Derby Day

– Seven days off was a good thing for both Arsenal and me. I watched a few matches of football, and was generally relieved to be unconcerned with Arsenal for a few hours. The El Clasico was a damp squib with a few moments of excellence from Xavi, Pedro, and Messi. Blackburn surprisingly didn’t capitulate against Manchester United, who spent much of the second half throwing themselves onto the ground. Bolton played excellent defensively, but one cross from Drogba and having zero shots on target doomed them. For the Arsenal team, they got valuable rest after having to chase Barcelona players for 90 minutes last Wednesday.

– Arsenal made me a very happy man the last time we played Sp*rs. It was my birthday, and the 3-0 victory was a perfect way to start my day. On that day, we still had Robin van Persie in our side and we were a smooth offensive machine. The fact that we’re still in the race after losing him for so long is nothing short of a miracle. When Wenger talks about van Persie potentially being in the class of Ronaldo, Messi, and Rooney, he might be overshooting the mark slightly, but not by much. Remember that Wenger scouted all of these players when they were young, and former Gunners, like Bergkamp, Henry, and Pires, would frequently say that Robin has every trick in the book. He’s been out injured for so long that it’s almost as if he’s been wiped from our squad. And despite the fact that we’re still in touch of the leaders, our team has suffered for it. The plain truth is that we’ve scored less goals and the method of our play had to be largely altered because of his absence.

– Robin van Persie is one of the finest false nine players in the world. When he initially went down injured, I noted that he was probably the most difficult player to replace in this side. Now, that shouldn’t be the case. I believe that we should have a suitable player to back up each member of the starting XI if they go down to injury. Losing Cesc hurts, but we do have players who can play in that position. When van Persie went down, we had to use Andrey as a striker while waiting for Bendtner to recover. Robin will probably only make an appearance on the bench, but his return is very much welcome. It should be noted that he did not play against Chelsea in the league or United in the Emirates return fixture. He did play in the match against United away, and most would agree that we deserved something from that match. He would have made a difference in those matches.

– All that being said, let’s not expect any miracles. I don’t mean to undercut myself as I’m thrilled that he’s back, but he’s been out of football for quite a while now. The last time he returned from an injury that took this long, he struggled to find sharpness and generally frustrated a lot of Arsenal fans. If he can just act as a superb link up player and put away chances, we’ll have to be content with that.

– For Arsenal, tomorrow is about a couple of things. One, staying in the title race. Two, clinching St. Totteringham’s Day against Sp*rs. Lose and we achieve neither. The players must show a response after being outclassed by Barcelona.

– We will be missing Alex Song for another two matches. That is a big loss, but Denilson is capable. Equally, Palacios will be missing for Sp*rs and that’s a similar absence for them. Additionally, Lennon and Corluka will be miss out. Having Aaron Lennon attack Clichy for 90 minutes would have been a huge boost for them. Gallas and Arshavin seem likely to be done for the year.

– Sol Campbell returns to play for us against Sp*rs once again. Harry Redknapp, the blue waffle himself, noted that Sol Campbell wanted to desperately leave Arsenal when he signed him for Portsmouth a few years back. That’s the kind of stunning rehabilitation it’s been for Sol. He wanted out, we wanted him out, and now he’s back and happy as ever. If you don’t think that’s true, look at the amount of fist pumps he did after Bendtner scored a last gasp winner against Wolves. He loves it here, and he had to leave Arsenal to realize how wonderful Arsenal is. Players don’t get that second chance, but he did, and he’s grasped it.

– A brief tangent. Wolves chairman Jez Moxey was furious at the FA for the way that Arsenal had “influenced” the ref and got Karl Henry sent off. They can’t just let this die, can they? For an excellent article about the matter, read this. Spot on.

– Back to Sp*rs. We must pay attention to Peter Crouch. He’s hurt us in the past, mostly with his feet instead of with his height. Other than him, Modric is a fine player who’s proven himself in this league. And Gareth Bale is being hailed as some sort of left back wizard. He can deliver a nice ball, but we need his friend Theo Walcott to occupy him the entire match (instead of flittering in and out of games as he has been doing).

– We win this game, and we’ll put pressure on Chelsea. I think most people expect us to drop points in this fixture. That’s just the vibe I’m getting. There is no better time to play Sp*rs. Stewart Robson said on the Times Podcast that he didn’t believe any of the top four sides have improved this year. He’s wrong. We’re much better this year than we were last year. It’s time to finish strong and win this title.

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