Match preview: A pressing matter at the Grove

‘Dzeko and the moneymen’

Interesting how times have changed: Man City at home would for years have failed to set the pulse racing but with all the money spent there (and you might not approve but there’s not a lot we can do about it, witness the incoming £27m Edin Dzeko), allied to their current league position, there can be no denying it’s a huge test for both clubs.

I wouldn’t say a loss puts either team’s title hopes on life support – that would be over-Skying things – but for Arsenal, a defeat would be our sixth of the season with only half the campaign gone with Utd stretching away at the top.

Last season, the official match report on Arsenal.com used the words ‘mundane’, ‘drab’ and called the City front line ‘utterly anonymous’, all of which rather accurately and neatly describes it. It was a dismal game, with Man City sitting back all match and Arsenal, recently bruised after the now infamous 3-2 loss at Wigan, unable to find a way through. If I remember it correctly, I spent much of the game wistfully daydreaming about going to the dentist and and filling in my tax return.

Of course, since then we have put in one of our best performances of the season at Middle Eastlands, comfortably winning 3-0 albeit against ten men for most of the game.

So it will be interesting how Mancini approaches the game tonight. I’m sure there will be a fair bit of caution, but he can’t possibly be as teeth-grindingly negative as he was last season. With Man Utd winning last night, a point doesn’t help either side much.

The two teams come from opposite ends of the clean sheet spectrum but both are on a decent run of form and this has all the makings of a great game. Whether a great game will be made with those makings – well, who knows.

Wenger will play a side as close as possible to that which handsomely defeated Chelsea and Birmingham, of that we can be sure. There’s no way he will make a huge amount of changes for such a big game, and there’s no need if you ask me – Fabregas, Djourou, van Persie, Walcott and Fabianski have all had plenty of time on the sidelines this season already. Even Samir Nasri, our stand-out performer of the season, has only started 75% of our league games.

Above all, we need to play the quick passing, pressing game of recent games (Wigan, you’ll be glad to hear, has been erased from my mind – I find that’s the best way), as when we put in that kind of shift we look a different team altogether.

We’ve shown we can do it. What we now need is for our momentum to build and for our form to continue to improve. There’s a lot at stake. I really can’t wait.

Come on you rip-roarers.


BBC match preview
Guardian Arsenal stats

A spoonful of hope on a cereal of improbability

Good morning to you all on a cloudless, plane-free and gorgeous spring London morning. Having no aircraft humming overhead or vapour trails criss-crossing the skies has been as peculiar as it has been welcome. It would have been even nicer yesterday had someone on my road not chosen the enforced tranquillity to fire up a tree-mulching machine – all day. It sounded like a giant having an electric shave.

Yesterday, I was giving some thought to which young players Wenger could feasibly slot in between now and the end of the season, out of necessity or opportunity, given that we are no longer challenging for first.

Then along came yesterday’s string of results, and however unlikely it may still feel, a win at Wigan today would put us three points behind the leaders with three games to go. Hope, however much you try and banish it to the attic, keeps peering his head round the banisters and gurning at you.

Goodplaya – who has been something of a lone voice of optimistic lunacy on Twitter – said yesterday morning, “Am I the only one thinking that if Spurs beat Chels we can draw level before they play again? Unlikely, but wd we feel safe in their shoes?” How right he suddenly is.

How might the Spuds’ result have changed Wenger’s plans? We’ll see today. On Twitter yesterday, there was a groundswell of opinion in favour of giving Eastmond (one league start, two sub appearances) a game in the middle of the park. With Denilson a major doubt – and hardly in the form of his career anyway – I’d take that gamble. I’d also play van Persie from the start, as with a back line of Campbell and Silvestre for the remainder of the season (injuries allowing – ha), attack is going to be our best form of defence.

Some other interesting stuff slewed out of the official website late last night. Wenger in recent days – since the Spuds win in particular – has been on something of a warpath and yesterday not only was he bullish about our chances of matching Chelsea from a financial point of view:

“I think we can overcome [Chelsea]. For a while we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.”

But also he talked about transfers:

“We will announce the deals after the league [finishes]. He [Chamakh] is one of the players who has a good chance to join us.”

So good news there – the Chamakh deal sounds close and tantalisingly, he talked about ‘deals’ in plural and of money being available. Now excuse me for clutching at straws, but that’s just what I wanted to hear so clutch at straws I will.

Onto today, and here we go again. I’ve asked Goodplaya for some of his mind-warping optimism-inducing pills and we can take it from there.