No matter what happens on Sunday afternoon we’ll still be in the top four on Monday morning and whether we stay there or not will depend on our remaining ten results; what consequences that has for next season depends on where we finish and how far the Gooners go in this season’s Moneybags League, they’re still in it remember, at the moment anyway. Much has been said of their performances and results against Bradford, Blackburn and Bayern but not much about their current league form which puts them just ahead of us in second in the form table. Despite the apparent turmoil at board level, the disagreements between the manager and his coaches, the squabbles and apparent fighting between fans and a defence that sometimes has more holes in than Oscar Pistorius’s we underestimate them at our peril.
In the last few years beating them has thankfully become a habit rather than a novelty, the psychological edge they used to have is gone. Bale and Adebayor are regular scorers against them, it’s a shame we’ve lost Van der Vaart, he couldn’t get enough of arrowing a shot past the big mouth in goal but in Dembele, the hopefully returning Defoe, the 10 stone lighter Gylfi, Lennon, Holtby and even Caulker we possess goal threats aplenty.
But hang on, what was that first name again? Bale. The gooners were one of the teams he first made a mess of when he made such an impact in 2010. The picture of him wheeling away arms wide as celebrates tucking home Defoe’s through ball in that season’s game still hangs above my desk at work. Since then he’s grown from a boy to a man to a beast and now to a genius.
His ability may mask some flaws in our side but what a mask it is. When O’Brien delivered his body check on our Boy Wonder in the last few seconds on Monday, presumably thinking that he’d given our man a final chance from a free-kick his heart must’ve been in his mouth. It would’ve hit the floor of his stomach a few seconds later when the ball fizzed over Jaaskelainen’s left shoulder and in. It’s unrealistic of course to expect Gareth to perform that sort of magic every game but one’s mind’s eye cannot help but picture another bamboozler whipping past Szczesny whilst, as the goal scorer turns, his fingers already making that familiar heart shape, the west corner of the Park Lane empties ready to fill the trains back to Guildford, St Albans and Maidstone.
Given the abortive nature of AVB’s first NLD plus the embryonic state of the side at that point you could say that this is Villas-Boas’s first proper opportunity to set out a side in a game of this stature. He’s recently shown a keen tactical awareness when things aren’t going our way, especially with the timing and nature of some of his subs. The only worrying point of course is that there’s been a need to make a change. Arsenal will almost certainly pack the midfield and try and overrun and overcrowd us. Ideally we’ll meet them with numbers from the off and not have to reshuffle. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bale and Ade started at the front with Lennon, Parker, Mousa and Sigurdsson behind them. Assou-Ekotto will probably come in on the left of the defence with Jan and Dawson in the centre. That leaves Holtby and fingers crossed Defoe as impact players on the bench. That’s just a guess of course, I keep pictures of the players above my desk, not watch them train every day.
Whoever plays will know the importance of this game just by looking at the league table. Those with a soul will know it’s much more important than that.
Clattenburg’s the man with the whistle. COYS.
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