Arsenal this weekend and both teams go into the match on the back of significant unbeaten runs. The Gunners have managed five wins and four draws in their last nine league games while we have lost just once in our last seven Premiership outings.
Despite Arsene Wenger’s assurances of his side’s competitiveness, they have been somewhat left behind by the League leaders and will have to combine great form with good fortune if they are to claim this season’s championship.
Their problem this year is that their property portfolios have crashed and they have a brittle and combustible defensive unit - defence so often being the hallmark of great Arsenal sides.
Ironically, two players you could identify as the answer to their problems would be Lassana Diarra and Matthew Upson – both ousted by Wenger after brief tenures with The Gunners.
Their soft underbelly and the lack of a leader who knows how to pick his battles have conspired to cast Arsenal adrift of Man United, and even five points outside the Big Four.
Wenger remains convinced that his young charges can still mount a challenge, even going so far as to espouse that any one of the top six could win the league.
This predominantly smacks of mind games, but it is true that Arsenal are not totally out of it yet, although they can’t afford any more shock defeats and must find the winning consistency that has eluded them for much of this season.
They are undoubtedly blessed with talent, physically very fit and have found a new knack for snatching points from the jaws of defeat (12 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches this season), but it is true to say that they are not firing on all cylinders at present.
They will obviously miss their talisman and HeadHammer Shark’s favourite player, Cesc Fabregas, and if we can maintain our recent good form then I think we have a decent chance of taking something from this tricky fixture.
2. January Sale
Our opponents on Saturday have been involved in the most protracted transfer saga of the window. Andrei Arshavin’s move to north London from UEFA Cup-holders Zenit-St. Petersburg has been playing out publicly for weeks.
Wenger claims not to be interested in the protracted goings on and refuses to break the wage structure for anyone. I however will remain sceptical until kick-off as, despite the Russian League being in pre-season, you can bet the deal will go though at 2-45pm and Arshavin will make a wondrous debut.
Failing that Eduardo will doubtless make a goal-scoring return from injury while Kieron Dyer watches from his sofa. It wouldn’t surprise me if David Rocastle clambered out of the cold earth to arrive at the near post with a glancing header.
Elsewhere, Manchester City are said to be on the verge of prising Shay Given from Newcastle, Robbie Keane is about as popular on Merseyside as a job application form and Woy Hodgson has confused tottenham’s Tom Huddlestone for a professional footballer as he looks for a Jimmy Bullard replacement.
3. Picture Book
William Gallas spots his wife in the stands with Scott Duxbury
4. Our New Czech Mate?
The only rumour with any credence to be linked with us this week is the proposed arrival of Spartak Moscow midfielder Radoslav Kovac. The Czech international reportedly told Russian newspaper Sovietsky Sport:
"Everything was sorted out on Wednesday afternoon… A flight to London is booked and I'm flying there on Thursday.”
He has played at centreback for the Czech Republic and performed a defensive midfield role for Spartak Moscow. Kovac is reportedly moving on loan ‘til the end of the season with an option to buy in the summer.
If he does arrive, I just hope he’s as menacing and mental as Tomas Repka.
At 29, he must be seen as a replacement for the departed Hayden Mullins and cover for brittle-boned Scott Parker. The prospect of Gianfranco Zola as a manager is said to have been a deciding factor in his decision, as it was with Savio.
Our little Italian is proving to be quite a draw when attracting players to the club, such is the esteem in which he is held by the footballing world. He obviously has a knack for making players feel special, as that has been borne out in recent results and performances.
You couldn’t really say the same of the wonderful Joe Kinnear, who came out with this tactful piece of motivational speaking on Wednesday night:
“I tried to sell Geremi yesterday because I thought it would raise £4million, but that deal fell through so I had to play him tonight.”
Earlier this season we were undone 2-0 at Upton Park, but remained largely competitive until the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayour.
Julien Faubert was unlucky to turn the ball into our own net for Arsenal’s first and their second came on the break after we had committed men forward looking for an equaliser.
Adebayour changed the game and Theo Walcott was a menace on the wings, with pace that made Lucas Neill look like he was running in a swimming pool.
Last time at The Emirates saw us go down by the same scoreline and not giving ourselves any real chance after conceding in the second minute, briefly rallying only to concede again after 18.
6. No Place Like Home
The Emirates is no longer considered the fortress of a couple of year’s back.
The former citadel was of course initially breached by dedicated Marxist Bobby Zamora, valiantly penetrating the defences with a lance of a strike back in 2007 to puncture the pomposity of the ruling classes, and so ably assisted by the flawless rearguard action of Rob Green, defender of the proletariat.
This season the dented confidence of the home team has seen them succumb to Aston Villa and Hull City, whereas Liverpool, tottenham and Fenerbache have all claimed draws.
7. Pieces Of The Pie
Mark Noble left the field injured late on Wednesday night and it got me thinking about Zola’s midfield options, particularly in light of recent arrivals.
Were Noble to miss out on Saturday, I would personally like to see Jack Collison put in the middle with Scott Parker, the tireless Valon Behrami on the right and new boy Savio on the left.
No doubt Julien Faubert would get the nod over Savio, who will be gradually introduced over coming weeks, but I reckon my proposed midfield looks quite dynamic.
8. Zizou Mark II
Probably much to Samir Nasri’s annoyance, this guy is being touted in France as the latest heir to Zinedine Zidane’s vacant throne - and you can see why. Wallop.
Red-hot-goal-machine Carlton Cole now stands on six goals from his last seven games and has been touted in the tabloids as a prospect for the upcoming England squad.
He has clearly benefitted from consistently starting matches and his dependable work-rate is beginning to pay dividends. Even though he seems to have been around forever, he’s still only 25 and therefore still likely to improve.
Taking all this into consideration and despite recent statistics providing a healthy argument, whenever Cole finds himself with a goal-scoring opportunity I am never confident that he will put it away.
There’s a decent chance he’ll hit the target, but there's an equal chance he'll cause a car crash outside the ground.
Watching Carlton upfront is like watching the antithesis of a Rocky film. In the ring, Rocky consistently finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you know he’s always going to deliver the coup de grâce.
Cole remains something of an enigma to the fans, and probably himself – capable of lovely touches, fine goals, scoring with both feet, good in the air, a good target man. And yet also prone to bouts of the Paulo Wanchope’s where he doesn’t quite seem to have either the ball or his limbs under control.
10. Stand By Your Man
Luis Boa Morte once again did his best to undermine my positive publicity campaign on his behalf by missing another absolute sitter against Hull.
Still, I’m gonna stick with him, if only because I heard he’s got some really good skag coming in this weekend.