So, we go into Monday’s game with 11 players either out injured or doubtful. The list reads as follows:
Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure and Alex Song (international duty)
Johan Djourou (groin)
Philippe Senderos (knee)
Robin van Persie (thigh)
Abou Diaby (calf)
Mathieu Flamini (hamstring)
Manuel Almunia (sick)
Tomas Rosicky (hamstring)
What really annoys me is that two of those (Flamini and Senderos) got injured in meaningless friendlies. It would have been wrong to deny Senderos the chance to captain his country at Wembley, however when such a game takes place in the middle of a busy period of the season. Flamini turned out for France ‘B’ and that takes the biscuit. He should be in the ‘A’ squad, not the second team that only exists so players can be looked at without disrupting the set of players in the current squad.
International friendlies are disruptive enough but when you start adding in ‘B’ fixtures it starts to go too far. Managers release their players with great fear over injuries. With the luck Arsenal have had during these periods I am sure Wenger follows all of the games with great anxiety. We have lost one of our best players this season as Domenech did not have the bottle to call him up into the main squad.
I have a proposal but I doubt we will ever see it come into place. Over Christmas/New Year there should be a period where the national sides play all of their mid season fixtures, whether it be qualifiers or friendlies. I have heard Capello complain that he will not be able to get his players together often enough to improve tactics and set up. Having all the fixtures together would provide managers with a few weeks to do this and get some continuity with a set period of International football. It could also coincide with the African Cup of Nations so as to avoid problems for clubs every two years in January.
Back to the game now. It seems like Wenger does not really have much of a choice over the team he puts out. Senderos could still make the game and if he does the back five will be unchanged from the Man City game. Should Phil miss out Justin Hoyte will come in, probably at centre back. After the Spurs game I would be worried about this and would rather see Sagna move inside. Hoyte is a natural right back and Wenger has said in the past Sagna can play all across the defence.
Diaby picked up an injury during the City game and was only released to France to be with the squad. He was not another to fall foul of the International break. This gives a chance to Theo Walcott who will be given a chance on the right. His goal for England U21s was a quality strike but for most of the game it seemed he was trying to hard and things didn’t seem to go his way. He needs to relax and run at the man when it’s appropriate and play it simple when its necessary. The crowd must not get on his back though. Hleb will move to the left where he has often been more effective this season.
Gilberto will get a chance to prove himself. He has spoken out about his disappointment at a lack of playing time so far this season but he knows Flamini has done brilliantly. He will be brought in and will want to show Wenger why he should still be in his thinking. He does need to up his game and add more fluidity to it. His presence will be useful at set pieces. Fabregas will partner him as he starts to get back to his best.
Wenger cannot break up what is currently one of the best strike partnerships in Europe. Adebayor and Eduardo are on fire and combined to great effect at City. Eduardo finish was fantastic but the link up with Ade showed how well they are developing together. These two will need to keep delivering the goods if we want to win anything this season.
I think Wenger will use Toure and Eboue but only have them on the bench as an option should he really need them. If the game goes well I doubt they will be used, especially Toure considering he had an injury so recently. I wonder if Wenger would have any luck in persuading the Ivory Coast to release Kolo before the 3rd/4th place play-off?
Subs: Fabianski, Toure, Traore, Eboue, Bendtner (all we have really)
This game could be a potential banana skin. Blackburn will look to frustrate us but are missing Pedersen, Samba and Dunn, three big players for Mark Hughes’ side. The first goal will be key and if it goes our way Blackburn will have to come out and attack. They will look to whip the ball in from wide areas with Bentley. Santa Cruz will be the main threat for Blackburn and whoever plays at centre back will have to be alert throughout.