We go into this game on the back of a lacklustre 1-0 victory over Everton. I doubt this game will be that much more exciting in terms of the football played. However, there should be goals involved as the players look to go out of this season on a high. Some of the football laid on by the Arsenal players has been fantastic and a win would be a nice way to say thank you to the fans and send out one final signal before we get into the summer.
First thing I want to say is that Flamini must not be in this team. He simply does not deserve to be anywhere near the squad. This game is another step towards next season; one without Flamini involved. He has chosen to jump ship for money reasons and therefore it would be ridiculous for him to play. Whatever anyone might say, he has not gone for football reasons; Milan are not even in the Champions League yet!
As I said, this game is another step to next season. Since the loss to Manchester United, the team has done well to grind out 3 victories. It is always hard to get oneself up for these games but the players have been professional. We want to finish with as many points as possible and a win will take us to 83. That would be an improvement of +15 from last season and shows the progress made. If it wasn’t for two 45 minute halves of football, we would be champions.
Saying this, it is sometimes bad to dwell in the past and look at events with hindsight. In this case however, the fact that all we needed to do, to be Champions, was hold on in those games at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, tells us that we are not far away. It is hard to take that we were so close but next season, we should fear no one and realise we can challenge again.
As in the other games, it is also a time to look at new partnerships and new players all across the pitch. I feel that Traore did enough in his cameo appearance to warrant a start on the left. His cross for Bendtner’s goals was top quality and with one big striker likely to play, it would be nice to see if he could repeat this. Traore looked confident on the ball and it would be interesting to see if he can do this throughout a 90 minute game.
That would give Theo another chance on the right to try and edge ahead of Eboue. Wenger has come out and defended Eboue due to his defensive balance and involvement in team goals. This does not deflect from the fact that he has not scored this season and has started almost every game before and after the African Cup of Nations. If we want to win the title we cannot be thinking about defensive additions in midfield. The defence can sort itself out and Sagna has been terrific at right back anyway. It seems like a ploy to get people of Eboue’s back but unless he improves, surely Theo is only a little away from starting.
With Flamini gone, it seems Gilberto may well stay on until Song/Diaby/Denilson can step up. Gilberto has looked good in the last few games but again his season as a whole has been poor. When we had a partnership of Gilberto and Cesc we looked lightweight in midfield. Flamini gave an added fight in there and I would prefer to see Song or Diaby play there to be honest. They would give it a bit more energy and presence in my view. Gilberto may well be playing for his future against Sunderland.
At the back Wenger has gone for the same back four. Song has excelled in my eyes and I see no reason why Wenger will change this formula. Toure has looked comfortable at right back and his passing is pretty good from this area. His long balls up to th strikers have been top class in the last few games and this may be a way to get behind Sunderland with their lack of pace.
Gallas has looked more comfortable alongside Song as the latter goes for the first ball. Despite this, there have been times when Gallas looks vulnerable. I don’t know if this is because he has the possibility of losing the captaincy on his mind, or he has just given up on this season. His ability is undoubted in my eyes but something else seems up. This may be his last game as captain but I look out for his seeming lack of awareness of recent weeks.
Up front Wenger has a decision to make over his strikers. Nicklas Bendtner and Adebayor worked well together at times but we looked one-dimensional with two similar players. He will probably go with the same duo up front for this game. It is nice to see them getting on with the job in a professional manner but it would be nice to see a few more goals from them, when on the pitch together.
Wenger could opt to use Theo Walcott as a striker. This would leave space for Traore and his beloved Eboue! Theo’s pace would cause Sunderland massive problems, especially with the service the tall guys can provide for him. Sunderland will want to try and show some attacking intent for their fans and the pace on the counter may persuade to move Theo into his eventual position as a striker.
Mark Randall and Kieran Gibbs will probably be on the bench. This will give Wenger a chance to see them off the bench and look at midfield options. These two lads have been close to the first team for a while now, but have not quite got further than the Carling Cup. Wenger already mentioned they will get to the first team more next season and now would be a good time to see them. They both can fit into a passing side and are not afraid to take a shot. We must not forget that they are young and we must keep our feet on the ground regarding expectations of them.
Last, but not least, the final saga of Jens Lehmann. I doubt he will start but Wenger will no doubt bring him on. Why? It will be Jens Lehmann’s 200th appearance for the club. Whatever he has said in the past 6 months, Lehmann has been terrific for us over the years. His contribution to the ‘Invincibles’ and run to the Champions Final are more than enough for Lehmann to be honoured with this landmark. Jens, we salute you Auf Wiedersehen!
The team will probably be as follows:
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Traore, Randall, Gibbs
I would like to see Traore for Eboue and Diaby for Gilberto. I doubt I will get my wish though!
Before I finish I just want to go off on a quick tangent over two rumours from today’s papers. The first is that a deal has been done for Ben Arfa. First of all I want to say that I have been behind a move for this guy from day one. He is exactly what we need. The doubts I have regard the fact it has been publicly stated. Wenger never deals publically and we never really get who the papers say we will.
The same goes for Vincent Kompany. The fact that it comes from the mirror makes me highly doubtful. After Wenger’s statement that he will buy a centre back, it was natural to see a flurry of players linked with the club. I respect Kompany as a player. He moved to Hamburg to further his career, despite more lucrative offers from elsewhere. He has the ability with the ball to suit our team but has the defensive abilities to improve the defence. It would be a coup IF we do make this happen.