Mega-Fixture Run Starts Tonight At Villa Park

Personally, I’m still not over the disappointment of going out of the FA Cup on Sunday in the Potteries. Credit to Stoke City, they were full value for their win. I was very disappointed with our showing however.
I felt for Francis Coquelin, making his FA Cup debut at left-back. He gave a “startled rabbit in the headlights” performance at full-back (he more usually plays in midfield). Away at Stoke is not the ideal place to ease oneself into the first team.
I don’t criticise the team selection too much. Given the calls of the African Cup of Nations and our long injury list including the walking wounded like Bacary Sagna, there wasn’t much choice. I also advocated picking Lukasz Fabiański who had a fine games in the third round at Upton Park and in the ”dead” last Champions League group game in Athens against Olympiakos. Unfortunately he played a role in both the Potters’ first two goals, failing to be assertive enough from a Rory Delap long throw-in for their opener and not dealing too well with their second either, again a ball in the air from a cross.
The outfield players can’t escape blame for failing to assert themselves for too long either, although we did play ourselves back into the match as the first half either. Theo Walcott just never seemed to get any quality possession out on the wing, although Jay Emmanuel-Thomas did well up front I thought. I also thought Sol Campbell did very well for a man who before Sunday had played one game all season back at the start of the season for Notts County away at Morecambe in Football League Two. I think his short-term signing could turn out to be very astute.
With at least a replay in prospect, Le Boss tried to turn the game by making a triple substitution bringing on Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin and Eduardo for Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas with just over twenty minutes to go. Bringing on the heavy artillery from the bench is a tactic he’s employed with some success in the past in the FA Cup. This time it didn’t come off unfortunately. Around ten minutes after the substitutions Stoke went ahead and that was pretty much all she wrote.
We have to now put that disappointment firmly behind us. Nicklas Bendtner should play some part tonight. I’d imagine he’ll be selected as a substitute. With Cameroon and Ivory Coast both eliminated at the quarter-final stage from the African Cup of Nations both Emmanuel Eboué and Alex Song are on their way back from Angola. Both should be available for selection for Sunday’s game against Manchester United at the Grove, although Arsčne has said that Song looked “tired” in Cameroon’s three-one defeat by Egypt. So he did but I’m hoping he’ll have got enough kip in this week to be able to start against United. He’s been my player of the season so far by a short head from Cesc Fàbregas and Thomas Vermaelen (surely the best Premier League buy of the season).
I still don’t think we’ve got a big chance in the League this term. We’re a better side than we were last season but we’re still not the finished article. A mate of mine said at the start of the season that anybody who finishes above Chelsea this season will be champions. I agreed with him then and that’s still my opinion now. If we are going to win the League I think we need to take at least ten points from the next twelve and beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I think that’s a really big ask but I wouldn’t rule it out ompletely.
As the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?”, the answer being “very slowly, one bite at a time.” That’s the approach we need to take to the next four League fixtures, starting with tonight at Villa Park. Good luck to all those citizens of the Gooner Nation travelling up to Birmingham for the game tonight. I shall be listening with baited breath on the radio.

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