Lots to get to today, including a story that could very well represent the biggest change to English Football since the Taylor report recommended abolishing terraces in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Unfortunately, I can’t devote any space to the story that a group of MPs have decided on their own that three of the top four teams are engaged in ‘financial doping’ and that English teams should adopt the 6+5 rule, irregardless of the fact that it’s illegal and immoral. No, I can’t devote any space to that because we have a full plate just dealing with today’s blockbuster away match to Liverpool.
Straight away into injury news. There’s some speculation that Adebayor is missing today’s game as a sort of punishment for his gormless performance against Chelsea on Saturday. This speculation is fueled by the previous speculation that he was being held out of the first team because he had put in a string of pathetic performances prior to coming up with a hamstring injury against Tottenham. Certainly, the fact that he was out for a month and a half and only came back into the squad after playing for Togo did nothing to quell this particular bit of fantasy. And more surely, Arsene Wenger’s recent statement that Ade “has a little hamstring alert and we don’t want to take a gamble on him” in light of the absolutely shameful match where he was subbed for Stumpy Bendtner against Chelsea will do even less to quell the rumors that Adebayor is in the dog house, if not on his way out.
Speculation aside, Adebayor and Robin van Persie are both left out of today’s match. With Wenger stating that the latter has an actual groin pull, which all footballers know is in some ways harder to recover from than the dreaded hammy pull that Adebayor is now constantly suffering. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see both rested even further than today and possibly the boss would go as far as resting them against ‘Boro on Sunday.
The good news is that Eduardo has been included in the team, and given the dearth of first team strikers, Arshavin will almost certainly get a chance to shine — and perhaps a chance to show the boss why he should have picked him in the FA Cup. I suspect Wenger will employ ye ole 4-2-3-1 with Bendtner holding the line, Arshavin on the right, Nasri on the left, and Cesc in the middle. This will be almost certainly be followed by Song and Denilson providing cover for a back four of Sagna, Toure, Silvestre, and Gibbs. If things are going poorly, look for Dudu to come of the bench and the shape to change to a 4-4-2.
Without Steven Gerrard and with Wenger employing Cesc in the attacking midfield role, there will be two key battles today; Cesc v. Mascherano/Alonso and Torres v. the Arsenal defense. Don’t be surprised to see Cesc marked out of the game, Liverpool’s two midfield enforcers are incredibly difficult to beat. That’s where Arshavin will be called in to play a huge role. Also don’t be surprised to see Sagna/Gibbs play a more reserved role as the speedy Torres cannot be handled by Silvestre — as we all saw against Droggers on Saturday. The other thing to watch for is how the two bosses massage their lineups to exploit each other’s weakness. For example, if Sagna is being reserved Torres will move more toward the right and if Cesc is being marked out Arsenal might drop him deeper and create space between the fence and the defense (I just made that up calling the two defensive midfielders a fence, get it? GET IT???).
I’m really excited about the match and it should be a fun game to watch. Both teams have a lot of pride AND are both are playing for more than just pride. Liverpool need a win to keep their title pursuit alive and Arsenal are targeting a “top three” finish which is more than just symbolic: the top three teams get a birth in to the Champions League and fourth place now goes into open qualification. Open qualification means that teams like Arsenal are no longer seeded and thus no longer guaranteed to play uhhh…. teams like Twente Enschede and instead would face teams like Roma, Hamburg, Lyon, Valencia, and Panathinaikos. I don’t have to tell you that Roma in the first round would be a much sterner test than FC Twente.
Right, so the rest of the season is coming in to sharp focus now; Arsenal need just 10 points in their last 6 games to secure 4th and they pretty much need to win out to get 3rd. Will we be the team that is brushed aside in all competitions, broken at the end of the season with players leaving like rats on a sinking ship? Or will we be the squad that, though depleted by injury, fought for every point and maybe even won the Champions League?
The kind of team we’ll be at the end of the season is up for grabs now.