Prologue from the Editor: I regret to say that a campaign has been launched by some of the lesser clubs in the league against our revealing the score before the matches happen. They speak of lower crowds than might be expected if the result were not known, and demoralised players who realise they have no chance once our preview goes up.
After returning from a party with my 3 daughters and 4 grandchildren I have thought long and hard for about 2 seconds, and decided we should not print a score this time.
Portsmouth v Arsenal, by Phil Gregory.
Arsenal travel to Portsmouth on Wednesday to face the league’s bottom team in Avram Grant’s Pompey.
I have kept a keen eye on Pompey during the course of the season mainly due to how they were written off by most, and I actually felt they were in with a shot of staying up until recently. Many of their early games were write-offs, given the way they were still shipping players both out and in up until deadline day.
In many of their next games, they seemed genuinely hard done by, and I believed they would turn the corner and drag themselves to safety. Then I remembered their sizeable African contingent, and with the African Cup of Nations looming wrote them off too.
It’s always a shame to see a club go down, (except Liverpool – ed) but their demise is a reminder of how not to play the transfer market. While it may be fashionable amongst Arsenal fans to blame Redknapp, it wasn’t he who signed off the cheques, but the Chief Executive.
Arsenal have put themselves right back up there in the title fight with some great recent results. The turn-around at Anfield and the resounding 3-0 win over top four hopefuls Villa would be the recent highlights for any Arsenal fan, but three points is three points whoever you play, and we need to maintain our consistency.
Portsmouth are having a tough time of it at home, winning a mere three of nine, with six defeats. Just 12 goals scored at Fratton mark underlines the fact that Pompey aren’t scoring enough to win games, while the defence haven’t been too impressive either.
Unfortunately, we are without Fabregas for another three weeks. Given that it was either three weeks or a few days depending on the nature of the problem I dare say with our luck we were all resigned to the worst.
Rosicky, Clichy and Bendtner are all out until the early stages of January while long-term absentees Van Persie and Djourou remain on the treatment table. Englishman Gibbs is also continuing his recovery from a metatarsal injury, and is looking at a February return.
Portsmouth are without the increasingly injury-prone David James, with Asmir Begovic likely to deputise.
Arsenal will look towards the creative duo of Nasri and Arshavin to take up the playmaker mantle in the absence of Fabregas. The Spaniard’s influence was plain to see when he entered the fray against Aston Villa, and it remains to be seen whether we can cope without him in the big games, with a tie against Manchester United looming in two weeks time.
Almunia looked like a man on the up against Villa, despite having little to do. He needed the confidence boost his penalty save against Hull brought, so lets hope he returns to last season’s impressive form.
Portsmouth‘s on-loan French striker, Piquionne has done well, adapting to a new team and league during tough times on the south coast. He has started to find the net more frequently, scoring against Liverpool and Chelsea recently.
Tough-tackling Portsmouth captain Michael Brown will be looking to disrupt the flow of Arsenal’;s passing game, and with his past history of double footed challenges and head butts, his pedigree in terms of the dirtier side of the game is never in doubt. A hard-working central midfield player, Brown will be an imposing prospect for Denilson or Ramsey, though I’d back either of Diaby and Song to give back as good as they get!
Arsenal predicted line-up:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Traore
Nasri Eduardo Arshavin
Subs: Fabianksi, Ramsey, Silvestre, Wilshere, Vela, Eboue, Merida.
The back five pretty much picks itself, though Eboue could play instead of Sagna in order to rest the Frenchman prior to Eboue’s departure to Angola.
The midfield is likely to be the same as what started against Villa, though young Welshman Aaron Ramsey may be given the opportunity to playmake. Up front, Eduardo is flanked by Nasri and Arshavin.
Despite the injuries, there are options on the bench. Walcott was impressive coming off the bench at the weekend, though unless we score, he is unlikely to find the space there for his pace to exploit.
It should be a win, Pompey are poor at home, but we are missing our two best players in Fabregas and Van Persie. The midfield allies strength with Brazilian finesse but Denilson is no Fabregas and could struggle to open up a massed Portsmouth defence if they try to park the bus.
Aaron Ramsey has the range of passing to create openings, but it is open to question whether he has shown what he can do away from home for the Arsenal.
I unfortunately won’t be bringing you an article for the FA Cup game at the weekend, but will be back for Bolton at home next week.
Phil Gregory is a 20 year old student at the University of Leeds. Studying Economics and French, he’s been a Gunner since he got interested in football at a young age, and is often sighted at the away games in the North and Midlands.
Epilogue (Did you know this is the only football blog ever to publish a prologue and an epilogue. Suave or what?)
MAKING THE ARSENAL, has been described by the editor of this blog as “The best book I have ever read.” The fact that he also wrote it has not coloured his judgement one millimeter. You can buy it at www.amazon.co.uk or from the publishers where you will also find more details.
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