Today sees the jam in the middle of the Arsenal-Liverpool sandwich, as Liverpool return to the Emirates for the league game. The team selection says a lot about the priorities – with Liverpool clear of Everton their weakened side was predictable, but more interesting is Wenger’s resting of Adebayor, Hleb, Clichy and Senderos.
He would never admit it in public, but I suspect that if you offered Wenger one win and one defeat in the next two games, he’d pick Tuesday night for the victory. The league may not be over, but United’s form suggests that even seven wins out of seven might not be enough. The Champions League, however, is in our hands, by its very cup nature.
Van Persie may return on Tuesday, and had today been vital in Wenger’s mind, he may have been risked, but immediately following the midweek game he was ruled out, perhaps mindful of what comes after today. Resting Adebayor to compound his absence is a risky move – with Eduardo on the sidelines that means the leading three forwards are out today. Bendtner and the recently impressive Walcott will be chomping at the bit.
Gilberto comes in for Hleb, a classic case of resting a tiring player, while Clichy has only been rested for cup games this season, giving the clearest sign that perhaps today is not the top priority. Traore and Hoyte haven’t played since that mauling at United, and will be hoping to make a better impression today.
So all in all, the team news does point to Tuesday being of greater importance, but there is another possibility – perhaps Wenger is just trying to play the weakest team he can, that will still beat a weakened Liverpool side. He knew there would be no Gerrard, no Torres, and maybe believes that he can make some tweaks and still win, and thinks that is the only way to win both games.
One thing is for sure, it’s a tricky balance. The next couple of games may give us some idea as to whether he’s got it right.