Friday, 1 April 2011
Blackburn Rovers (h) preview
Here we go, then. Nine games left, 27 points to be won. If we are to be celebrating at Craven Cottage in May then I fear we will need to take all of them. By the time Arsenal kick-off tomorrow evening we could be staring at an 8 point gap to Manchester United. We have to hope that their, fairly ordinary (by comparison to most teams they play against), record at West Ham continues. Chelsea are far from out of this race as well - a win in their game in hand, and at Old Trafford, and they will trail Manchester United by only 3 points. The pressure is really on, and Arsenal's players will have to show a new found aptitude for rising to the occasion when it's do or die.
We are boosted tomorrow by the return of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. I will be very disappointed if all three of them do not return to the starting line-up. Fabregas' last outing was his shocking display in the Nou Camp. He has had some time to recover and must show genuine leadership across what will probably be his last two months as an Arsenal player. The return of Theo will bring much needed pace back to the side - we missed him in the Carling Cup Final, and in Barcelona. Alex Song has been more sorely missed than any of the others. He has been replaced over the past four weeks by a combination of Diaby and/or Denilson. The sad truth is that those two are simply not good enough to play for Arsenal - it's not their fault, they just don't have what it takes (the abuse I've seen directed at Denilson in recent weeks has been deplorable - I don't think he's good enough, but if you have an issue then aim your abuse at the Manager who continues to select him). Robin Van Persie also appears to be fit enough to play following his injury scare in midweek. Thank God.
Arsene Wenger gave his press conference today and ended the pre-match speculation regarding his goalkeeper for tomorrow. The Manager has given his support to Manuel Almunia by telling us all that "he has looked good in training." I seem to remember hearing this last season when Almunia was playing like a man with no hands, following his cock-up at Birmingham. Quite frankly anyone can do okay in training, playing against their own team, with no pressure and nobody watching. The fact is that, with nearly 60,000 people looking on (all of them just waiting for the inevitable error), playing in the Premier League is just a little bit different to training at London Colney. I continue to feel sorry for Almunia. As with Denilson it's not his fault that he lacks the ability to be a top player. Ultimately he doesn't tell the Manager to pick him. Tomorrow Almunia will be under the most ridiculous pressure. The first time he catches a ball (I pray to God that he does catch it) their will be ironic cheering. If he so much as miss-kicks a clearance, he will get abused by people. How the hell can he be expected to perform in such an environment? Almunia's nerve has gone - it went two years ago. His headless dash from the line at West Brom was not the behaviour of a calm goalkeeper. Yes, there would be pressure on Jens Lehmann if he played, but the difference is that Lehmann is so thick-skinned he would take absolutely no notice whatsoever. To put someone as fragile as Almunia in the cauldron he will face tomorrow does nobody any favours. If you are planning on giving abuse to Almunia tomorrow I beg you not to - if you have something to say then abuse Arsene Wenger, not the poor sap he is putting in the firing line.
As I said at the start we need to win every game from now until the end of the season. The players are far more likely to be able to do that if we get behind them - ALL of them. If they're wearing an Arsenal shirt then they are representing OUR Club, they deserve our support - they NEED our support. Get behind them, whoever they are - the time for recriminations is after the season is over. The Title is still (miraculously) in the hands of Arsenal. Let's do our bit by supporting the boys.
March's poll closed last night with readers voting 2 to 1 that we couldn't win the Title with Manuel back in goal. Not a surprising result, I would have to say. Another poll will follow soon. Next blog will be late tomorrow evening, when I get home from the game.