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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Huddersfield Town (h) preview - Manuel's return

Herbert Chapman's ghost will surely walk abroad tomorrow

Arsenal's fourth round FA Cup tie throws up a match between England's first two dominant football clubs. In the 1920's Huddersfield Town were the most successful team in the country, winning three successive League Championship's. The FA Cup Final of 1930 marked a sea-change, however, as Town were beaten by a certain side from North London. Throughout the 1930's there was no team to rival the mighty Arsenal. One man linked both club's and their success - Herbert Chapman. Herbert's bronze bust was the main feature of the marble halls in Highbury's East Stand, created by the famous sculptor Jacob Epstein, following his death from pneumonia in the middle of Arsenal's own hat-trick of consecutive Title's. A couple of years back Arsenal donated a replica to Huddersfield Town and, while the original has been put back in place at Highbury following the redevelopment, the new stadium has its own copy alongside the busts of Arsene Wenger and Dennis Hill-Wood at the directors entrance to the ground. Bob Wall, Arsenal's legendary secretary, said that he and others could hear Chapman's deliberate footsteps echoing through the main stand at Highbury long after his death, his ghost haunting Arsenal's home. I have no doubt that Herbert Chapman's ghost will be at The Emirates tomorrow, watching his famous clubs do battle in the FA Cup. Football itself would not be what it is today without the influence of Chapman. As for Arsenal, we would be nowhere without the great man.

The team news sees a number of Arsenal's recent absentees making their return to the squad. Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and, most surprisingly, Manuel Almunia are back. I'm sure there will be a lot of changes to the starting eleven with a big Premier League game against Everton to come in midweek.
I haven't believed, at any time, that Almunia has been injured since the West Brom defeat. Following his disastrous second-half that day Almunia was dropped by Arsene Wenger. Almunia's temperament has been very delicate since the loss of a family member a couple of years back and I think this has contributed to his absence from the squad. Wenger announced yesterday that Wojciech Szczesny is now first-choice. For years now we have seen the first-choice goalkeeper sitting out the cup games so I would not be surprised to see Almunia start the game tomorrow. It would be something of a shock as I thought we had seen the last of Manuel at Arsenal. Many of the "fans" believe him to be some sort of anti-Christ, which really annoys me. Almunia is a good goalkeeper - his problem is that he is not a top goalkeeper. Manuel was a fine man to have as a number two, as long as you had a world-class performer like Jens Lehmann ahead of him. I will always believe that Wenger's decision to drop Lehmann in favour of Manuel cost us the Title as we got to the run-in at the end of season 2007-2008, regardless of what happened at Birmingham.
Elsewhere we will see yet another return for the enigma that is Abou Diaby. Wenger tried to justify the lack of a centre-back signing by stating that Alex Song could play there in extremis with Diaby covering for the Cameroon man (this is the same Alex Song who Wenger said was not suited to being a centre-back at the start of the season). Quite how Wenger thinks Diaby can play in Song's position I just do not know. Quite apart from Diaby's inability to remain fit for more than a few weeks, he has no clue whatsoever how to defend. Going forward, when Diaby wants to play, he is excellent. Unfortunately Diaby is the most inconsistent and frustrating player at Arsenal. His career has been damaged immeasurably by his horrific broken leg in 2006, but for a man with such ability one has to believe his problems on the pitch are largely down to his attitude.
It shouldn't much matter what Arsenal's team is tomorrow as they should have far more quality than opposition from the third-tier of English football. Once again they will be facing an opposition that will run their socks off, but the correct attitude on the pitch will bring about the desired result.

I will review the game tomorrow evening.

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