Arsene: Not rewarded enough over the years
I suppose the catastrophe in the European Cup and the embarrassment of the FA Cup has caused us Gooners to forget we've had a pretty decent month where the Premier League is concerned. Starting with a draw at Bolton (a game we should have won comfortably) Arsenal have gone through February unbeaten. We smashed Blackburn for seven, before The King got the winner at Sunderland. The month culminated with the narrow (ha!) win over Tottenham. With all that being the case it shouldn't really be a surprise to hear that Arsene Wenger has been named Premier League Manager Of The Month. As supporters our view of things is naturally skewed by results in the other competitions, but credit where it's due, I suppose. The thing I find most surprising is that this is only the twelfth occasion that Arsene has been given the award in his sixteen years at Arsenal. Just think about that for a second. He has won it, on average, less than once per season. This is a man with three Premier League Titles and who has never finished outside the top four in the division. I would suggest that Wenger has been severely hardly done to by the selection panel for this award over the years. I imagine we must have had the odd run of form in that time, wouldn't you? To illustrate the inescapable fact that Arsene has been seriously overlooked throughout the past sixteen years I have just looked up how many times he won it in season 2003-04. Bearing in mind that Arsenal didn't lose a game that season it is astonishing to learn that Arsene won the award only twice - the same number of times as it was given to Claudio Ranieri and Fat Sam Allardyce (Chelsea were runners-up and Bolton finished eighth!) Still think there's no conspiracy against Arsenal? Congratulations to Arsene Wenger for this one, and let's hope the curse of the award does not strike at Anfield tomorrow.
Arsene used his press conference today to once again criticise the idea of international friendlies. Obviously he was most peeved by the fact that two injured players, Van Persie and Vermaelen, were forced to play for their national team in midweek. You can't help but understand his frustration, but I would suggest the players concerned should have made far more of the issue themselves and made it clear they were not prepared to risk their fitness in a game of no consequence. Given that both men were training this morning it looks unlikely that the damage done has been too bad. God knows Arsenal will need both of them to be hitting their straps tomorrow. Alex Song is another man seemingly with a niggle of some sort, and we really do need him to be fit with Coquelin and Frimpong both injured.
The other big team news for Arsenal is the latest return of Abou Diaby. You get the feeling that, with every failed return, the end is nearing for Diaby. If he plays some part tomorrow, and starts against AC Milan, I think you'd get generous odds at the bookies on him being involved against Newcastle the following Monday. Unfortunately that is the way it has been with Abou ever since his leg was shattered by some horrible little scumbag with no football ability up at Sunderland six years ago. According to Wikipedia Dan Smith, the little waste of space who maimed Diaby, is now playing for Blyth Spartans in the Conference North. I hope he's proud that he ruined the career of one of Europe's most promising young footballers at the end of a game in which his side was already 3-0 down (actually, I don't hope that - I hope that he gets what's coming to him and some other Sunday League no-mark shatters his ankle so that he can't walk for months, and never plays football again.) I really think this is the final time for Diaby. If he can not stay fit then I think it will be coming to an end for him at Arsenal, and possibly with football full-stop.
Liverpool have their own problems in the build up to tomorrow. Daniel Agger is definitely out of the game with a rib injury. This should mean that Jamie Carragher comes in for them and I think that is a good thing for Arsenal. Carragher's best years are about six seasons behind him. He wasn't the quickest in the first place, and is positively pedestrian now. Elsewhere Steven Gerrard limped off for England on Wednesday but I would not be surprised to see him fit for tomorrow. I suspect that his "injury" in the week had a certain amount to do with him not being made England Captain (and, frankly, I don't blame him - there was only one candidate for the job, and it wasn't Scott Parker!)
We know that any trip to Anfield is a tough game. If offered it now I would take a point tomorrow. Liverpool have the players to hurt anyone and I think, if they used him properly, Andy Carroll could be a trump card against a team like Arsenal. Suarez, meanwhile, is a class player, whatever his personality shortcomings. Going in to tomorrow we have to come down from the euphoria of beating Spurs, and we have to re-produce the form and effort we showed once we went 2-0 down last week. It just proved, once again, that if this team puts in the required effort, on and off the ball, they have the ability to destroy very good football teams. Liverpool will be having to contend with the hangover of having won a trophy last week, and that is a problem I would dearly love for Arsenal to have! It's another big game.
I'm working all day tomorrow, but I'll have the radio with me. I'll watch the game tomorrow night when I get home and do a review after that.