The final international break of the year is over. How good does that sound?
Real football returns tomorrow, and unlike many Premiership weekends, it is Saturday that looks the tastier of the days. Liverpool and City play each other at lunchtime, United face Everton in the evening, Chelsea are involved and we have a very tricky trip to Sunderland to negotiate.
Sunderland are a very different outfit this season, and one that seems unafraid to give the big teams a real run for their money. They were incredibly unlucky not to beat United, they did pick up the points against Liverpool (although everyone’s doing that), and battered Spurs in their defeat before the internationals began.
Of course, we were on something of a roll too, so a lot depends on who can click in gear quickly. Both sides will be greatly changed – Sunderland are missing Jones to suspension, and Cattermole and Gordon to injury, while we’re without Van Persie, Bendtner and Gibbs.
On top of that, Wenger has some big decisions to make. Gallas and Sagna played 120 minutes on Wednesday night, and Arshavin probably feels like he did, losing with nine men to Slovenia. I’d be very surprised if any of the three started.
All that leaves a selection dilemma. If Silvestre fills in at left back, Senderos and Eboue would be forced to replace Gallas and Sagna, which makes for a rusty defence, and not a particularly speedy one. With Traore fit again, I wonder if he’ll get the nod at left back instead.
Further forward, Diaby is out and Denilson is fit again, although again it’d be tough for the Brazilian to start after his layoff. Ramsey is pushing for games, and may come in for this one. Up front, it seems likely that Nasri, Eduardo and Rosicky will start.
Bench: Mannone, Gallas, Sagna, Silvestre, Denilson, Walcott, Arshavin
Another footnote to the game is the fine line Alex Song is treading – he is a booking away from missing the Chelsea game next weekend, and against Sunderland’s combative midfield he may struggle to get out unscathed. But I don’t think you can have half an eye on another day when you’re in a tough game, so I hope Song isn’t made to play a withdrawn game.
I don’t need to stress how important three points could be – Chelsea are likely to hammer Wolves, and we don’t want them seven or eight points ahead even though we have a game in hand. And with the rest having tricky games, we have another opportunity to pull away from those behind us.
Let’s take it. I think it’ll be a tough game, but I’m going for a hardfought 2-1 win. Enjoy it, wherever you are.