Yes, it’s here a day earlier than usual… the big weekend preview… as you all know this week has been one where thoughts have been shared between the midweek fixtures, the game this Saturday and the big game next Wednesday… we saw Chelsea slip back into second position, with the table now looking like this:
Man United – played 31, 69 points
Chelsea – played 31, 68 points
Arsenal – played 31, 67 points
And Sp*rs of course, beating Fulham was a blessing in disguise, as we had to play them just days after the Barcelona away game and now we have roughly a week before we play them… good for us and also a good sidetrack for them, if they do beat Portsmouth, or even if they don’t, playing them straight away is more likely to be a good thing, as they wouldn’t have rested players, leaving us the fresher of the two teams (for once…) and if Gallas doesn’t make it back before then, it gives us more time to get him ready.
Yesterday’s post was designed to look at the other side – how Barcelona will cope with our midfield and our attack, if they can at all… as yes, they have a good squad, with one stand out player in Messi, but they must look at us and having seen our game against Porto, be thinking, how do we stop Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri and Cesc? Let alone the mercurial skills of Emmanuel Eboue…
But before all of that, and as we have done for the last 6 games (6 games that we have all won – 6 in a row)… we need to concentrate on the next game, and that is against Birmingham at St. Andrews on Saturday. The Midlands team having played last night, and having lost to Blackburn means that they will be tired – naturally – more tired than us, considering we’ve had no midweek game. The interesting thing with Birmingham is that at one point, they were in some really good form, winning 6 in a row and when I saw this fixture, I thought it would be a really hard one – but on recent form, they shouldn’t pose as much a threat as they did earlier this season – but throw form out of the window – we saw with Blackburn vs Chelsea, there are no easy games in this league.
Arsene believes we need to have a perfect finish, which means extending out 6 games to 13…
“There are three teams in the race and it is down to the team who are the most consistent. We can only focus on our own performances. We know our route has to be perfect. To be perfect it is important we focus on our performances. We need some help from the other teams, but we know that will only work if we are consistent and keep our momentum. We have created a fantastic momentum and we have created a great belief within our squad. The consistency of our run is the most important.”
Looking at the team news ahead of the game and we’re without 3 of our first three defenders (Vermaelen suspended, Gallas short term injury, Djourou long term injury), so we’re down to the backup players in Campbell, Silvestre and makeshift centre half Alex Song. With next week’s game in mind, and the knowledge that Campbell can’t play more than one game a week, we may see Silvestre and Song playing this weekend, with Campbell and Vermaelen coming in for the midweek game against Barcelona. If we didn’t have Barcelona mid-week, we’d probably see Campbell and Song, so it’s interesting to see if Arsene prioritises the league or the Champions League.
Earlier this week, there was a doubt over Niklas Bendtner’s involvement in the game this weekend, but Arsene revealed that he should be back in contention this weekend.
“He should be OK. He is not back in training yet because he has an ankle problem, but he will have a late test tomorrow morning and should be available. I have not picked the team yet, but I expect him to be available. The team news for the weekend is that of course we lost Thomas Vermaelen because he is suspended and everybody else should be available who played last week.”
Good news regarding William Gallas – he may return to the club tomorrow, to start training again after an extended period out.
“He is back today from his rehabilitation and is back in full training I believe tomorrow, Saturday or Sunday. But he is too short to be available for the weekend of course and certainly as well for the midweek game. We have to assess him, it is too early to say [whether he is available for Wolves next Saturday].”
From Wolves onwards, he may be fit, so the return leg – the away leg – at Barcelona may have him and Vermaelen line up together for the first time in ages… I have a suspicion that Sol will play against Birmingham as Arsene clearly rates him higher than Silvestre – he has played two games in a row before this season, so only the boss will make that decision…
Okay, let’s have a look at the team news ahead on Saturday’s game:
Sagna- Campbell – Song – Clichy
Denilson – Diaby
Rosicky – Cesc – Arshavin
With a bench of Fabianski, Eboue, Silvestre, Eastmond, Nasri, Walcott, Bendtner
Having written that team out, it’s noticable that I’ve rested Nasri and Bendtner. With Rosicky back in the squad and raring to go, it may be wise to give Nasri a rest – even if we didn’t have Barcelona next week, I would have probably suggested the same thing and with Bendtner still recovering, it may be apt for Eduardo to start ahead of him…
Arsene is keen on focusing on the Birmingham game, naturally, he has talked about only considering the next game – against Birmingham in his team selection:
“I will pick him for the next game because for me the next game is an important one. I don’t consider Barcelona for the next game. At the back we need to be solid to win this game [at Birmingham]. We fight the whole season to be in there and this is a priority. I believe my players are very intelligent and if we were distracted it would mean we were not [intelligent]. The best way to prepare for Barcelona is to win the game before. We have fought like mad until now to be in the position we are in. It’s ten months preparation, fight and work to be where we are in the championship so we want to take advantage of that and win the Birmingham game.”
Well, on that case, we may see Nasri and Bendtner start the game… it’s going to be an interesting weekend – for the first time in ages, we really don’t know who will line up!