Wenger’s injury update on Koscielny, Gervinho, Walcott and Squillaci

September 28, 2011

It is back to Champions League football this midweek, with Arsenal up against Olympiacos at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger, speaking at his press conference on Tuesday gave the latest update on the injury front.

According to the manager, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Gervinho are all out of today’s game through minor injuries and will have a chance against Tottenham coming weekend.

Koscielny is going to miss today’s game through an ankle problem as a consequence of a Nigel Reo’s tackle in the game on Saturday. Gervinho is out due to a muscle problem.

Theo Walcott, who was substituted on Saturday due to an injury, later revealed to be a knee problem, is also going to sit this game out but has more than a fifty-fifty chance for Tottenham game.

On an update on Squillaci, the manager said he will join the group on Friday or Saturday.

Arsene Wenger, ahead of the game, said:

[Laurent] Koscielny is not fit. He has an ankle problem which is a consequence of the tackle by [Bolton’s] Nigel Reo Coker, which was a fair tackle but a bit late. Gervinho is not fit, he has a minor muscular problem that is very, very mild.

[Theo] Walcott is not fit, he has a minor knee problem. He got a kick, but there is no damage in the knee. All three have a chance for the weekend. I would say Theo has a more than 50-50 chance.

Squillaci is not completely fit, he should be back in the group on Friday or Saturday.


Blackburn 4 – 3 Arsenal: Thoughts and Player Ratings

September 17, 2011

It is very hard to write something about a game that seems all too familiar now. Hours have passed since it ended and it is still painful and embarrassing. I thought I had the worst of it against Manu but this is in the same league.

What’s the count for us now in giving away leads after yet another farce? Starting from the season before last, it has now become a norm for us to give away leads. We are hardly over one loss when Arsenal ends up with yet another show of comedies.

I don’t have it in me to go over what happened in the game. In a nut shell, we scored, we conceded, we scored again, we scored (this time at our own end), we conceded, we scored at our own end again! (By this time we had scored 4 goals and were losing by two goals), and then we realized we have to score against the opposition, but it was all too late.

In between all his, we squandered a lot chances either through bad finishing or selfish play. We played the best first half that we have played all this season, despite some bad moments, yet we turned up in the second half as if Blackburn were going to give us the win gift wrapped. Why Why Why do we always do this?

Highlights of the game were we again showed how inept we are at defending and how leads can be squandered away by simply switching off after the half time break. We again showed how easy it is to make the same mistakes because it is quite difficult to correct them. We again showed that our problem is not individuals but the system we play. Although the individuals do amplify all the problems.

I know I am being too negative but tell me what the point of staying positive is when every other game we are going to witness is like this!? Yes, we had a great result against Dortmund, yes, we had a good first half today, but then you don’t have a one-game-season and you don’t have a football game with only one half. You have to fight for the whole season; you have to fight for the whole 90 minutes to have something at the end of it. One great result, one great half doesn’t make a difference in the long run.

The saddest bit is that we usually play like this at the end of the season, like we have done in the last couple of seasons. This time we are doing it from the start and if things are to continue like this, we are heading for a bottom half finish, forget the top four.

When will the team realize this is beyond me. As for Wenger, I am at a loss for words as to what has gone wrong with him. Why has he allowed the things to go wrong this much? Every defeat like this is going to be the final nails in his coffin. Or not!? Personally, I can’t seem to make up my mind on Wenger, one half of me wants him to stay and do well, and the other says his time is over. One thing is for sure, we need changes at the club, be it in the back room staff or the whole management, it should be done fast.

Looking ahead, I don’t see anything at the moment. It is going to take a season long time to finally get over this and that too if we end up in the top four.

I will now come to the player ratings:

Szczesny: (6) Made a couple of good saves but made a few school boy errors too like the one where he came forward in the first half and was caught in no man’s land. Wasn’t at fault for any of the goals, though, could have done better on the fourth.  

Sagna: (6) Going forward produced some good crosses. At the back was solid but did lose his man a couple of times. I hope the injury is not bad

Mertesacker:  (6) Can’t blame him for anything except for not putting the ball in the back of the net in injury time late on. We knew he was slow when we bought him! It is more of a fault with the way we defend.

Koscielny: (4) He produces a game like this every now and then which highlights the problems we face as a team. Nothing went for him today and he ended up with an own goal. Unlucky or incompetent you decide!

Santos: (5) Wasn’t the start I expected from him. If I had my way, I would not have started with him in this game. At fault for the first goal and not good with his positioning. Although his crosses late on in the game were great, defensive stability is what we need right now and he didn’t provide that today.

Ramsey: (6) Surprised to see him start today. Looked lively while going forward and was involved a lot. Produced a great assist for Arteta’s goal. Disappeared in the second half like most of our players did.

Arteta: (6) Opened his Arsenal account with a good finish. Was at the heart of every good thing in the first half. However, he needs to do much more as he was nowhere in the second half.

Song: (6) As I said in my preview that his ability to pick a pass can be useful. He proved it today with his assist on the first goal and started the move that led to the second. A great first half from him but in the second had the complete opposite. Was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he scored that own goal. Should have also done better on the fourth and rightly substituted later in the game.

Arshavin: (6) Looked lively and had a couple of good shots on goal. Created a few openings but it was his needless foul that led to the second Blackburn equalizer. Needs to do more in terms of creating opportunities and improve his finishing which has gone way off.

RVP: (6) He needs to be passed the ball if we want him to score. Had a couple of shots from tight positions late on that were saved and provided the assist for the third goal. Otherwise he wasn’t given the support required.

Gervinho: (6) Scored a good first goal and looked dangerous throughout the match. However, was frustrating at the same time with his selfishness and bad decision making. He needs to learn that the team is more important than individual goals. Needs to learn when to pass and when to go for goal.  Had he found van Persie late on in the first half, things might have been different.

Subs:

Djourou: (2.5) Don’t have anything to say about him as he has forgotten how to play football. Is it his entire fault!? Wenger will know the answer to this!

Walcott: (6) Produced some excellent crosses but then again we don’t attack the ball. Can’t blame him.

Chamakh: (6) It was a welcome change that he found the net with his head today. Should have scored another but really can’t blame him for the dropped points.

 


Blackburn vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

September 17, 2011

Last weekend we won our first league game of the season. A week later, that included travelling to Germany and back, we are here this Saturday away at Blackburn and considering the past games, Ewood Park is a very difficult to place to go and get results. Even without Sam Alardyce, we can be sure of one thing that it will be a tough game and entirely different from what we faced against Dortmund.

The timing of the game is, however, perfect. Blackburn, like us, is going through a very bad patch of results having won no game in the last four. They will be low on confidence but at the same time desperate to get points. We can exploit this to our advantage. While the past Blackburn sides have relied more heavily on long balls and the typical English football style, this side has added quick attacking football that relies more on technical skills to their game too. They still have a very strong defense and when the need arises can mount very fast counter attacks.

It won’t be an easy game, but I do expect us to get the maximum points. The timing of the game is also great as we have an opportunity to cut the gap at the top of the table with Liverpool playing against Spurs and Man United up against Chelsea. Wenger knows this as he spoke to the official Arsenal site that big games will have an impact on the title race.

“Of course, they will have an impact at the end of the season. Both teams are lucky because they play against someone who has also played in the Champions League. I believe Chelsea have a little advantage having 24 hours more rest but Manchester United have such a big squad now.”

These game will benefit those who take the initiative and today we have one such chance.

In terms of injuries, we have nothing new from the Dortmund game, if I am not wrong. Ramsey has a chance to return to the team but I am not holding my breath over it. Song and Gervinho will return to the Premier League after sitting out the last three games due to suspension. They were really missed in those games as it was evident from their performance during midweek. I am not sure what has happened to Rosicky’s knee injury though as he was supposed to be back by last game.

I don’t see many changes from the team that was out against Dortmund on Tuesday. The backline is most likely to remain same. This back line has given us a win, a draw and one clean sheet already and it does look good. We still have a few problems but I hope they will be solved in time. It would be a surprise for me if Wenger starts with Santos in place of Gibbs though.

In the middle too, I will put up the same trio because these are the games where we need the team to integrate both in attack and defense. I also won’t start with Frimpong because that will be too defensive and today is a game that we can only win by being on the attack. Also Benayoun will have his use while we go on the offensive.

Upfront, however, I will bring in Arshavin in place of Theo Walcott as he had a rest in midweek to partner Gervinho and van Persie. Arshavin had a great game last weekend and I am hoping for a similar performance from him. Walcott despite producing a good assist is not making full use of his pace while starting, and therefore, he will be more of an asset when brought late on today.

Probable starting eleven: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Benayoun, Arteta, Song, Gervinho, RVP, Arshavin

For me, today, one of the important players is Mertesacker for his height and positioning. If Blackburn decide to use the aerial route and set pieces, his height will come in handy. To counter the pace of Blackburn, we will have to use Koscielny’s ability to close down players. For this to work, communication among both the centre backs will be vital. Gibbs will have to make sure that he doesn’t leave his flank exposed. His decisions will have to be spot on as when to make a run forward and when to hold the line.

Alex Song as usual will be vital to our play. He will have to stay close to the defense when we are under attack. While moving forward, he has the ability to pick out a delightful pass and this can come in useful today in opening the Blackburn backline.

To win this game, goals will have to be scored. Last two games we have scored a goal each. Today we will need more than a goal. We will certainly get more time on the ball today and it will have to be properly utilized to create chances. Arteta, Benayoun and Arshavin will have to work out some creative moves to break down Blackburn as they have a very sound defense. They only need to land the ball at van Persie and Gervinho’s feet in scoring positions; the rest will be done by them.

As far as the result is concerned, I am looking forward to a win which is the only good result for today. A draw for me is not acceptable and I cannot take another loss to be frank. I know it will be a tough game, but we have the team that can get a win against them. Anything less will be disappointing for me. We need to build a momentum now and these games can be the springboard for us before we face Spurs and the men in blue.   

That is all for now, enjoy the game and keep your fingers crossed. Have a good day!


Arsene Wenger on the Liverpool game, Nasri and his own future and new signings

August 21, 2011

Last night Arsenal lost the game against Liverpool after being reduced to 10 men for the second consecutive League game.

Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger said the team had a good performance under the circumstances and the result was harsh as it only transpired after going down to 10 men and through an offside goal. He added that all is not doom and gloom as we played without 8 first team players and there are positives from the game.

When asked about Nasri’s future, who was a surprise starter in the game, Arsene said he knows nothing. However, he added that at the moment he is an Arsenal player and would try to keep him.

On signing new players, the manager said they are looking and only the right thing for club will be done. He hinted at the possibility of no new centre backs by praising Koscielny and Vermaelen’s partnership.

In regards to his future, the manager said he is not the walking away type and he will give his best for the club.

Arsene Wenger, after the Liverpool match, said:

“[Result] Yes, I feel the result is very harsh on us. The decider was the sending off and as well the offside goal, it was the decider of the game.

I think the target is to have a good team and good players. You can spend money and have a bad team. You want the supporters to be happy and when you don’t win the game you can understand that they are not. But I think we had eight players out today and we still had a good performance. So it is not all doom and gloom, there are positives in the game today.

[Nasri’s future] I don’t know [what will happen]. I always said that I would try to keep Samir Nasri and I have never changed my mind on it because I played him today, to the surprise of everybody. He loves the Club, he wants to play for us, if we decide to sell him we will do it and we have to stand up for it. At the moment I am happy he is here. I don’t know if he will play on Wednesday, we will just play the game.

[On new signings] We look, you know? But we try to do the right things for the Club. I think Koscielny and Vermaelen are a fantastic pair of centre backs but it’s very difficult as well because if you buy another centre back and then someone gets injured I have to buy another one. You cannot do that every time you have an injured player.

[On his future] There is no chance I would walk away. I will try to give my best for the Club. We live under circumstances where every defeat is an absolutely a disgrace and an earthquake. We are at the start of the season and we are very disappointed that we lost the game. But we are at the start of the season.”


Cesc, Nasri, defending and Wenger: A look into the summer that has passed and what comes next!?

August 12, 2011

Here we are, almost three months after we ended the last season in dismal fashion, at the start of the next. A summer that was promised to be different has so far been the same.

Although a lot has happened since I last posted on the blog but considering what we needed and what was required to be done hasn’t been done yet.

Yes, we bought Gervinho, who looks impressive and give us a direct approach for a change, and we bought Oxlade Chamberlain, who will be a star in the next three years and Jerkinson, who also is one for the future. They all are welcome additions to our squad and in future they will turn out to be great players for us for sure. But in terms of preparing for the next season, we have  been where we ended last season. In fact, if you ask me, we are considerably weaker than before. And before everyone jumps at me, I am not being negative, it is the reality.

The Fabregas saga, the Nasri situation, the way our defense performed in the pre-season, these are proof enough that we have stood still in terms of improving as a team.  

I am not fussed about Fabregas or even Nasri leaving, heck I am because you seldom find a Fabregas. It is just that if they wanted to go, they should have been shown the door at the start of the window. Their replacements should have been bought to gel in with the team. We are less than 24 hours away from the start of our first game of the season and we still haven’t figured out what’s up with both of them. Even now is not too late, sell them and buy the replacements, that is, if we do want to replace them.

I am convinced for sure that we will lose both of them before the window closes, what I am dreading is that we don’t bring in the proper substitutes.

I know most will say that we have Wilshere and Ramsey and I don’t disagree. These two are going to be great players and one day they will be world class. Nonetheless, they still have a lot to prove and for this season they certainly are not the answer to the void that will be left by Fabregas’ departure.

Personally, I don’t blame Fabregas for leaving and don’t have anything against him. I would have liked him to stay. He has given us close to eight years of delightful football. His skill, vision and ability to change games won’t be forgotten and I will always remember him as one of our great players. And I believe we will never truly replace him with any kind of player.

I, however, don’t have many sympathies for Nasri. I know he is a good player and likely go on to be a big player. Still after having one good season where he was close to consistent doesn’t justify his attitude. If he were loyal to this club, he would have signed the contract back in May. He isn’t and he never will be. The best thing is to sell him and get done with it. He isn’t worth more time than what he has already wasted for us.

As far as defense is concerned, I was always on the edge of my seat whenever the opposition was attacking in the preseason games. No matter what people say, we just have forgotten how to defend or just don’t want to.  I know that when we want to defend, we can, the game against Barcelona last season is proof enough. Why don’t we do it consistently is a question only Wenger can answer.

Why haven’t we improved our defense or why haven’t we bought any defender is also beyond me. Squillaci clearly doesn’t know defending, Djourou and Koscielny are known to make the stupidest mistakes, Vermaelen is returning after a year and I hope he starts from where he ended, when he was injured. On the left, the situation is even worse. I know this has turned into a cliché but Gibbs is not ready. I have said before, he is not a defender at all. He can be a good winger and that is all. And his injury record is also not great. Traore is stable but he is not better than Clichy right now and we all know Clichy had his flaws. So why haven’t we got a replacement for Clichy yet? For me this is  relying too much on hope!

The irony is that, at the moment, I myself am desperately hoping for Vermaelen, Koscielny and Djourou to have a great season without injuries. I am also hoping for Traore and Gibbs to pull off performances worth player of the season awards. And, I know I am getting too far, but I am hoping Wenger will buy a defender and a left back.  

I am also off the opinion that the way we defend can only be improved if we change the way we practice. Right now, I am not convinced that what we are doing in training is helping. Is something wrong with our back room staff or is it just that we don’t give too much attention to it? Whatever it is, we need to solve the problem. And considering, we haven’t done it in the last two years, I know it will be much of the same this season, the pre-season showed that clearly. Still I am not giving up, there is always hope!

The thing that I am most pissed off on is that Wenger hasn’t kept true to his word. He said at the start of this summer that he will try to keep the best players and improve the team in places where it requires. He hasn’t done that yet. We have the same disastrous defense, we are about to lose Fabregas and Nasri, we have already lost Clichy. (I am grateful that we won’t be going to see Denilson this season though.)

Also If you remember, back in January Wenger said something about not buying a defender as we have too many of them already or something similar. Considering what we have bought this summer, doesn’t it seem ironic that he has brought in two wingers, when we already have a surplus amount of them but not a single defender which we need the most? And I am not complaining here. We do need them because we still don’t have enough depth in any position. We have many youngsters but they cannot be relied upon for the whole season. He also bought a right back but then went onto selling a left back and we are still stuck with Eboue.

He said that he will only buy players who will improve the team. As we don’t see any defender right now, does that mean there are no defenders out there that are better than what we have? Also except Gervinho, we can’t even be sure that chamberlain and Jerkinson will make it to the next level. I hope they will, but what is the guarantee that they will stay with us then. Nasri hasn’t committed yet after it took three years to develop him. Seriously! Sometimes I get really frustrated the way Wenger gives his justifications for not buying

Why the rant? Because I have to get these thoughts out of my mind. I know all is not bad. I don’t like the way we have dealt with the Fabregas and Nasri situation. I don’t like that we haven’t bought a defender and Left back. I don’t like that we are still stuck with Eboue (or not! a move to Galatasaray is on the cards)  and to some extent Diaby. I am willing to give Chamakh a chance. If I had my way, I would have sold him and played Bendtner in the middle, as there have been no buyers for him.

Despite all this, there are some great things to look forward to. I am delighted by Gervinho’s addition. He is the most direct player that we have bought in recent years after Arshavin. I just hope that he stays that way. He is quick on his feet, he can dribble and he has an eye for goal. He has adjusted nicely into the team and his partnership with Van Persie will be something to look forward to. Ryo Miyaichi has shown that he can play and he certainly has pace. He also got the work permit which is one of better news this summer. Frimpong is another one who impressed during pre-season. He certainly is going to be a great asset in the future. Jerkinson was also impressive and one day can be a replacement for Sagna. The partnership of Wilshere and Ramsey is what really excited me. Wilshere is certainly developing fast and his vision is improving. Ramsey too is doing great but he needs to take more responsibility. Both of them still need time though and they will get it this season. Van Persie is still on his goal spree and hopefully he will remain injury free. Szczesny is doing well in goal and no doubt he is going to get better. We have Fabianski and Mannone after him which leaves our goal keeping in good hands.

There are many other positives from the pre-season. However, for us to challenge for the top, we still are short on players in a couple of positions and if Fabregas and Nasri leave, we will need to add more. I just wish that before the window closes we will get the players we require and hopefully go on to have a great season and come out on top.

This season, the start for us is going to be what sets the tone to our season. With Newcastle, Manchester United, Liverpool and Champions league qualifiers in the next 15 days, we won’t have time to take a breather. We have to start on top from the first game and maintain that throughout the season. If we can get through these games with our heads held up high, than I will be convinced that we are there to challenge for the title. If we don’t, then I don’t even want to speculate on what will happen. Hopefully we will have a great season (I know there are too many hopes in this post but this is the only thing that will see us through the season, if things remain the way they are!)

Before I conclude, it was on this day last year that I published my first post. It has been one whole year for me since then and it has been a great experience. Going through all the games was fun, the wins and the loss, the delight and anger, the ups and downs, the happiness and frustration, it was just amazing. A big thanks to all who have visited this blog and still do and have been a part of it.

I have been busy for the last three, four months due to lots of reasons. However, I will try my best to posting regularly.  I love Arsenal and will continue writing about it. Thank you all once again! I have my fingers crossed for another great season, hopefully….


Player Ratings: Arsenal 1 – 1 Liverpool

April 17, 2011

Well, the game ended in heartache for me as it would have done for all Gooners around the world. To be winning a game one minute and then to draw it in the fashion it happened is frustrating to the very core of existence. Liverpool returned the favour that we did them two years back, the title is out of our reach now. Didn’t anyone tell Liverpool that Manchester United now is in line to get the 19th title!! If not, someone should have.

To start off with, that penalty to Liverpool was never a penalty. It was a dive by Lucas which conned the referee into giving it. Eboue was at fault not for the penalty but for getting close to Lucas, who took full advantage of it. The ball was going away towards the corner, there was no danger, it was 4 minutes beyond the stoppage time then why the hell would you put yourself in a position where the opposition can take advantage. Lucas played it intelligently and the referee fell for it. It did make one thing clear, ‘LUCAS, YOU ARE A CHEAT!!’

Coming to the free kick conceded in the 98th minutes, that was our own fault. Szczesny had the ball with him and he should have passed it on to his own player, the way he did all game. Only when it was needed most he tossed into the air, the ball came back towards our goal and bam a free kick, which later turned into a penalty. This is where experience comes in. We only needed to defend for a minute and we couldn’t do that. We shouldn’t have relaxed at all after scoring the goal which now has cost us the chance for a title.

However, the penalty and free kick incident shouldn’t have taken place at all if the referee had blown the whistle when the time was over by 98 minutes. Or even if he has given the free kick after 98 minutes, he should have blown the whistle as soon as the ball hit the wall. It was 102 minutes on the clock and the ref is still playing on. THAT WAS PLAIN RIDICULOUS!!

As for the rest of the game, it was all Arsenal with a bit of Liverpool in the second half. Liverpool defended well for major parts. However, I am surprised that with the amount of talent we have we couldn’t open up Liverpool easily who had teenagers in their backline. We were wasteful with our possession and never created anything of worth. Van Persie missed one glorious opportunity which should have been a goal, Koscielny hit the bar once, other than that it was all possession by us with no penetration and only defending by Liverpool.

I would also like to add here that we sure have our problems but most of the points that have been dropped this season have been stolen from us. Bad decisions have cost us too many games. Should I blame the players for always being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the referees, whose job is to make sure the game is played fairly? I will leave it for you to answer.

As it stands, the title is well beyond our hands now but the season is still not finished. Chelsea is right behind us and we need to at least finish second. Heck we may, may, may, win the league only if we win all our games and Man United draw at least two. I know that is too much to ask for!!

Coming to player ratings:

Szczesny (6.5): A good performance returning from injury. Didn’t have much to do but when called upon, he did well. Made a good save on a Suarez shot in the second half. Only one gripe, as I said before he should have passed the ball to our player in the 98th minute as he had done all game and not lobbed it into the air.  Experience matters on such occasions!!

Eboue (6): Well, what can I say?! As always provided good support upfront and had a decent game at the back. He did his usual theatrics which was frustrating to see. I won’t blame him for the penalty as explained above but he should have kept his distance from Lucas. Cost us more than points today.

Djourou and Koscielny (7): Decent game from both the defenders. Had a couple of odd moments but thankfully we weren’t harmed. Other than that cleared whatever danger came their way. Koscielny also hit the bar in the first half.

Clichy (6): Nothing much to do at the back and provided good support up front.

Wilshere (5.5): Moved the ball around well and made a number of good interceptions. Didn’t add much in final third though.

Fabregas (6.5): Didn’t produce the amount of delightful balls as he did against Blackpool. He did drop deep to get the ball and most of our openings were created through him. And of course, it was his run that won us the penalty, unfortunately not the game.

Diaby (6): Made good use of his strength in the middle of the park. Made good interceptions but again on occasions kept the ball with him for too long.

Nasri (6): He has lost his touch in front goal but makes it up with his brilliant runs with the ball. However, he didn’t create much today. Did misplace a few of his passes as well.

Robin van Persie (6.5): His movement was good but didn’t get enough deliveries to find the goal. Did miss a chance that should have won it for us. Scored an excellent penalty but unfortunately it wasn’t a winner.

Walcott (6): As always looked dangerous with the ball. Some of his crosses were excellent but no one met them while on other occasions he was wasteful. Wasn’t released much either.

Subs:

Song (6) looked alright and did his part. Did give away the late free kick though. Arshavin (6) was lively and delivered in a couple of good crosses and even backtracked. Bendtner (5) didn’t add much.


Arsenal vs Sunderland: Preview and Starting Eleven

March 5, 2011

We are back in action today in the Premier League with Sunderland coming to our home. I know no one needs to be reminded but all the remaining fixtures from now on are of great importance and points dropped in any will be crucial in the end. And after Chelsea’s win, this game is where we just don’t have to drop points. The ball is in our court, it is up to us to take the initiative and capitalize on this opportunity to put pressure back on United, who travel to Liverpool on Sunday. We shouldn’t be looking too much ahead but if we win today’s game, we will only be a point behind United and hopefully top of the table by 20th of this month.

As far as today’s game is concerned, I expect a difficult match for us. Although, Sunderland haven’t been playing well recently but I believe them to up their game as they always do against top of the table teams. Now, most teams go for ‘park the bus’ approach against us at our home but today I don’t see Sunderland doing the same. They will go for the attack as they did earlier in the season against us (although it was after we went down to 10 men) and they certainly can cause damage with Asamoah Gyan upfront. They are also good in keeping things compact at the back and then cause damage on the counter as they did to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

However, it doesn’t matter how Sunderland approach the game because it all depends on how we play. If our start is good, Sunderland will certainly go on the defensive. On the contrary if it isn’t, Sunderland will grow in confidence and try and take their chances. So for us to get the maximum points, all our players will have to perform. Be it the defenders, the midfielders or the attackers, all of them will have to work hard for the 90 minutes. The other thing we have to ensure is that we don’t concede silly goals at the back. If Djourou and Koscielny start I don’t see many problems but our midfield will have to contribute a lot.

As far as the starting eleven is concerned, I expect all of our regulars to start after Arsene admitted that Premier League is the priority and all focus is on this game.

Szczesny along with Djourou, Clichy and Sagna will surely return. If Koscielny isn’t hundred percent only then Squillaci should be started and not because of Barcelona but because Koscielny will be required for the FA Cup Quarter final and any recurrence of his injury will leave us very depleted at the back. And I hope Szczesny and Koscielny have one hell of a good game.

In the middle with no Cesc and Song our possibilities are limited. I will go with Wilshere, Nasri and Diaby. In this setup, Wilshere will have to stay a lot deeper.   

Up front Arshavin will return. Bendtner deserves a start after his hat trick against Leyton and on the right I will keep Rosicky. Rosicky and Nasri can interchange if things are not going to plan.

Probable starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Wilshere, Nasri, Diaby, Rosicky, Bendtner, Arshavin

As I said before that this game won’t be easy but I expect the three points. We can win this but as easily we can drop points if we are not focussed – I am as always gunning for a big win.

Aaron Ramsey may also feature today and I am looking forward to it. I hope he comes on for a few minutes after all this time being on the sidelines but it will only be possible if we have the game in control.

Have a great day Gooners and enjoy the match. Barcelona can wait for now as today we reduce the gap to one point from Manu. Go Arsenal go!!