The recriminations have come thick and fast since Wednesday’s defeat to Porto, but before we attempt to exact a measure of revenge on perhaps the most cynical side we’ve faced this season, we play two more teams who triumphed over us the last time we met – Sunderland, and next weekend Stoke.
Since exploiting one of our poorest displays of the season back in November, Sunderland haven’t won a single match in the Premiership, a run that threatens to drag them into the relegation mire. They also have an injury crisis in midfield, and frankly are there for the taking. After a disappointment, you want to bounce back immediately, and a home game against a side shorn of confidence is about the best you can ask for.
Naturally, we have injury concerns of our own. Diaby is once again missing, this time with a medial knee injury that he may recover from to face Stoke next weekend. Gallas, Eduardo and Arshavin remain on the treatment table, while Sol is a doubt at the back. If he fails to make it, Silvestre will come in to give us the jitters again.
Song and Almunia are both in the squad at the moment, and with Denilson and Fabianski in the frame to be replaced, you have to say you’d be more than happy to see them back. In truth, I think the Fabianski abuse has gone too far this week – he had a shocker, no doubt about it, but I’ve seen top class keepers have horrendous days too. I know this will attract criticism, but I feel it too early to write him off.
We don’t see him every day in training, but those who do are full of praise, and we’ve seen what he is capable of in the past. His shot stopping is excellent (it was even fine the other night), and we saw him make a couple of remarkable saves in last season’s League Cup. He has a great deal of talent, the only question is whether he can translate that ability into performances when it counts.
At his age, he has time to mature mentally, and prove that he can. I’m sure he hopes Almunia doesn’t make it tomorrow so that he can redeem himself, but it looks unlikely he’ll get that chance. It may be no bad thing – he needs to regroup, refocus and come back better when next called upon.
I maintain this – I have seen enough of Fabianski to say that he has the physical capability to become our number one, and for that reason I’m unwilling to join the calls to throw him off the bus.
Back to tomorrow’s game – in additional to being a chance to get back on track, it is an opportunity to put pressure on the top two, especially given United’s tough trip to Everton. We should win comfortably, although the clean sheet might be ruined by Darren Bent’s irritating habit of scoring against all the big teams.
So I’m tipping a 3-1 win, available at a decent 10/1 at Sportingbet. After the success of Wednesday’s bet of the day (Sol to score), here’s hoping for two in a row.
Away from the game, and Wenger was in particularly feisty mood in his press conference. Still livid with Wednesday’s referee, he branded him incompetent on a couple of occasions:
“I don’t want to go too much into details but he made at least five technical mistakes. I believe he is incompetent or dishonest, so I prefer to believe he is not competent.”
“What he does doesn’t make common sense and is against the rules of the referees. So when a guy makes so many technical mistakes that is not even linked to judgement, I believe he is not competent.”
Already the word ‘dishonest’ has appeared on many blogs and columns, with many claiming Wenger was questioning the integrity of the official. But quite clearly, he is simply saying that he doesn’t believe the referee is up to the job. Risky comments, nonetheless.
Don’t get me wrong, the referee was far from the only individual to make horrendous mistakes on the night. We have only ourselves to blame for the defeat, but can start putting things right tomorrow.
Enjoy the game.