Being a good manager is about getting the tough decisions right. Wenger is stuck in an impossible situation right now – whatever team he fields against Stoke tomorrow, he opens himself up to massive criticism. Play at full strength, and injuries could scupper our chances in an incredibly tough league run. We might lose anyway, or be forced into a replay with the players even more exhausted.
On the flip side, he could send the kids, get knocked out, and face a hammering for ‘disrespecting’ the competition. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The choice becomes clearer when you look at the players available. Our current first XI is Almunia-Clichy-Vermaelen-Gallas-Sagna-Denilson-Cesc-Rosicky-Eduardo-Arshavin-Walcott(the latter coming in for the newly injured Diaby).
With an unavailability list now stretching to Senderos (now on loan to Everton), Djourou, Gibbs, Diaby, Nasri, Ramsey, Song, Eboue, Merida, Van Persie and Bendtner, that leaves a fairly weak backup lineup of:
I can’t even name a full team of players who have the slightest top flight experience, and in reality, how many of those would you trust in any of the four huge league games we’ve got in store? With our inability to complete a match without a new injury, fielding a full team against Stoke runs the risk of forcing one or more of them in.
We have more injuries that anyone in the Premiership right now, and we simply don’t have the resources to cope with three competitions. With the Champions League on the horizon, we have to take that risk this weekend. You never know, the kids might even surprise us once again.
It is tough to pick a decent bet with the bookies still heavily favouring us for tomorrow’s game. But I’m going for a 2-1 win, and a vindication of team selection.
Elsewhere, Wenger was in fighting mood in yesterday’s press conference, calling the media out on their selective focus, something I was talking about earlier in the week. His timing is perfect – even neutrals cannot fail to see the hypocrisy of the outrage over Gallas’ challenge in a week in which Bolton did their best to kick Cesc out of two games. That Sky chose to put the tackle on a loop while ignoring Taylor’s antics last weekend sums them up.
Wenger went further, talking about the continued notion that the best tactic against Arsenal is to kick us. Not be physical, but to deliberately hack and foul:
“What is more funny is that, when we get kicked, some people say before the game ‘we know how to play Arsenal, we have to kick them’ and nobody in the whole country is upset by that.”
“I am always absolutely amazed that people get away with it. When we get kicked and lose the game, the question I get from the press is ‘oh, you did not fancy that’. But nobody is upset or shocked by it. When we are kicked they find that it is absolutely all right.”
“I said after the Bolton game if Gallas has injured the player, we are sorry. We will have a look at the tackle and if it is malicious we will come out and make a statement. We looked at it carefully and we saw that it was just a mistimed tackle. That is why we didn’t see why such a story should flare up and make a national issue if the intention of the player was completely right.”
Absolutely. And again, timed to perfection, with Ricardo Fuller stating Stoke’s intentions ahead of tomorrow’s game:
“The Britannia, it’s like a fortress, and if we do play to our strengths I don’t think Arsenal can deal with the aggressive play.”“It’s been proved in the past that Chelsea and Bolton have roughed them up and tried to bully them. We can also be rough and aggressive when we need to.”
Wenger has a point. When players and managers come out before a game and say that their intention is to kick us off the park, how is that acceptable? When a player cynically spends a match trying to remove our best players from the pitch, it is seen as valid, but when Gallas mistimes a tackle, or Rosicky responds, they are brought into to media spotlight and condemned. Bolton’s bleating this week has been pathetic.
The crazy thing is that the press are about two years behind in their assertion. We have been a soft touch in the past, but Cesc now responds with his feet, Rosicky and Nasri have a spiky quality, and Vermaelen and Gallas are as fierce a pairing as you will find anywhere in the Premiership. We don’t roll over – we haven’t all season.
Tomorrow, we will see if the next generation can treat the aggressive nature of the opposition with the same contempt. Bring it on.