Match preview: Gallop. Don’t trot.

Forget, for a moment, the tantalising news that Thomas Vermaelen may be as close as two weeks from returning (albeit to the reserves); forget also the mouth-watering prospect of a Xavi-inspired Barcelona coming to town. Wenger is spot on when he says:

“The best way to be in a good position to beat them is to defeat Wolves on Saturday”.

To face Barcelona we will not only need to be in as decent physical shape as possible, but we’ll also, from a psychological point of view, need all of our neurones plugged into the right synapses [check medical terminology – ed]. Imagine facing Barcelona having lost a four goal lead and having failed to beat Wolves? No, I can’t either. That’s why Wenger is going large on Wolves.

With that in mind, I know it might be tempting to rest Djourou or Song and one or two others, but I’d go for the whole shooting party and start with our best XI. As a nod to the forthcoming European adventure, he can maybe edge a few substitutions in earlier than at the mandatory Wengerish 70 minutes, but I wouldn’t tinker too much.

That last option does rather rely on us coming out the blocks fast and not zig-zagging around until the 80th minute, as can be our wont. In light of last week I’ve revised the official guidelines and current thinking is that we need to be at least five goals to the good to be assured of victory.

I jest, but only half. In an ideal world, one where anxiety and fear had been banished, we’d ask the players to give us a 1-0 to prove they can hold on to a narrow lead but today is not the day for worthy experiments. The last thing we need to today is a repeat of Collaps-o-Arsenal™ so to ensure that we need to put the Wolves goal under pressure from the start and make it count.

I can’t make the game today so I’ll be attempting to perform the standard web-based miracles and listening to the wireless. I’m also keen to give the Arsenal matchday app experience a pop so may well dish out the requisite £1.79p on that. I’ll let you know my thoughts if I do (and if you give a fig).

Finally: a thought on players using Twitter. The boss has taken a very enlightened approach to his players using it for the right reasons, as you’d expect. I don’t care about modding phat sports cars and I can’t understand a word one or two of them are on about, but hey, I’m a miserable old sod so what does that matter.

That’s all for now – more tomorrow, assuming the prevailing winds being are in my favour. preview
BBC preview
Guardian squad sheet

Monday night squad ramblings

And so it came to pass that Arsenal’s midweek Anglian aberration was put to the sword with a fine performance at Upton Park on Saturday. There’s nothing like winning your next game to forget about losing your last one, and I’m in a forgetful enough mood now to have perked up no end. The equilibrium is once again balanced… for now. (Aha! I had to add that in).

Plenty of positives too, with the hitherto largely blank-firing van Persie scoring twice, Theo bagging a fine goal and creating another, and a return to battle for our strongest midfield five – Wilshere, Song, Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott.

About Theo: His goal on Saturday, his tenth of the season, means he has scored the same number of goals mid-way through this season as he did throughout the previous two seasons combined. I think that deserves, at the very least, a manly handshake.

To me, Saturday also highlighted that within the one squad there is a clear first XI bubbling to the top. I know I know – that’s always the case. But I find it endlessly fascinating to see a football team evolve, how fate deals some players bad hands and form dictates the fortunes of others. This season’s biggest losers so far are Almunia, Vermaelen, Diaby, Arshavin, Bendtner and Denilson, all of whom would have hoped to make more of an impact, one way or another, than they have done so far.

In their place we see Fabianski, Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Walcott, Wilshere and Nasri. Only Nasri was a definite starter last year, Walcott too, albeit to a lesser degree.

For my money, our best available starting XI at the moment is Szczesny, Clichy, Koscielny, Djourou, Sagna, Wilshere, Song, Fabregas, Walcott, Nasri and van Persie. A bit harsh on Chamakh perhaps, and I can see Gibbs, fitness permitting, giving Clichy a good run for his money. I’ve also stuck my neck out with Szczesny because to me he looks the real deal, but I concede that his lack of experience might make that pick a little premature.

There’s good competition in some areas but less in others, and there’s no doubt – I say this as I don my Hat of Perfection – we could do with the ‘second string’ pushing their first-choice teammates harder. That they are ‘second string’ should be motivation enough, but it’s easier said than done.

That’s the way things go. Our first choice XI has evolved in just one year – four changes (in the absence of Vermaelen), perhaps five if you were to include Theo – and who’s to say that come January 2012, it won’t have changed again? It almost certainly will have.

There were eight changes from ‘my’ first XI against Leeds, five against Ipswich, one against West Ham.

We know already that Szczesny will start in goal at Elland Road, but I wonder how far from the above XI Wenger will deviate on Wednesday?

We’re fighting on four fronts. It’s a tough call.