return to the team a better player next season.
Chelsea have had a tough week, but the victories over both Spurs and Barcelona must have given them a lot of confidence. They face a tough trip away to Barcelona on Tuesday night, and the strength of their squad will be stretched to the limit I'm sure. There is a chance they will rest some of their better players with that game in mind, and Arsenal need to take advantage if they do.
One of the biggest problems for Arsenal in recent games has been the absence of a real alternative for RVP. He has only managed one goal in his last six games, and that was from the penalty. He has had an absolutely fantastic season, but he has gone off the boil in recent games, and there is nobody else to look to when that happens.
I'm certainly not trying to knock RVP because his form this season has exceeded all expectations. He has also managed to stay injury free for a full season for the first time in his Arsenal career, and the team has reaped the benefits. The sight of John Terry lying flat on his face as RVP raced through to score in Arsenal's 5-3 victory away to Chelsea was one of the highlights of the season for Arsenal fans.
I hope Arsenal can rediscover their form of the last few months, and Wigan was just another QPR style blip for them. There is no doubt that an Arsenal team playing at their best can get the victory they so badly want with or without Arteta. As long as the players have the confidence to play their own game they will create chances against a Chelsea team that have struggled this season.
Arsenal haven't always been at their best either, but I think they can get the win they want if they show enough desire and comittment. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal, and I'm hoping RVP gets his shooting boots back on again too. His hat trick in the reverse fixture was a thing of beauty, and another match winning performance against Chelsea would be fantastic for the player, the team and the fans.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.