After the disappointment of our failure last Monday to beat a Stoke side that look doomed to spending next season in the Championship, we can take heart that as we go into today’s game against another of the top six elite sides, we are still in fourteenth place in the Premier League. A victory over the Potters would have virtually seen off the threat of relegation, albeit not mathematically, but nonetheless the point gained was also a point that ensured a single point for Stoke that leaves them with an uphill task of catching us as they are seven points behind with only four games to play. Similarly, Southampton who also have four games remaining are six points adrift of us. Of the six teams below us in the table, only Swansea have five games to play like ourselves. The others only have three or four games to save their season. Surely we can do enough in these remaining matches to ensure top flight football for another season, even though all of our outstanding games are against teams in the top nine of the table.
Before the announcement of the impending departure of Arsene Wenger this week I was of the opinion that this was as good a time as any to face a trip to the Emirates Stadium. So many ungrateful Arsenal fans have been staying away in protest against their manager of 22 years, who has only brought them three league titles and seven FA Cup final victories during his tenure! In 20 of those years Arsenal have finished in the top four and qualified for the Champions League each time. Virtually every other club in the country would be happy with such a record. But Arsenal fans, like all the other fans of the top six clubs, believe they have a divine right to be at the very top. When “Wexit” hit the headlines on Thursday there was some relief among the Gunners faithful and perhaps a renewed enthusiasm to follow the team, a situation that might add something to the Arsenal performance today.
Of course, Arsenal have a Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid next week, and some might believe that they could take their foot off the gas and rest some key players today, but I doubt that this will be the case. They are certainly not the invincible team that we have faced so often in recent years, and they lack the pace up front that was so regularly our undoing against them, but nevertheless they still play with a certain style that can cause us problems.
Unlike so many of our fans I would like to see Joe Hart retain his position in goal, even though he will be forced to step down in the forthcoming fixture against Manchester City. Yes, he dropped a clanger for the Stoke goal, but I was interested to read some statistics that showed he has made fewer errors that have led to goals this season than either Cech for Arsenal or Lloris for Tottenham. There has been much speculation this week that Moyes wants to sign him permanently, which has led to some fans taking to social media to express their displeasure. At his best he is a fine keeper, although I accept he has not been at this level this season. Three other goalkeepers who have played for England could also be in sides that are relegated this season, Forster, Butland and Foster. Perhaps we could be interested in one of those, although only Butland would perhaps be better than Hart in my view. Depending on whether or not Fulham are promoted to the Premier League, their highly rated custodian Bettinelli is another we might fancy.
I expect an unchanged back three of the ever-impressive Rice alongside the in-form Ogbonna and Cresswell. Zabaleta and Masuaku will probably continue as the wide players, but I fear for Noble and Kouyate being over-run in the middle. It will be interesting to see who is selected in attacking positions, with only the Hammer of the Year elect Arnie being certain to start. Mario, Lanzini, Hernandez, Carroll and Fernandes will all be vying for a place in the starting line-up. I thought that the manager was too negative with his selections for the Stoke game leaving Arnie too isolated, but I doubt that he will change for this game until we fall behind. Fernandes will be a fine player in time, but I don’t see him as an offensive threat, and if selected for today I would like to see him bolstering the middle alongside Noble and Kouyate. Carroll has a fine record against Arsenal, and thinking of horses for courses perhaps this is one game he should start. But I suspect he will once again be on the bench alongside Hernandez. Perhaps Lanzini will play in a more advanced role alongside Arnie?
But whoever is picked I am hoping that we can pick up another point to edge us closer to safety. The bookmakers don’t have us as such big outsiders as they have done against other top sides recently. We are only 5/1 to win the game and 7/2 to share the spoils. But whatever happens today we should retain our league position unless Swansea win unexpectedly at Manchester City. I’m going for 1-1.