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Friday, 31 December 2010

Birmingham preview, Wenger reveals transfer plans (cough), Howard Webb!

The boys are back on the treadmill again tomorrow at Birmingham City. With Man Utd failing to win at St Andrews in the week Arsenal will know this is going to be a very tough game. Birmingham will surely look to exploit Arsenal's weakness in the air with the giant Zigic playing up front - he scored at Arsenal with their only effort on target you might recall. It looks like Alexander Hleb has failed to establish himself in the Birmingham side, just as at Barcelona, so I don't see him getting in tomorrow. Seb Larsson will be a danger to Arsenal with his accurate crossing and superb delivery from set-pieces, though I doubt very much that a returning Gael Clichy will have been instructed to get close to the Swede and cut off the supply in to the penalty area.
Arsenal will make wholesale changes again to their team tomorrow. I think we can expect to see Song, Walcott, Van Persie, Nasri and Djourou returning to the starting line-up, and also Fabregas back from suspension. Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny have played in both games this week so they may well find themselves rested with Eboue switching to right-back. I think Wilshere may also start on the bench again as he played most of the game on Wednesday. I've seen Fabianski criticised for Wigan's second goal in some quarters, but this is not a view I share. It may be that Arsene Wenger does share it though, and could give him the needed excuse to drop the Pole and bring in Szczesny. I would be very surprised to see that happen.
If Arsenal are to win tomorrow evening they will need to perform in the same way they did against Chelsea. The players must press the ball when Birmingham have it. It stands to reason that if we get good pressure on the opposition their inferior technique will see Arsenal getting the ball back on a regular basis. What was missing yet again on Wednesday must return tomorrow at Birmingham.
The referee tomorrow is Peter Walton. I can't remember any particular axe he may have to grind with Arsenal. He is, like most (all) of the Premier League referees, an incompetent fool who shouldn't be tasked with running around a pitch with athletes in prime physical condition. Following the last three games we are due a bit of luck with some refereeing decisions, though the integrity of the last three referees we have encountered really should start to be questioned - if cricket and rugby are bent then there is no reason to believe football is immune.
In a week of three games, and numerous team-changes it's very hard to predict what the Arsenal team might be tomorrow. I would like to see them line up like this:
Fabianski - Eboue, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy - Song, Denilson, Fabregas - Nasri, Van Persie, Walcott.

I've just watched Arsene Wenger on Sky trotting out the usual rubbish about his squad and whether or not signings are needed. He told the press that there are players who deserve to play blah, blah, blah. He didn't rule out a signing or two, but said that we are not close to signing anyone. I think I've heard all this before. It is clear to a blind man that the centre-half situation remains chronic, and there is no sign that Vermaelen will be fit any time soon - it will be a pleasant surprise if the Belgian plays again this season. I heard Ray Parlour on telly last night saying that Gary Cahill would fit the bill for Arsenal, but that Bolton might not want to sell. Of course they wouldn't want to sell, but that's why you force their hand with a significant bid. Newcastle didn't exactly have Andy Cole on the market, but Man Utd made them an offer too good to refuse. Top players are never "available" but you can still go and buy them - everyone has a price. I'm going to ignore all the transfer talk over the next month as I really can't be doing with the frustration of seeing Wenger fail to address the necessary issues and give us a chance to win the big prizes. If we do sign someone, and I don't mean some unknown kid from South America, then I'll be pleasantly surprised and optimistic. In the meantime I'll say nothing more about it and see where we are on February 1st.

The UK Honours system has reached a new low. It sank a long way with Ferguson's Knighthood (where was Brian Clough's, or Bill Shankly's, or Bob Paisley's, or Bobby Moore's), and still further when Tim Henman got an MBE for services to famous losers. Last night it was revealed that Howard Webb has been given an MBE. So there you go - if you want an MBE all you need to do is embarrass your nation on the World stage. Why did the entire England World Cup squad not get honoured if that is the criteria? Howard Webb MBE. What a load of old crap.

So 2010 is in it's death-throes. It's not been a vintage year for Arsenal to say the least. We've seen very few highs, but significant low points have been plentiful. Next year can not be much worse from an Arsenal point of view, can it? Fingers crossed that it is so much better for the Club in 2011.
I don't go in for New Year celebrations. I fail to see what there is to look forward to at New Year as the Winter stretches ominously out in front of us, with a full twelve months before we get to Christmas again. Therefore I will be staying in as usual tonight, with a Chinese takeaway and the rubbish TV that will be thrown at us - thank God for Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny on BBC2.

Happy New Year - 3 points are a must tomorrow.

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