Gervinho - we need him to come back with a bang
There will be changes in the Arsenal team this evening. The defence should be pretty much self-selecting in the absence of Mertesacker and Koscielny, but just about every other place in the team is up for grabs. It is very likely that Lukasz Fabianski will be in goal and that merely serves to underline that the Manager is under little pressure from above to get a trophy in the cabinet. You could kind of get away with playing your reserve goalkeeper when you had the likes of Adams, Bould, Keown or Campbell marshalling the defence (when Alex Manninger was the reserve we had a World Class stopper coming in anyway, until Wenger destroyed his confidence by consistently picking the ageing David Seaman). I just think it's absurd to play a man you know is not good enough in a position where a "rest" is simply not necessary. If you feel the need for Fabianski to play a match then get him playing in the Reserves, or put him between the sticks for the second leg against AC Milan. To gamble with your only chance of silverware is simply suicidal. I'm watching Chelsea's game while I write this and they have their strongest available side out on the pitch. They are currently losing 1-0 and have just missed a penalty, but Villas-Boas clearly feels the pressure from Abramovich and will not gamble silverware away on a whim.
Elsewhere in the Arsenal team I see talk of Alex Song being left out in favour of Coquelin. I'm all in favour of Coquelin being in the side today, but not at the expense of our best midfielder. The person who needs to be left out is Mikel Arteta. His sideways passing has no place in the game this evening, but Coquelin's exceptional work-rate would be a very welcome addition against a fired-up Sunderland. I would also bring in Benayoun on the left wing, and Chamberlain on the right. I strongly suspect, however, that Gervinho will be back on the left. That being the case we need him to hit the ground running. What he might lack in a final ball/finishing, he certainly provides us with an outlet. I like Gervinho's pace and his willingness to take on a defender. He could be the difference tonight if he gets the nod.
At the front of the midfield three (and in direct contrast to what I've just said about Coquelin) I would play Andrey Arshavin. We've seen Ramsey trying and failing all season, while Rosicky simply can not provide the necessary attacking spark in there. Arshavin's ability is beyond doubt, and he showed what he can do in setting up the winner for Henry last week. I want to see him providing the passes for Van Persie tonight.
I mention Van Persie there, but there is no guarantee he will play. The main man might well be a little jaded after the recent games, but Wenger had the chance to rest him in the second-half against Blackburn and didn't do so. That being the case I will be furious if RVP does not lead the team out at Sunderland. On Wednesday night Park and Chamakh were sitting at home, not deemed worthy of a place on the plane to Italy. If either one of them plays in front of Van Persie at Sunderland then we might as well just give up on winning trophies.
Just before I sign off I want to comment on something I read from Mikel Arteta on the Arsenal website yesterday. The Spaniard was lamenting the way the game went in Milan and had obviously been asked to provide some quotes to fill space at arsenal.com. The last part of what Arteta said summed up, for me, exactly what is wrong at our Club right now. Arteta stated that games like the one in Milan are "the reason you fight for fourth place." So there you have it, dear Gooners. Arsenal's sole ambition is to finish fourth. That is exactly why they will struggle to do so. If you aim for the top, you might fall a little short, but you will certainly finish in the top four. However, if you aim for fourth, and fall short of that, you are finished. Sadly, if the players are being told that fourth place is "important" it is little wonder we are in the predicament we find ourselves. The only place to be at the end of the season is first. The fact that fourth place in the Premier League is considered success at Arsenal these days is a symptom of the malaise the Club is in.
I hope that when I write the match review tomorrow we are in that hat for the quarter-final. I will not be holding my breath, but I live in hope of being pleasantly surprised. Frankly I would take a draw tonight and bring them back to our place in the week.