Saturday, 14 May 2011
Aston Villa (h) preview
I had hoped to head this post with a photograph of Ryan Shawcross crying at Wembley this afternoon. Sadly I couldn't find one on Google. I didn't get to see the Cup Final as I've been on the cricket field all day. From what I've read it was all City. I did get to see the presentation on TV and watching that animal Shawcross blubbing his way up the stairs gave me plenty of pleasure, I can tell you. What goes around comes around, eventually. I hope his mummy was there to take him home again.
On to more important things and the boys finish their home programme against Aston Villa tomorrow. You can almost hear the sighs of relief from the Gooner faithful. The last three months have been long and miserable for us Arsenal fans. The Carling Cup Final saw the beginning of a tortuous run for us, and a downward spiral the players couldn't get out of. That tomorrow will be the last glimpse most of us will get of the players for a couple of months is, perhaps, no bad thing. Some of the Arsenal players will be around the Stadium on a match day for the last time as Arsenal employees. The likes of Tomas Rosicky, Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Emmanuel Eboue, Manuel Almunia and Cesc Fabregas will almost certainly not be here come the start of next season. I have left Jens Lehmann off the list as I can see him being involved with the players in some capacity next season - we might even see him make another farewell appearance on the pitch at some point in the match tomorrow.
We know that Thomas Vermaelen will return to the back four. Laurent Koscielny has suffered a knock and misses out (he's had an up and down first season in English football and a little early rest will do him some good). Arsenal have missed Thomas Vermaelen this season, of that there is no doubt. Would we have won the League had he not got injured? The answer is no, because Johan Djourou would have not got a look in had he been fit - remember that Djourou was very much behind Koscielny and Squillaci until late October came around. Would we have won the League had he been fit by the time of the Carling Cup Final? The answer to that is probably. The fact is, though, that he wasn't fit and Wenger should have signed someone. I'll talk about that more in the coming weeks, once the season is completely over. In the meantime we can say that it's great to have Vermaelen back, even if it is too late to rescue anything from the campaign.
Bizarrely enough tomorrow has become a bit of a must-win fixture. Yes, Champions League football is secure, but third place is anything but. Ensuring the third spot is important as it means we would not have to play a qualifying round for the European Cup, whereas fourth place would see us facing a potentially tricky tie before our season has even got started. We have qualified comfortably on the couple of occasions when it's been necessary, but we could do without it all the same.
I mentioned earlier that we might see one or two farewells tomorrow afternoon. We will be saying welcome back and farewell to one of the Villa players as Robert Pires will be making his final appearance against us tomorrow. I have no doubt Bobby will get his customary ovation from the Gooners. Villa have had a poor season, but they are a dangerous side. Ashley Young's pace can test any team, and a fit Heskey has the nous to trouble us at the back. At the other end they have the evergreen Brad Friedel in goal - how different might Arsenal's immediate history have been had we got hold of the veteran American when he left Blackburn?
I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to tomorrow as I fear one final disappointing effort from the Arsenal players against seemingly inferior opposition. I hope that they realise they owe the supporters a great deal for what they've put us through these past few months and that they put in the performance we fans deserve in the last home game of the season. Whatever does happen tomorrow I think the so called "lap of appreciation" will be held in front of many thousands of empty seats after the match, and deservedly so. By the time the players come out for their lap I hope to be in the car and on the way home - they do not deserve my applause for their efforts this season - the paucity of performances in so many games has cost them the glory they, and we, should have had.
Just before I finish there is some confusion over the date of the Arsenal fixture at Dover that I wrote about yesterday. The Dover website says Saturday 4th August. However, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that 4th August is a Thursday. I spoke to a Dover regular today and he thinks Saturday 6th is the actual date.
A match review will be put here either tomorrow night or, more likely, Monday morning.