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Friday, 4 March 2011

Sunderland (h) preview, Why is it always Arsenal's fault?

Aaron Ramsey - back in the fold tomorrow

Arsenal's Welsh international makes his return to the first-team squad tomorrow for the visit of Sunderland. We haven't seen Aaron Ramsey on the pitch for Arsenal since February last year when he had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross (as opposed to breaking his leg against Stoke, as it is usually reported - there is a subtle, yet important, difference). I've expressed a lot of doubts about Ramsey's future on this blog and tomorrow, if he gets on, will provide little, if any, evidence that he has made a genuine recovery. However, his return should at least get the crowd going and I hope it inspires the weakened Arsenal team to a proper home performance against the Mackems. Anyone who was there on the night Eduardo returned against Cardiff City will remember the emotion of the evening, especially when he got his first goal. A repeat tomorrow would be just the ticket. I want Aaron Ramsey to come back and be the player he was looking like being - that would make me a very happy man indeed, though it may take quite a while.
We go into the game in a far worse state with injuries than we have been for a while. Koscielny is back, and should play, but we will be without Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie and Alex Song. With the exception of Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere and Johan Djourou these four are probably our most effective players of this season. To be without all of them for a big Premier League match is a massive blow. The squad must come in to its own now and prove that the faith shown in them by the Manager has not been misplaced. We played without three of them for most of the early season, but to miss Alex Song too could be huge.
Sunderland are a good side. They lack a certain consistency but their quality is there for all to see. They have a decent goalkeeper in Craig Gordon, while Nedum Onouha has been a shrewd signing on loan from Manchester City. Their obvious weakness lies, on paper, in the centre of defence which is patrolled by Titus Bramble - a player capable of hitting both high and low notes, all in the same game (he's a bit like our defenders if truth be known). Kieran Richardson is becoming a bit of a talisman for the Wearsiders while Jordan Henderson is one of the brightest young midfield players in the country - he will be relishing his battle against our own boy wonder, Jack Wilshere. Up front Sunderland have suffered the blow of losing both Kenwynne Jones and Darren Bent since last season, but in Asamoah Gyan they have a quick and powerful striker, with a tremendous ability to finish. With Danny Welbeck also returning to fitness they have more than enough to cause Arsenal a lot of problems. Unusually for a Steve Bruce team they play a lot of good football. I watched their match with Stoke City a few weeks ago and there was only one team playing with any flair - sadly Stoke's high-ball (and a terrible linesman or two) proved Sunderland's undoing.
The injuries will see a bit of a mix and match Arsenal team tomorrow. I hope to see Samir Nasri return to the centre of the pitch as the deputy for Fabregas. There is no question that Nasri was wasted at Wembley last week with Rosicky playing in that role to no good effect whatsoever (again). I think Arsenal might line up like this:
Szczesny - Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy - Diaby, Wilshere, Nasri - Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner.
With Man Utd facing a daunting trip to Anfield on Sunday a win for Arsenal would put genuine pressure on them for the first time. So far this team has shown an inability to create pressure when the opportunity has presented itself (including losing a four goal lead against Sunderland's local rivals). This could be a pivotal weekend in the Title race, especially with United's own depleted defence potentially facing Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. All thoughts of Barcelona should be a long way from everyone's mind until 5pm tomorrow. I hope they are.

Elsewhere you will have heard about Kolo Toure failing a drugs test. The obligatory "not-guilty" stuff is coming out. I have no interest in whether he is guilty or not but, as my brother pointed out last night, it might just explain his "malaria." What has annoyed me about the whole story is how he is being referred to as "the former Arsenal defender." What the hell has this got do with Arsenal? Kolo Toure plays for Manchester City. He should be referred to as "Manchester City defender, Kolo Toure." It seems that the press need to twist anything they can towards Arsenal in order to make a story, and to get at Arsenal in some way. I wrote an article for the onlinegooner.com on the day England exited the World Cup last year entitled "I blame Arsene Wenger" and posed the question as to how long it would take for England's failure to be blamed on Arsenal and their foreign players. What happened the following day? Arsenal's playing squad was cited as one of the reasons in The Sun, and The Mirror, and The Telegraph, and The Mail (need I go on...?) Kolo is an Arsenal legend, an Invincible. But he is an Arsenal player no longer, so any reference to him as "the former Arsenal defender" is a complete joke.

I'll post a match review at some point tomorrow night.

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