With the season over it is always hard to get up for this sort of game. We are basically competing with ourselves for 3rd place as I do not see Liverpool catching us anymore. Adebayor said the players owe the fans a strong end to the season and in a way he is right. The fans have followed the team to Anfield and Old Trafford, seen them play well but ultimately throw it away on both occasions.
In a way though, I feel we owe them our support for the last few games. Few people, Arsenal fans included, did not think it would be into April before we were ruled out of the title race. People were predicting we would finish outside the top four; yet this team has proved many people wrong and given us a great ride, possibly a year ahead of schedule.
The killer blow is that we were 5 points clear and that is what is hard to stomach. The players threw it away and I guess that is why they feel they owe us. For me we have done brilliantly this season and only faltered due to the lack of squad depth and some bad luck. Injuries hit us heavily and most teams would struggle with similar problems. Our lack of squad depth did not help us with this.
Players like Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Alex Hleb must be absolutely knackered right now. They were the players really breaking their necks for the side at Old Trafford and by the end looked demoralised. They were seemingly running on empty but the desire to keep our title hopes alive pushed them on. Now that is gone I would not be surprised if they had hit the brick wall.
A rest is probably best for both those players and the club. We do not want to overwork them unnecessarily before Euro 2008. They will be tired from this season but hopefully they are close to top condition before then. If they are not, managers won’t rest them as their necks are on the line for those few weeks. We do not want any players leaving us tired and returning even more tired, or even injured because of this.
The problem here is that we do not really have the players to rotate. It sums up the problems we have had perfectly. Sagna, Hoyte, Flamini, Rosicky and Almunia are out injured, Adebayor and Diaby are suspended. We have no choice but to playour best players and even then are scraping the barrel. It highlights the issues that need addressing in the summer.
It is likely Lehmann and Gilberto will get another chance to start; is this their Arsenal swansong? For Lehmann almost definitely, for Gilberto, I hope so. Wenger may well stick by him this summer but even if Flamini leaves, I do not see him as part of our team next season. It would be a nice way to say goodbye to Gilberto and say thank you to him, but his time is up. Cheers Gil.
If the stories are true and Senderos is mentally shattered then Wenger does not have much choice over his defence. He will probably go for the defence that looked rocky at Old Trafford. Hopefully Reading will pose the same threat they have done all season, basically nothing. Toure and Clichy will look to bomb forward as they have done in the last two games.
In midfield it is time Walcott started. I am fed up with Eboue and Walcott must be too. I do not see what more he has to do to deserve a start. It is not like the man in front of him is performing week in week out. Eboue must be doing some amazing things in training or Wenger is losing it fast. Walcott’s pace will worry Reading and his positivity will help to liven the crowd.
On the other side Hleb is likely to start. Wenger will want a good showing on tomorrow and Hleb can unlock any defence. Hleb was awesome at the Madejski and hopefully he can do the same thing. Wenger could put Theo on the left and Eboue out on the right but that should only happen if Hleb needs a rest. Either way, Theo must start.
In the centre I have mentioned Gilberto will probably start and the only central midfielder left is Fabregas. Diaby, Denilson, Flamini are all out and Song is at the back. Cesc deserves a rest and once Diaby returns I would like to see him get a game in the center in his place. i am interested to see how Diaby does in that role and it is about time he moved in from the left.
Up front Wenger will probably go for Van Persie alongside Bendtner. The Dane will definitely get a start and I feel he is playing for his future. He has not impressed in every department and is still a rough diamond and Wenger knows this; the only problem is how he gets on with the rest of the squad. It clearly is not a good relationship and Adebayor particularly seems to hate him. If Wenger has to decide Bendtner will be the one to lose out.
Van Persie needs games before Euro 2008 and I am sure Wenger will give him this. It is also interesting to see how Van Persie and Bendtner work together. Wenger will look to see if he can use this combination this season, should Bendtner be there that is. He could go with Walcott up front as I feel he could cause Reading serious problems. The lack of midfield options will probably give Van Persie more game time.
I would like to see the players set themselves up for next season with a confidence boosting victory tomorrow. That would involve a few goals and no stupid mistakes at the back. We need a solid base at the back to succeed next season, and that starts here.