I’m not a fan of November. All semblance of summer has disappeared, it rains all the time, and Arsenal always struggle. Oh, and there’s always an international break. It just isn’t a great month.
And it hasn’t been one this year. Van Persie’s injury has developed into one that threatens his entire season, Gibbs has joined Clichy on the sidelines, Gallas can’t see, and we’ve lost our unbeaten run. It the meantime, Chelsea have stretched their lead to eight points, albeit having played a game more than us.
But all that will be eased if we win this afternoon. Lose, and the title dream is probably over – I know that sounds dramatic, but even if we win our game in hand, eight points is a big gap to claw back against a side not looking like dropping many. But if we triumph, and also pick up three points in the extra game (which is at home to Bolton), the gap is only two.
For the most part, the team picks itself. If Gallas is fit, the only real question is who plays at left back – Eboue or Traore. Personally, I think Eboue will get the nod – Traore may just be a little raw for this sort of occasion. Further forward, Denilson’s return probably puts him in a central three with Song and Cesc, with Nasri, Eduardo and Arshavin starting up front. For all the worries over our lack of striking power without Van Persie, that still leaves Rosicky, Walcott and Vela as options from the bench.
I hope beyond anything that we don’t try to play a cagey game this afternoon. We have to be realistic and say that with the combination of Drogba (eight goals in eight games against us), Anelka (seven in nine), and their threat from set pieces (given our lack of height), we are hugely unlikely to keep a clean sheet. For me, the best way to beat them is to overrun them in attack. Pace is our forte up front, and it is also their defensive weakness. Eduardo is likely to get a chance or two, the game may come down to whether he can make the most of them.
For some unexplainable reason, I’m feeling very optimistic, and so far this season, my gut instincts have been on the button. I was concerned about the trips to West Ham and Sunderland, and the last time I felt this good going into a match was before we taught Spurs a footballing lesson. I can’t put my finger on why, but I just think these players are going to knit together this afternoon and put us right back in contention.
So it is with that subconcious confidence that I’m betting on a 3-1 win, available at 22-1 with Sportingbet (who also, handily, offer refunds if there is a red card in the match).
Are you as confident as I am?