Title challenge over after loss to Bolton Wanderers.
It was inevitable that this would happen at some point. If I’m honest, I thought that our title hopes would end with a loss to Manchester United next week – not to Owen Coyle’s Bolton.
Bolton led at half-time thanks to a Daniel Sturridge header. Cesc Fabregas had several long-range efforts – one which was saved by Jaaskelainen and one which hit the post – along with chances for Walcott which were repeatedly blocked. Arsenal were mainly restricted to their usual intricate passes outside the box, which was often followed by a cross which seemed to be aimed at Bolton’s centre backs, not our strikers.
Wojeich Szczesny saved a dubious penalty at the beginning of the second half, and Robin Van Persie scored at the other end only minutes later (his 7th in 7 consecutive away games). With the clock slowly ticking away, Wenger threw on Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh in desperation. However, the team rarely looked like scoring a second goal, and Bolton capitalised on poor defending when Tamir Cohen scored in the last minute.
Yesterday’s performance provides some of the best examples of our recent defensive frailties, as well as our profligacy in front of goal:
Alex Song was just one of the players guilty of giving the ball away too easily.
Marking from set pieces was pretty poor – both Bolton goals came from corners.
Johan Djourou gave away yet another unnecessary penalty early in the second half – the 3rd penalty we have conceded in 3 games.
Golden chances were missed by key players, but otherwise Arsenal delivered pointless crosses into the box, which were rarely attacked by our players.
United are now clear favorites for the title. They are 6 points clear of Chelsea, 9 ahead of Arsenal. The bookies are giving odds of 66/1 against Arsenal winning the Premier League. Worth a punt? No. Don’t waste your money. Manchester City are 8 points behind us with 2 games in hand. We have more chance of finishing 4th.
2 wins in our last 10 games in all competitions is simply not good enough. The fact that we were unbeaten in 16 Premier League games (until yesterday) is irrelevant, because we drew eight of them. 7 points from our last 6 games (we currently sit 14th in the form table) is not the form of a team fighting for the title, but the form of a team that looks lackluster going forward and extremely weak at the back.
Wenger is now unable to defend our recent poor performances by saying “but we are on a 17 game unbeaten run.” Although, it must be said that the media focussed on his quote about our unbeaten run following recent draws against Spurs and Liverpool, when the manager was completely open about our inability to hold a lead. Unfortunately, a manager who should go down as one of the greatest managers to ever grace English football, could instead be remembered as the manager who lead Arsenal to 6 (maybe more?) seasons without silverware.
In his post-match press conference, Wenger finally conceded that the team is unable to cope with high levels of pressure and lacks the “mental strength” required to win the league.
“If anybody is to blame it is me. I pick the team, I choose the players.
“I feel the players have had an outstanding attitude for the whole season but they are not to blame.
“Yes, it is very unsatisfactory not to win anything. It was one of the easiest run-ins we have had for a long, long time.
“We still lack maturity, experience and calm in important situations.”
Maybe it’s a good thing that we are not going into next week’s game with such high expectations. In all honestly, the match against Manchester United is almost inconsequential. Although it is still mathematically possible for us to win the league, we just have to accept that, yet again, Arsenal have fallen at the final hurdle.
Szczesny 7.5 – A decent performance from our young Polish keeper. He saved a penalty and made some important saves in the first half.
Clichy 6 – Not his best performance. Clichy needs to work on his crossing, as most of the balls he pumped into the box were ineffective. It is probably a combination of his crossing and not enough players making strong runs into the box.
Djourou 5 – Djourou did not have a good game. Bad marking during set pieces and poor passing further illustrates the need for Wenger to go our and buy a top-class centre back.
Koscielny 6 – Marginally better than Djourou. Both had difficulties dealing with set pieces, but Koscielny dealt with the pressure better than his partner.
Sagna 6.5 – Good game defensively, but wasted opportunities going forward. Like Clichy, needs to work on his crosses.
Song 6 – Gave away the ball on too many occasions and did not have his usual strong influence on the game. Wenger was right to substitute him at half time.
Wilshere 7 – Made some good runs, and kept possession of the ball where others would have given it away. Jack was one of the only players who actively tried to win back the ball after he gave it away.
Fabregas 7.5 MOTM– Fabregas offered our best attacking threat. Forced into long-range shots because players were not making their usual runs into the box, he tested the keeper on several occasions.
Nasri 6 – Nowhere near the performances expected from out talented Frenchman this season. Although his runs were good, his first touch was poor and he wasted two decent opportunities.
Walcott 6.5 – Started the game brightly by making strong runs, and tested the keeper at the beginning of the game, but was not particularly effective as the game wore on.
Van Persie 7 – Scored yet another goal and improved on recent poor performances (despite still scoring against Liverpool and Spurs). However, he dropped deep far too often when we needed a player in the box, and rarely tested the keeper.
Chamakh 5.5 – Didn’t offer much during his half an hour on the pitch.
Arshavin 6 - Made some strong runs into the box and challenged defenders, but was unable to find anybody with his crosses.
Ramsey n/a – Didn’t have much time to influence the game.
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Neither Arsenal nor Bolton are in particularly strong form going into this game, with both teams looking to bounce back from disappointing results this week (in Bolton’s case a 5-0 defeat to Stoke in the FA Cup semi final). The draw against Spurs has seen Arsenal lose further ground on Manchester United, and the club has even overtaken by Chelsea. The Gunners have only won 2 of their last 10 games – the only wins coming against Leyton Orient in the FA Cup, and 2 weeks ago against Blackpool. Nevertheless, Arsenal have won 14 of the 23 games against Bolton in the Premier League, with wins in all of the last 8, so the chances of a win for Owen Coyle’s team are very slim.
Today, Manchester United extended their lead at the top of the table to 9 points. A late Hernandez goal secured yet another home victory for the Red Devils. Fergie’s team have turned Old Trafford into a fortress (winning 16 of their 17 games this season), whereas the Emirates is far from the safe haven that it has been in previous seasons. We have already lost to Newcastle, West Brom and Spurs. The good news is that we head to the Reebok Stadium with the knowledge that we have by far the best away record in the league.
Chelsea also have a superior home record this season, and Fernando Torres helped them to a victory over West Ham which moves them three points above us. Yes – I have double-checked, and Torres has scored a legitimate goal. However, £50 million still looks ridiculously stupid when you consider that Maxi Rodriguez scored a hat-trick today.
Interviewed after the Spurs game Wenger said:
“We have to get ready for the next game and fight as we do. This team has a remarkable attitude. We are on a 16-game unbeaten run [in the league], but recently we haven’t got enough points because of too many draws.”
Recent league form:
The chances are that there will only be one change from the team that played against Spurs. Abou Diaby is injured, so Jack Wilshere, who started on the bench on Wednesday, will probably return to the starting line-up.
I have named the team for tomorrow, and therein lies the problem. I already know the team, and Owen Coyle knows the team. The team never changes. The line-up is almost always the same and Wenger is not flexible with the formation. Occasionally Wenger is forced to make changes if we have injuries or suspensions.
Since Robin Van Persie returned from injury, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh haven’t had many opportunities in the starting line-up. In fact, Chamakh wasn’t even on the bench against Tottenham. Bendtner and Arshavin normally feature towards the end of the game – introduced at around 80 minutes – and have little or no effect.
The team is just a bit too predictable. We aren’t anywhere near as difficult to play against this season as we have been in previous years. All it takes is a scrappy goal against our less-than-satisfactory defence and teams feel that they can get a point (or maybe more). The side has not been particularly strong in recent weeks and will be low on confidence following the draw at White Heart Lane. Hopefully, they will go out tomorrow and prove me wrong.
A comfortable performance by Arsenal’s second string puts us through to the quarter finals of the FA Cup. Although this team has failed to produce on many occasions this season, they finally managed to cap off great ball retention with the ability to score goals. Too many times, we have seen Bendtner, Denilson, Chamakh and Rosicky under-achieve. They weren’t brilliant today, but it was an improvement.
In my opinion, the main problem with the second string is that they aren’t like the younger ‘reserve’ sides that Arsenal used to field in the cups.They used to be first team players (Almunia, Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky, Eboue etc). They were dropped over the last few years (due to new players coming through or injury). The team that beat Sheffield Utd 6-0 were young, fearless and bristling with enthusiasm. The current crop are lacking form and confidence and feel unwanted.
Bendtner scored a hattrick today. It was probably the worst Arsenal performance to have come away with three goals, but if anyone can do it, it’s our great Dane. He became the first Arsenal player to score a hattrick in an FA Cup match, since Ian Wright against Yoevil in 1993. Bendtner made some shocking passes, and his control was worse than a rabid dog, but he did his job. In football, it’s all about results, and Nicklas scored the goals we needed. Wenger took him off to rapturous, but perhaps slightly sarcastic, applause. Maybe he was being rested for the Barcelona game. Ironically, we may actually need to start with Super Nick at the Nou Camp! Maybe he can replicate his heroics from last season…
Diaby returned from his latest spell on the sidelines, but was exactly the same as ever. He made powerful runs through the midfield, and his link-up play was good. As usual, he had no end product. After one particularly brilliant run, he found himself one-on-one with the keeper. His shot went wide – typical Abou! A bit more composure in the box, and he would be a superb attacking midfielder. Unfortunately, more than once, Diaby got to the opponent’s box, turned around, and passed it backwards. A long-range effort, or an attempt at a defence-shattering pass would be so much more useful!
Orient fought hard and tried to play passing football, but unfortunately they were not good enough, so it often ended in clearing the ball out of play. They had a few decent chances in the first half, one which had their fans believing it was in. This particular opportunity fell to the League 1 side as Arsenal’s defensive duo, Miquel and Squillaci, were caught way out of position. A low, whipped cross was met by an Orient striker, who had found himself in acres of space as our centre-backs went missing. His shot was off-target, but as it hit the net from behind, the ripples caused cheers from the away fans.
The first goal came thanks to a lung-busting run from Rosicky, and his pass was cut back to the penalty spot. Chamakh met the ball at pace, and slotted the ball into the far post. The home fans were still smarting from the cup final defeat, so cheers were hardly deafening. In fact, there were some areas of the crowd that felt the need to boo the Arsenal team when they came onto the pitch. Disgusting behaviour in my opinion, but fans do have the right to voice their views. To me, beating down the already-low morale of their own team seems rather foolish.
The second goal came courtesy of a floated cross from the ever-effective Kieran Gibbs. Bendtner out-jumped his marker and sent an impressive header into the top corner. The next goal was scored soon after, after the ball was nicked off Leyton Orient defenders as they tried to play themselves out of trouble. Bendtner grabbed the ball and ran at their back four. He dipped inside and fired a fantastic shot into the far side of the goal. 3-0 to the Arsenal at half-time, and we were almost certainly through to the quarters.
The final two goals arrived after much teasing and taunting of the opposition, but not many notable chances. A sensational run by Gibbs led to a penalty, after he was brought down in the box. Super Nick stepped up to seize his hattrick, and the match ball was his thanks to a decent spot kick. Clichy came on in the second half, and marked the occasion with his second goal… EVER. His first came in a 1-2 defeat a few seasons ago, and it got deflected. This strike was far more impressive. He took the shot first-time and smashed it into the far corner, after a cross had evaded two Arsenal players.
Overall, it was a necessary win, for many reasons. Arsenal needed to get the morale back up after the defeat in the final, because the next match against Sunderland is terribly important, especially as Utd dropped points last night. However, plenty of the players who played in the final were absent tonight, such as Song, RVP, Arshavin, Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny and Djourou. These players will probably still be pretty upset, but a 5-0 win should help to lift the gloom. In addition, Arsenal now have a quarter-final tie at Old Trafford to look forward to. It will take place only four days after the Barca game, so next week will (hopefully) be a great week to be a Gooner!
The elation following the Barcelona game was juxtaposed with a rather subdued feeling of frustration following our draw against Leyton Orient. Granted, we rested the majority of our starting eleven. That said, the feeling in the dressing room must still be positive. We are set to face a team who are doing quite well this season, currently sitting 10th in the league. They are also still in the FA cup. With United not playing until the weekend, we need to keep plenty of pressure on them. We can potentially reduce the gap to one point, and a win is almost a necessity if we are to challenge United for the title this season. Wenger has stated that “we know that we have to win our homes games.” He is 100% right. We cannot afford another slip-up at home, or indeed away, like those against Tottenham or Newcastle.
Robin Van Persie, who has been in sensational goalscoring form recently, is sidelined with a hamstring problem. Laurent Koscielny is also out with a back problem. Wenger has described both of these injuries as “short term” and that they both “have a chance for Sunday.” With Vermaelen still struggling to return from his Achilles problem, Squillaci and Djourou are our only two fit centre backs. Djourou has really stepped up his game this year, and after a slightly shaky start, Koscielny has proven that he has what it takes to make it as a top class centre back. I personally feel that with these two centre backs, our defence is much stronger than it has been in recent seasons. I would even go as far as saying that Vermaelen may have a tough time breaking back into the team. However, unlike his fellow Frenchman, Squillaci has shown that he is more of a liability, and has not made a very impressive start to his Arsenal career. Arsenal do not need another Silvestre, we need another Sol Campbell – determined, passionate and difficult to break down. For all of his experience, Squillaci is proving to seem like the former rather than the latter. However, although he has had plenty of chances to prove himself in an Arsenal shirt this season, I may be slightly guilty of jumping to conclusions. Let’s hope that Squillaci can prove me wrong and show his quality tonight.
Chamakh started the season in fabulous form scoring 10 goals in all competitions. Arsenal fans revelled in his delicate touch and aerial dominance. Unfortunately, with the return of RVP, and Chamakh’s subsequent poor run of form for our ‘second XI’, many Arsenal fans have become disillusioned with the Moroccan star. Perhaps his heading ability will be useful against a physical Stoke team. We will undoubtedly miss our flying Dutchman, but he is by no means the only source of goals in this Arsenal team.
It is likely that our team will be buoyant in the aftermath of the Barcelona victory. Many of the players for tonight were involved in that memorable Champions League match, and we are once again at home. Therefore, I feel that our skill and speed will be too much for Stoke to handle. They will attempt to stop us playing with their less glamorous, physical style. While that may have worked in previous seasons, this year we have not been bullied off of a pitch. We have been up for the fight, and realistically, I do not see us coming away from this game with less than three points.
Despite a strong start to 2011, Arsenal have failed to impress in these matches. However, Arsenal have defeated Chelsea, Everton and Barcelona, produced a great performance against a defensive Manchester City and walked past Wigan, Wolves, Birmingham and West Ham. How can Arsenal’s performances be so varied? Well, it seems quite obvious to me – Arsenal’s second string is quite simply not good enough.
Bendtner, Arshavin, Chamakh, Denilson, Rosicky, Squillaci have featured in almost all the disappointing performances. Each player has been severely off-form. That isn’t to say that these players are rubbish – far from it. Bendtner scored some key goals last season which kept us in the hunt for the Premier League title. Chamakh started the season brilliantly, netting ten goals in all competitions. Denilson is a great passer and Rosicky was one of our most creative players before his injury. Arshavin is a superb talent, and it is important to note that he is coming back to form, but he was very poor between early-October and mid-January. I wish I could say that Squillaci isn’t rubbish, but he hasn’t really been very effective for Arsenal so far. He was a decent player for Sevilla, but will he ever be good enough for Arsenal?
So are all these ‘good’ players the reason for a bunch of awful results? In my opinion, there is no doubt. The form of the front trio of Bendtner, Arshavin and Chamakh is so frustrating to watch. Firstly, Bendtner and Chamakh should both play down the centre, so sticking the Dane on the wing only serves to reduce his effectiveness (which isn’t particularly high anyway). Arshavin, who is regaining confidence, needs to sharpen up in the final third. His goal vs Barcelona was spectacular – very powerful and accurate. Unfortunately, he was unable to reproduce that skill against a weak League 1 side. Less profligacy in front of goal would have led to a comfortable scoreline.
It wasn’t that Arsenal were inferior. Possession was massively in our favour, and the Gunners had three times as many shots as the opposition. The problem seemed to be that Arsenal’s players lacked any drive to play at their peak. Do these players want a chance in the first team? Do they want to play Barcelona? On the back of this performance, not only are they not good enough, but they back up their lack of skill with a lack of passion.
The first half was very slow – Arsenal had over 70% possession after 30 minutes of the match. Denilson was the culprit for a lack of creativity as he continued to pass the ball backwards or square. He did make the most passes in the match, with 133. But what use are those passes if they aren’t incisive? Wilshere made less than a third of that number of passes against Barcelona, yet his passes were always effective. There were very few chances in the first half, because whenever Arsenal reached the opponent’s box, Bendtner or Chamakh would try a long-range shot which would either get blocked or go very wide.
The second half wasn’t much better. Rosicky scored his first goal since primary school with a header after 50 minutes or so, but we failed to capitalise on that. Chances came and went, with little urgency from the players. The game seemed over, so Wenger didn’t bother using the array of talent on his bench. However, with only minutes left to play, Tehoue danced through Arsenal’s defence, before unleashing a great effort… which went under Almunia. The keeper doesn’t have to make a save all game, and he lets that shot go under him in the last minute. I don’t get it either. Maybe he doesn’t want to be in contention to face Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp. Don’t worry Manuel, you aren’t.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Leyton Orient for never giving up. The players will receive a trip to Las Vegas for their efforts. They played with determination and passion – something that Arsenal’s second string should learn. One advantage of a replay is that Bendtner and co. will get some more match time, because I highly doubt they will be featuring in any of the big games that are coming up in the next few weeks.
Arsene Wenger won 6 out of a possible 6 against Mick McCarthy
Arsenal host Wolves at the Emirates tomorrow, in the first Premier League game since Newcastle’s incredible comeback. So far this season, Wolves have completed victories against Chelsea, City and perhaps most impressively, Manchester United. Despite this, the odds are in our favour to take all three points. While this game may seem like a formality, we cannot afford to be complacent at such a crucial stage of the season. United have a tough set of fixtures coming up, so this is the perfect time to try to maintain some consistency. Earlier this season, Arsenal emerged victorious at the Molineux with a 2-0 win thanks to a Chamakh brace.
Recent form and statistics
Last 6 matches in all competitions:
Arsenal – D W W W W W
Wolves – W L L L W L
Even after last weekend’s collapse, we still have the best form in the league with 14 points from our last 6 games.
We are now only 4 points adrift of league leaders Manchester United, who host their local rivals in an early kick-off.
We are currently on an 8 game unbeaten run in the league, having scored 20 times in those last 8 matches.
With the prospect of facing Barcelona in 4 days after tomorrow’s match, Wenger might be tempted to rest a few key players. However, here at straightalkingooners, we hope that he resists such temptation and fields a strong team. We managed to get though the international fixtures without any injuries, with the exception of Thomas Rosicky, who has a groin strain. Both Fabregas and RVP are available after illness and Djourou is once again available following his injury at St. James’ Park. There are reports that although Vermaelen is doing well in his recovery, his return is not imminent. Wenger has said that “he is doing better and he is in the normal process of rehabilitation… When he will be fit again, I don’t know. It is very difficult to set any time on it. Something like three weeks.” Song is also back in the squad and will hopefully add some steel to our midfield. Here’s the team I think we will put out:
Sagna — Djourou — Koscielny — Clichy
——Fabregas — Song — Wilshere——
——Walcott — RVP — Arshavin——
Wolves will be brimming with confidence following their win against United. However, I think that our home advantage and technical superiority will prove too much for the relegation-threatened side. Despite the fact that Djourou’s partnership with Koscielny is far superior to Koscielny’s with Squillaci, I believe that Wolves’ aerial threat will prevent us from keeping a clean sheet. With the potential for United to drop points, it could be a very good day for the gunners.
Nasri's early goal stifled Leeds, leaving them chasing the game from the start
Leeds failed to knock Arsenal out of the cup two weeks ago, after a last-minute Cesc Fabregas penalty ensured a mid-week replay at Elland Road. As Arsenal had been behind for the majority of the second half at the Emirates, most Gooners were expecting another tough game on Wednesday night.
To their credit, Leeds gave a lively and relatively strong performance which suggests that they have the credentials to reach the Premier League next season. However, Arsenal have never gone out in the 3rd round of the FA Cup during Wenger’s reign, nor have the Londoners lost to lower-league opposition in this cup with the Frenchman at the helm. The team produced yet another clinical performance which ensured that this season was no different.
It only took five minutes for the first goal of the game – an excellent, tidy finish from Samir Nasri (now on 14 for the season), who started as captain because both Fabregas and Van Persie were on the bench. Marouane Chamakh was denied the opportunity of adding his name to the score-sheet only minutes later, thanks to a brilliant save from Kasper Schmeichel. Leeds tried to keep themselves in the game, but Bacary Sagna took advantage of a huge amount of time and space to score our second.
Just as it looked as though we had put the game past Leeds, Bradley Johnson scored with an exquisite strike from outside the box. Szczesny didn’t stand a chance. Nevertheless, a headed goal from an in-form Robin Van Persie, who came on as a second-half substitute, was enough to see us secure the victory.
Next up in the FA Cup is a home match against Huddersfield, on Sunday 30th January. Huddersfield currently sit second in League 1. So I guess Wenger will start with Arshavin and Bendtner, and the Gunners will struggle (again) against a lower-league side?
Szczesny – 7 Didn’t have much to do. Nothing he could do to save the superb shot from Johnson.
Sagna – 8 Had a decent game after his return from suspension. Scored an excellent goal and defended well.
Djourou/Koscielny – 7 A strong performance from our only two fit centre-backs. Mostly untroubled, but defended well when required.
Gibbs – 7.5 Crossed the ball well and made some excellent tackles. My first choice left-back over Gaël Clichy.
Song/Denilson – 7 Both players offered good defensive cover and ventured forward as usual.
Chamakh – 6.5 Unlucky not to have scored after a great save from Schmeichel, but seemed to offer very little to the game.
Nasri – 8.5 MOTM Yet another brilliant performance from our midfield maestro. Dominated the midfield and was at the centre of most of our decent attacking moves.
Bendtner – 6.5 Provided a decent cross for RVP’s goal, but (like Chamakh) offered very little otherwise. Wasted several chances in front of goal.
Arshavin -5.5 Assisted Nasri’s first goal, but did not really seem to be in the game. He also missed a number of gilt-edged opportunities. His performances this season have been lackluster and I hope that he returns to full form as quickly as possible.
Fabregas – 7.5 Came on for the last twenty minutes and immediately had a large effect on the game. Combined well with the other players and looks as sharp as ever.
RVP – 8 Also on for twenty minutes. Scored a brilliant header to add to his two goals against West Ham on the weekend. If we can keep him fit, we stand a great chance of being serious title contenders.
Clichy – n/a Came on with only a few minutes left and sat in front of Gibbs.
The way that the team set out for this game was slightly bizarre. Wenger chose to play Chamakh and Bendtner on the wings, with Nasri and Arshavin playing as attacking midfielders, leaving the team without a designated striker. However, I’m not going to complain as it seems to have done the job. I think that the team is really starting to get into their stride, and with only 7 away matches in our last 16 Premier League games, I am still optimistic about our chances of league glory this season. Manchester United still have to play 9 games away from home, where they have struggled to find form this season.
There is no doubt that Arsenal’s New Year schedule was, and is, difficult. Four games in ten days is bound to put pressure on any squad. If two of those games are against title contenders, and the other two are away games at teams with fantastic home records, then any team would struggle to get 12 points out of 12.
So far, Arsenal have collected 4 points out of 6. I believe that 8 points out of 12 would be enough to continue our title challenge this season. In past seasons, this may not have been the case. However, this year, top teams are dropping points all the time. Two wins and two draws in ten days would not be a disaster, despite what some may think.
Therefore, the Wigan result was good. It wasn’t great, especially considering we were winning against ten men with ten minutes to go.
Many people are having a go at Wenger for his decisions on the starting line up and substitutes. I can’t help but agree with these remarks. However, with this busy schedule, I understand Wenger’s choices. The worst decision, in my opinion, was that he didn’t bring on Walcott/Nasri to finish the game with a third goal, when it was 2-1. He brought them on after they had equalised.
Birmingham are currently sitting 17th in the table, out of the relegation zone solely on goal difference. However, they have only lost one game at home this season. In comparison, they have won no games and lost four away from home. Their form is patchy, having won once, lost once and drawn four times in the last six league games.
They gave us a tough game at the Emirates earlier this season. I remember it as a very frustrating game, with the Birmingham players attempting to time waste from the first whistle. We won after goals either side of half time from Nasri and Chamakh. But it was a very nervy affair. I expect it to be the same sort of physical battle as we saw in London.
I predict this to be the team. Clichy, Djourou, Song, Nasri and RVP were rested against Wigan. Fabregas was suspended, but I am certain the captain will return. Wilshere did play for the majority of the match after Diaby went off with injury, so Wenger may choose Denilson ahead of Wilshere. I am pretty sure Nasri and RVP will start, because Bendtner and Chamakh didn’t play particularly well against Wigan (despite the Dane grabbing a goal).
1-1 Birmingham are very strong at home and will give us plenty of problems. They don’t have a brilliant array of attacking talent, but I feel they will score against us from a set piece. We have conceded all of our last three goals from set pieces.
What a massive anti-climax! After the Chelsea game I had a feeling that this was going to happen. No team seems capable of taking advantage of good performances this season and putting together several wins on the trot. Manchester United drew with Birmingham last night, so this game was the perfect opportunity to go level on points on the top of the table.
A few thoughts on tonights game and where the team stands in terms of the championship:
1. Even with 8 changes Wenger was able to field a very strong team. However, the team did not produce the performance we needed.
2.Theo Walcott put in an excellent performance against Chelsea and deserved to keep his place in the starting line-up. In my opinion, he needs a few matches to gain his confidence and I think it is time for Wenger to show some faith in him.
3. 5 games played together, 0 wins, is enough to see that Koscielny and Squilaci do not make a good defensive partnership. Squilaci was particularly weak tonight, and constantly left us exposed to the runs of Charles N’Zogbia. I would have liked to see Djourou playing instead, because he has been playing very well over the last few games and, like Walcott, deserved to keep his place in the team.
4. Playing Chamakh and Bendtner together was a strange decision. Bendnter came away with a goal after an average performance, while Chamakh was anonymous.
5. Sagna, Wilshere and possibly Arshavin seemed to be the only players who did not think that this game was a formality. Arshavin was a bit lazy on occasions, but had a good game nonetheless.
6. It was a definite penalty for the handball in the area from Nasri’s free-kick. A penalty was given against us in a similar situation when Fabregas raised his arms against Spurs, so I fail to see how it wasn’t given this time. Inconsistent refereeing is a major problem in this league. I stand by the support for video evidence to assist the referees.
7. Despite Chelsea having their worst run of games in over a decade, we still sit only 2 points above them and 3 above Spurs. It is very close at the top of the table, so the first few games after the New Year are very important. We play Birmingham on New Years Day, and Manchester City a few days later. Birmingham have only lost one home game this season, so the team will need to pick themselves up in order to come away with the points.