Before the events on Wednesday night, this article would have taken the shape of one of those typical, post-international period matches. However, one man has changed the face of English football this week. As a knock on effect, he has also changed this pre-match report. That man is Theo Walcott. His exploits in Croatia have changed how I am going to start this.
The first thing I want to say is “calm down!” I do not blame those of you that are getting excited. It is hard not to; trust me; I have been battling with myself in the fight to keep my hopes to a minimum. Arsene Wenger has come out in a way only Wenger can, saying that this hat trick is a one off and however good a player is, an international hat trick is a rare but beautiful thing. Theo’s trio was brilliant but we cannot expect it week in week out.
Combine this with the fact he is only 19 and you see why Wenger wants to protect him. He has only scored 9 goals in 76 matches for Arsenal; granted 39 were as a sub. Playing as a winger, he can get more goals than that. In Zagreb he showed that he knows where to be but that night he opted to go for goal rather than cross. Too many times I have seen Theo pass where a shot was the better option. Hopefully now he can push on and be even more clinical.
Luckily for Wenger, Theo himself is a pretty clever lad. Wenger has a track record of going for players with intelligence; I mean Senderos speaks something like 5 languages! Theo has come out with all the right things since his hat trick and I am glad to see one England player can keep out of the nightclubs and remain sober. Many of the squad can learn a thing or two from the lad.
To Saturday now and Wenger has a decision to make. Does he throw Theo straight into the team for the game against Blackburn? If he does, fans will be expectant and anything less than a hat trick could see criticism fired his way. With expectations so high, Walcott cannot have a decent game, he must have a fantastic one; it’s been that way ever since the ’06 World Cup. If Wenger doesn’t play him I will wake up on Sunday morning to headlines resembling: “Wenger is Anti-England” and “Arsenal halt Theo’s progress.
I can see Wenger selecting the LEAST intelligent player on the right for Saturday while keeping Theo as his ‘dangerman’ from the bench. This will cause an uproar but Wenger will only do it for a reason he believes in. Eboue deserves a first team slot after his last performance but surely we cannot rely on a repeat from him every week. The decision might be made much easier for the boss because Samir Nasri has apparently picked up and injury that makes him a doubt. He may well start on the bench as Theo lines up on the left. It wouldn’t be a typical international break if someone did not come back with some sort of knock.
As one Frenchman enters the physio room, another returns from it. Mikael Silvestre is close to a first team appearance. One thing I do not understand is why he deserves a debut. There is no reason why he should be anywhere near the side at the moment. I would not change our full backs for any other in the world right now and Wenger’s chosen pairing in the centre is clearly Gallas and Toure. Silvestre offers nothing more than these two do. He does not dominate in the air which is the main flaw of the other two. Djourou does this and I would rather he be close to the side over the Frenchman.
Denilson has been very poor of late. Although he has 1 goal and 1 assist in the last two games, there is no point covering over the cracks. In those games his passing success rate must have been very low. On countless occasions he gave the ball away under very little pressure. He started the season so promisingly but has faded a little, just as he looked to be laying down his claim for that midfield spot alongside Cesc. Having failed to bring in anyone on deadline day, Wenger has no choice but to find that man from within the club. There are 3 possible candidates and I feel the game on Saturday is perfect for Alex Song. His strong tackling and high work rate could be needed against a side known for having a go. I do feel Denilson will play but I would love to see Song given a chance. I also want Diaby to be given an opportunity once he is fit.
Having withdrawn from the Togo squad, Adebayor should be fresh. His performance against Newcastle was a considerable improvement but the goals have got to come soon. He missed a sitter in that game and Wenger has shown faith in the big guy; now he has to go out there and start bagging the goals in again. Van Persie seems to have suffered no serious damage to his ankle despite limping out of the Newcastle game. When he left the field I could not believe it, I just thought, “here we go again”. Hopefully I was wrong and he can use the brace he got that day to push his goal tally up. He has a great record against Blackburn. It seems every player has a favourite opposition; if Robin has one, Blackburn are probably that favourite.
Subs: Fabianski, Djourou, Song, Nasri, Ramsey, Vela, Bendtner
I will talk a little bit about Blackburn before I finish up. Under Paul Ince they have started indifferently. A very respectable win away at Everton was followed by a disappointing home draw against Hull. The players are getting to know each other, a new system and a new manager and I am sure it will come good. Blackburn are the sort of team that will always gee themselves up for the big games and they have a few players that can hurt teams. Santa Cruz is the obvious threat for them and he will have to be well marshalled. He was withdrawn from the last game with an injury but I expect him to play after the international break.
In their last game they lined up as follows:
====== Santa Cruz==Roberts=========
The first goal will be key here. In the past, when Arsenal have scored the opener the game has been far more open. On the occasions Blackburn have taken the lead, it has often been very hard for us to get back into the game.