With Almunia frozen out, and Mannone beginning to show understandable signs of being a little out of his depth in the first team at this early stage of his career, the stage seemed set for Fabianski to return to the fray against Spurs this afternoon, especially after a decent showing against Liverpool in midweek.
But the confirmation that the Pole will miss a few weeks with a new thigh injury puts Wenger in something of a quandary. Does he stick with Mannone, when he probably doesn’t have complete faith in the youngster’s ability just yet? Or does he return to a demoralised Almunia, who was probably not in his plans for the weekend?
I’d go for Almunia without question. Remember that it was the Spaniard who saved Keane’s penalty in this fixture two seasons ago, the day he perhaps finally secured the number one jersey. Since then, he has done little wrong, and whatever issue is keeping him on the sidelines should be cleared up, and not allowed to affect the team. Mannone may one day be the better keeper, but right now Almunia is the best we have and should start tomorrow.
As for the rest of the team, the Carling Cup tie heavily indicated who would start the derby, especially in the cases of Nasri and Eduardo, who looked exhausted at the end of ninety fitness-building minutes. With Rosicky still missing, I’d expect the usual back four, Cesc-Song-Diaby in midfield, and Arshavin-RVP-Eboue as the front three. I must admit I was surprised to see Bendtner on Wednesday as I figured he’d start ahead of Eboue, but with King and Woodgate available Spurs will be decent in the air.
Spurs themselves are missing players that have hurt us in the past – Lennon, who scored the final equaliser in the 4-4, Defoe, who has a habit of finding the net against us, and Modric, arguably their best player. But with Keane suggesting that their bench is stronger than ours, that shouldn’t worry them, right?
The absence of Lennon means that Bentley will play against us again, and if any extra motivation was needed to smash Spurs tomorrow, it would be to avoid seeing him as smugly delighted as after that sickening draw last season, celebrating as if he’d won the league as we stared in disbelief at the way three points had been thrown away.
Last weekend I was feeling strangely pessimistic about our chances against West Ham, and said a draw wouldn’t surprise me. This time, despite the fact that we often look sluggish in lunchtime kickoffs, I’m expecting a real performance, and a 3-0 win. The odds on that are pitifully weak, so the additional bet is for Arshavin to open the scoring at 11/2.
I don’t need to say how big a game this is, I just hope the players know it. After last season, we owe Spurs a beating. Time to deliver.
Enjoy the game.