Arsenal away this week, as we attempt to keep our cumulative concessions against a member of the top three to less than five goals.
The Gunners appear to be coming into form at just the right time. They have weathered a few storms this season, most notably the lengthy absence of Robin van Persie; as well as a merry-go-round of goalkeepers, the audible groans from Sol Campbell’s knees and the traditional broken leg inflicted by the proletariat.
The fact that they remain in the title race at all is more indicative of Man United and Chelsea’s inability to consolidate in the manner they have in previous seasons.
Arsenal’s proximity to the league leaders belies a lack of depth in certain areas and their squad doesn’t match those of the top two. The quality is certainly there, but it is thin on the ground, as brittle as a porcelain doll with post-traumatic stress disorder taking the witness stand.
The fops at The Emirates will hardly care if they win their first title in six seasons, but it can no longer be said that they are a team in transition.
With the rumoured departure of William Gallas and persistent injuries to Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Eduardo and van Persie, it is the familiar story of a full-strength Arsenal being formidable, but the predominant theme remaining ‘same old Arsenal, legs are creaking’.
2. Damage Limitation
Last week I proffered the opinion that a hard-fought drubbing will do us more good than a pliant narrow defeat.
This week I am inclined to think that back-to-back heavy losses could irreparably damage our confidence as we clamber up the lifeline cast by an imminent run of home fixtures.
It was noticeable how the team deflated after Chelsea’s second goal last weekend, having competed for the first hour. A similar result on Saturday, regardless of the performance, would leave morale tenuously shaky in the run-up to a crucial spell.
Earlier this season, a 2-2 draw at The Boleyn threatened to herald a turning point after a poor run of home form. A subsequent spluttering run of results is now a matter of public record – although not on this blog. Ahem.
The score draw was all the more notable as we came from two goals down to nick a point. Arsenal were 2-0 up and cruising courtesy of van Persie and Gallas, before Carlton Cole capitalised on a howler from their fifth stand-in substitute first choice ‘keeper, Vito Mannone. Alessandro Diamante then opened his account with a well-taken penalty to claim a point.
Arsenal will look back on that game as one of a few missed opportunities this season, which could ultimately scupper their title ambitions.
Last year’s trip to The Emirates garnered a point during a good run of form for us. We all would have taken a draw pre-game, but a lack of cohesion in the home side combined with mild panic from us whenever we ventured into their half, resulted in leaving the ground with a point in the bag allied to a strange sense of missed opportunity.
However, any mild irritation was banished by the memory of the halftime canapés, which were excellent, matched by a full-bodied Pinot Noir of fine vintage.
4. Danish Patsy
Nicklas Bendtner is one of those professional footballers whom I reckon I could give a run for his money.
Some of his failings would see any schoolboy rightly booed from the playground, yet Arsene Wenger has kept faith with the big Dane and he has scored some important goals against Porto and Burnley recently.
Bendtner’s goal tally is only respectable thanks to the sheer amount of chances his teammates lay on for him. His 'goals scored' vs 'sitters skied' ratio would make for interesting reading, but I’m happy for him to score just enough to remain employed if it keeps Wenger’s predatory gaze from Big Carlton.
5. Picture Book
‘Barcelona? Down here, straight over the roundabout and left at the lights.’
6. Zo Selecta!
Zola’s team selection last week was surprising, with both Mido and Ilan preferred to the exclusion of Diamante and Cole.
If the strike partnership was unexpected, Kieron Dyer’s inclusion in midfield was astounding. I haven’t been so taken aback since I found out Simon Cowell was straight.
Dyer surely wouldn’t be first choice if Collison was fit, and I’m surprised he ousted Diamante, although I expect that decision to be reversed this week.
Young Swiss, Fabio Daprela, looked decent at right back. He can’t be any worse than Faubert defensively and so probably warrants a run in the side. Actual defenders playing in defensive positions often help in games like this.
With Calum Davenport now free to appear on the Jeremy Kyle special ‘Warring Siblings Stab Out Reconciliation’, Danny Gabbidon will have more opportunity to try and reclaim the form of a few years ago
His brief appearances this season have been average (skinned by Giggs at Upton Park, underwhelming against Chelsea), but that is to be expected after such a long time out.
He may have to adapt his game to a more all-purpose defender, as James Tomkins has superceded him in the centre of defence.
I imagine we’ll line up in a similar incarnation to last week, with Cole starting, Diamante reinstated on the wing, and one of several striking options partnering Big Carlton upfront.
We have to get in at halftime no more than a goal adrift. Our comeback from two-down at The Boleyn was unlikely, at The Emirates it would be impossible.
7. Altitude Sickness
The arrival of huge investment and/or debt at the league’s biggest clubs has come at the expense of grassroots atmosphere.
Manchester United can generate volume, but only thanks to their huge capacity. The Glazers ownership has spawned a yellow and green coloured resistance among pockets of die-hard fans, but they are vastly outnumbered by largely inconspicuous glory-hunters and tourists.
Chelsea have become a joke. I am reliably informed that their latest attempt to breathe life into the fetid corpse of Stamford Bridge revolves around synchronised flag-waving, part of a policy to one day oust singing with semaphore.
You’d almost feel sorry for them if you didn’t hate them so much.
United and Chelsea have been blighted in the crowd credibility stakes by an influx of pretenders, but Arsenal are a curious case in that their support has remained consistent in make-up but seldom vocal.
The board, staff and fans at The Emirates are predominantly all powdered wigs and pantaloons. Content to register their disappointment with an aristocratic sneer or a strongly-worded email, years of boarding school has tempered any instinct for jovial camaraderie.
Perhaps success, generations of inbreeding and birthright entitlement has led to an unshakable, emotionally staid repression (a theory which would explain why we are such a rabble-rousing bunch of bi-polar bin men), or perhaps I just enjoy goading my gooner mates too much.
David Seaman? A poor man’s Alan McKnight.