It is getting down to the nitty-gritty for Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal players now. The Gunners may not have a realistic chance of the title but we are very much involved in a real Premier League tussle. With an FA cup trophy to defend and a poor home result to overturn in the Champions League as well, the manager knows he must rotate his squad while still fielding a team that will do the job for Arsenal.
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Despite the Arsenal and Chile striker Alexis Sanchez being desperate to start his first north London derby today, after only featuring for the last 25 minutes of the game at the Emirates in September, this game will be a bit too soon for Arsene Wenger to risk him after his hamstring injury.
The Frenchman might have to tie his star player up though and he may well be on the bench, but although the games against Tottenham are always important and this one could see either team finish higher in the Premier League table than the other, Wenger must make sure that Sanchez does not aggravate his injury.
The Arsenal boss all of a sudden has a different sort of problem on his hands, but it is the sort of problem he would have loved to be struggling with all season, tough decisions about which players from a strong squad to put in the starting line-up.
With Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers all back in contention, Arsene Wenger has some big calls today and one of the biggest is on our club record signing. In another game I think the boss would have brought our German midfielder back in, but away to Man City is too big a game to risk a rusty Ozil, especially when the players he might replace are doing so well.
One of the major attributes in the game of the Arsenal and England forward Theo Walcott over the years has been his blistering pace. In fact, in his early years Walcott was heavily criticised for being all about the pace, about the pace, no treble (sorry).
But he has really worked on the rest of his game and improved his finishing so those critics, like Alan Hansen, have been proved wrong. But his pace is still one of his biggest dangers, although now the Gunners have more than just him who is able to blow the opposing players away with their speed.
Of course it is absolutely vital for Arsenal to get a home win over the visitors Stoke City today. We have a great chance to go above our north London rivals Tottenham in the Premier League table and level on points with fourth placed Southampton.
And with our next EPL game being away to the current champions Manchester City, it is even more important for the Gunners to make the most of today’s very winnable game at the Emirates. But I do not want us to be just falling over the line at the final whistle.
Finally, Arsenal’s record signing Mesut Ozil is back in contention for a start after recovering from a knee injury he suffered just prior to the last international break. But while the German international was on the sidelines, Santi Cazorla has undoubtedly fluorished in the Number 10 role and has shown the form that made him such a sensation during his first season in English football.
Both managers have made a number of changes to their starting line-ups from new years day, but Arsenal look much the stronger after Steve Brice made a massive 10 compared to Arsene Wenger’s five. And you would expect our fringe players, like Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Joel Campbell to have too much quality for the visitors Hull City.
The major talking point for Arsenal fans is the first start in a year for our England international star Theo Walcott. The speedy forward will join Campbell and Alexis in a very pacy looking Arsenal attack, with the skills of Cazorla and Rosicky behind them.
The Czech midfielder Thomas Rosicky has only recently started playing for the Arsenal first team this season, but he has already shown his quality with some top performances and an important goal against QPR. Thomas may be 34 years old but Mikel Arteta believes that he is extremely under-rated and has been ever since Mikel first joined the club three and a half seasons ago.
“Within a week of joining Arsenal, watching Tomas train and having him play alongside me, I knew he was one of the most underrated players,” Arteta said in the official website. “It’s hard to find players like Tomas who can be that clever and do things so simply and lively on the pitch.
Arsene Wenger was very relieved that Arsenal won their first trophy for ten years by beating Hull City in the FA Cup Final last May, and he is keen to retain the trophy this time around.
But this time we have to face the same opponent in the Third round so we certainly hope that we are not subjected to the pressure of being 2-0 down early on in the game as we were at Wembley.
Three games in seven days over the Xmas period, including two of them away at our direct rivals for Fourth Place, was always going to be a tall order for the depleted Arsenal squad, but with just one game left we are still on target.
Wojciech Szczesny has revealed that nine points was always Arsenal’s target and he is confident we will finish the job at Southampton on Thursday. “When you start the season you always want to win the championship,” the Polish keeper said. “That is the only thought in our heads. But with the position that we are in, we have to look at short-term goals.