Arsenal v. Wigan: time to put it all behind us

It’s been a hell of a week both for me and for the club.

From the low of losing to Manchester City in such dramatic fashion, to the high of a 3-2 comeback victory against Standard Liege, back to the low of Adebayor’s stamp and his club’s insistence that it’s all Arsenal fans’ fault, it’s been one hell of a week. The latter half of which I got to experience with some sort of strep-throat-like illness.

Fortunately, that meant I got to watch the Arsenal v. Liege match, well, let’s be honest: I actually listened to it live on the BBC radio and then watched the match on tape and it was quite a different experience from what most of you had. Live, it would seem that conceding the two early goals Arsenal had the “worst game I have ever seen them play” and even the live announcers were having a go at Arsenal. But watch it again on tape, it wasn’t that poor of a performance. Dudu came out and tried to flick it to Cesc for the give and go, but he missed and the Liege defender elbowed Fabregas in the face to clear room for the shot. Then there was the easy Eboue give away and the ticky-tack foul and a penalty conceded.

If you follow me on twitter you’ll know that despite the highly negative comments of the announcers and the fans in all the forums, I believed in this team and actually predicted a 4-2 win. This team has a lot more to it than a lot of people (especially Arsenal fans, it seems) give them credit.

Yes, it was two momentary lapses of concentration, but watch the match again, knowing that they will win 3-2, with the commentary off. Arsenal played a lot better than a lot of people said, especially players like Song and Diaby. What’s funny is that I thought our worst players were Rosicky, who looked very rusty, and Cesc, who hasn’t seemed the same since the international break, but somehow everyone tore Diaby a new hole and Song was declared man of the match both by me and by the Telegraph.  Roll over Song on that link above to see stats that if he were Paul Scholes would have all of England cooing about how he’s the greatest player since white bread.

Yes, there were defensive lapses, but this is not the end of the world. Yes, there have been defensive lapses over pretty much every match this season, but at least the boss is aware of it and working on it.

I’m very confident that we will learn from what happened to us (the costly mistakes against United, City and nearly Liege), I believe as well that there was a little bit of fatigue physically, mentally.

Many people will point to that and try to say that Wenger is just making excuses, but that is just hand wringing in my book. Arsenal have been missing nine to ten players at various times this week. NINE to TEN: Nasri, Vela, Fabianski, Arshavin, Denilson, Djourou, Rosicky, Walcott, and van Persie, all key players who Wenger could have rotated for these last three clashes but as it stands the only rotations we’ve saw on Wednesday was at keeper, Eboue at right back, and for Rosicky to come back in to the starting lineup (as I predicted). As for the makeup of tomorrow’s squad, Robin van Persie is the only one available from the sick room. The other bit of good news on the injury front, not that he was injured, is that Senderos will be fully fit and match ready for Tuesday’s Carling Cup match against West Brom. The boss said that Sendy will now start to feature for Arsenal and give some of the center backs a chance to rest.

You show me a top team in the league that can lose 10 starters and still put in great performances… Hell, you’ll see what a club like City can do without just one starter when they get eviscerated by United tomorrow.  Think about what United would be like if they were missing 10 players.

Exactly.

We’ve done well, and we are doing well. Let’s all get behind the team and they will produce something special this year.

Of course, the press doesn’t care about any of that, instead, the question which dominated the press conference was about Adebayor. Did we do well for him? Is Arsene ashamed of him? If Cesc, Eboue and Song are all ashamed of him, isn’t Arsene Wenger also ashamed? So on and so on. Wenger to his credit simply repeated “I am focused on beating Wigan tomorrow” and “it is important for this team to make Emirates like a fortress.”

Here here, who cares what Adebaywhore says or does? He showed the world his true colors this week and while they may be a lovely shade of periwinkle at the moment, they will go back to being Adebayor soon enough. Oh, and judging by Arsenal players anger at him kicking lumps into everyone last week, he may want to pack the extra-thick shin-guards on the return trip.

Enough of that, at least until April…

Tomorrow we’ve got a match against Wigan and this isn’t last year’s Wigan that we’ll be playing. Last year, Wigan was managed by Steve “Cabbage Face” Bruce and their entire footballing philosophy was lump and crunch. The old adage “park the bus” was never more appropriately applied to a team than one managed by Steve Bruce, or maybe Sam Allardyce. But this is a new look Wigan, they’ve got a real dangerous man up front in Rodallega, someone who will stretch Arsenal on the wings in N’Zogbia, and a tough defender and threat from set pieces in Paul Sharner. More importantly, Wigan have a new manager this year in Roberto Martinez. His philosophy is to get out and stretch the opponent, play football, make passes, and score goals. And they are especially effective when they score early goals.

That said, their fortunes have been up and down, as would any team which looks to completely change their playing style in just one season: they have played 5, won 2, and lost 3. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground with these boys.

I expect a really open, exciting match tomorrow, one which both teams will challenge for 90 minutes, but which Arsenal should win.

The match kicks off at 7am local time and is live on Setanta USA, which, because I am more that 24 hours on antibiotics and no longer contagious, means I will be making a trip to Doyle’s here in Tacoma. Look for me I’ll be the one in the Eduardo strip celebrating the win.

I didn’t do a speculative lineup today because this damn think took me like 4 hours to do as it was so feel free to speculate away below. Also, I won’t do an  early blog tomorrow, but rather will do the Good, Bad, and Ugly right after the match, say noon? For those of you in England, that means right about the time when you’re really pissed!

Cheers, and UP THE ARSE!

Liege v. Arsenal; Statitstician Wenger

Wenger displays his trademark winsome grin while delivering the punchline of the day.

With just one line delivered, Arsene Wenger has completely deconstructed both Adebayor’s “what me worry?” defense and Mark Hughes’ completely nonsensical double defenses of “Adebayor was celebrating in front of the corner fans” and his plea for leniency in Adebayor’s case because he’s such a good lad.

Earlier in the week, I documented, fairly extensively that Adebayor wasn’t a good lad. He tends toward explosive anger when frustrated and after the fact it’s everyone else’s fault but his. After the League Cup final against Chelsea where Adebayor was given a red card he went on a Drogba-esque tirade against Howard Webb, captured on camera for all the world to see. And then after said

My reaction after the card did not mean I wanted to hit the referee – I just wanted to know why he gave me the red card. I do not think I did anything wrong.

So, it’s no surprise that he’s taking the innocent line again. But what is a surprise is that Mark Hughes is defending Adebayor so adamantly. Maybe it’s becauise he’s a former United player and feel like he’s the gods’ gift to football. I don’t really know.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. With the referee having seen the replays of the incident and saying that he would have given a straight red had he seen it, Adebayor will certainly be suspended for 3 games and could get up to 6 if they give him the maximum penalty for his steward injuring goal celebration. Frankly, I hope they appeal the decision and the FA double it to 12. Or maybe the FA will take a look at Adebayor mocking his goal celebration in training and further charge him with bringing the game into disrepute.

But that’s all in the past, whatever happens will happen, we’ve got a Champions League match today!

Ahead of the match Wenger and Vermaelen talked about team selection and scouting of Liege and so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

On Thomas Rosicky, it seems everyone in the Arsenal clubhouse are jumping for joy both personally and professionally to have Thomas Rosicky back in training and scoring goals as a sub. There’s been a ton of speculation about whether he will get a start today and I will throw my hat in the ring as a definite start owing to the fact that the boss described his chance of getting a start, with his winsome grin,  as “a good chance, it is a good opportunity for him.” Quite where he will get a game I’m not sure but with everyone speculating that he’ll play in the three with Cesc, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’ll start up front on the right with Bendtner in the middle and Eduardo on the left. Wenger does have an option here so don’t be surprised to see Rosicky replaced by Eboue at the start and Thomas coming off the bench if we need goals, or even if we’re way ahead — he needs the games!

The midfield three picks itself with Song on top form at the moment, Cesc as a must have in pretty much every situation, and Diaby is, erm, available. I suppose Wenger could surprise me and pick Rambo over Diaby at the start but I doubt there will be too much shuffling considering the options available in defense.

Speaking of which, there’s another bit of speculation that Clichy’s dip in form will see him relegated to the bench for this match but I really doubt it. Wenger is ultra loyal and might look at this as an opportunity to show Clichy that he believes in him after his string of poor performances. Plus, there’s a bit of a problem at goal keeper and I doubt Wenger will want to shuffle the back four at a time when he’s playing the third string keeper.

As for the keeper situation: whenever a player has a poor game and then gets sick immediately after there’s always going to be rumors that he’s being dropped. This is fueled by the fact that during the press conference as he was rattling off the injury list (van Persie, Denilson) Wenger had to be reminded (off screen by the handler) that Almunia was out injured and when the press asked what was wrong he paused, looked up, and said “uhhh virus” and followed that quickly with “chest infection.” Others have said it already but it bears repeating: Wenger couldn’t possibly be dropping Almunia for Mannone. That’s just plain crazy. Mannone is a fine kid I’m sure, but there’s no way that Wenger would put his team in danger like this. Mooney must not be fit.

So I expect the starting XI to be like this:

liege-v-arsenal

Feel free to lambaste me for my speculative selection.

As for the game on television, unfortunately it’s only LIVE on Setanta and that means that I would normally go to the bar. Today that trip was going to be after the match owing to work appointments but even that might be in jeopardy. See, I have this killer sore throat and one of my friends was just diagnosed with strep throat so, I have to go to the doctor. If I have strep I will need to stay home for at least 24 hours and that means I’ll be watching the match on some crappy video stream tape delayed on Fox Soccer Channel at 2pm PST. If I don’t have strep, I’ll need to go to work and then will be able to watch the match after work on replay. Fingers crossed!

Right, either way check back in here tomorrow for the Good, Bad, and Ugly. See you then…