Much has been made of our relatively easy run-in, and our last ten games certainly hold few demons, but before we can get to those we have to overcome Stoke in a fixture that is rapidly becoming an obstacle in the minds of many. Sweep it aside, and we really will have reason to believe.
Recent history is not kind – in addition to the FA Cup exit there last month, we put in perhaps our worst performance of last season in going down 2-1, a game notable only for Clichy’s first ever goal. Even that took a couple of deflections on the way in and could not mask an abysmal display.
That was actually the fourth consecutive time Stoke had beaten us in the league at home, a run stretching back almost thirty years. It has been a generation since we left the town with three points.
That said, there is plenty of room for optimism. Stoke played 120 minutes of football on Wednesday night, while the vagaries of the new Champions League schedule ensured that for once we are far more rested than our opposition. Despite the break, our injury situation is still a nightmare – Eduardo may or may nor make the squad, but Gallas, Diaby and Arshavin are still missing, along with the long term absentees (it is easy to forget Djourou even exists).
Gallas’ replacement is a no brainer – Sol simply must play. Not only does he give us the jitters far less than Silvestre, but he is the perfect fit to defend against Stoke’s barrage of set pieces. I expect Denilson to return in midfield, and Sagna at right back, but otherwise it will be the same team that beat Sunderland.
A prediction is hard to make. You feel that if we were to score early, we could overrun them as their legs get heavier, but the longer it stays level, the more confident the hosts will be of nicking it by a single goal. So instead I’m looking at goalscorers, and given that we were finally awarded a penalty last weekend, I’m tipping them come along like buses. Cesc has spot kick duty, and given his fifteen goals already this season he is good value to score first at 6/1, or anytime at 9/5, both with Sportingbet.
I’m picking the latter for best value, so Cesc scoring at 9/5 is my bet of the week.
Elsewhere, Arsenal’s financial figures for the last six months were released this morning, and as expected the news was excellent, highlighted by the reduction in net debt from £332.8m to £203.6m, largely due to the sale of more flats. The remaining 131 flats are expected to bring in a further £50m.
The speed with which our debt is dropping is a timely reminder of the impressive fiscal policies of the club, in the wake of Portsmouth going into administration, and UEFA condemning the spiralling debts of Man United and Liverpool in particular. The prudence may not please all fans, but it does at least guarantee us a consistent and secure future, more than can be said of others. Peter Hill-Wood had the following to say:
“I am pleased to report that the Group has delivered another profitable set of results for the first six months of the financial year.
There has been remarkable progress at Highbury Square over the last twelve months and it is clear that the next couple of years will see our property activities delivering surplus cash. This is very good news, although I would not want to speculate on the exact quantum or timing of this.”
The press are already claiming that Wenger now has a massive transfer kitty for the summer, but these quotes suggest that not to be the case. There is money to spend, as always, but the general message is that we are stabilising, paying off the debt ahead of schedule, and moving forward to become of the richer self-sufficient clubs around. That can only be good news, but equally it is no instant miracle. As always, we much be patient and await the bearing of fruit.
Sky Sports were eager to twist both Hill-Wood’s and Wenger’s words, saying:
“Hill-Wood has indicated that Wenger, who has bemoaned a shortage of cash, could be given spare money to invest in his team.”
Two deceptions in one sentence – PHW was looking longer-term, and Wenger has always maintained that he has money to spend if he wishes. Nice going, Sky.
It promises to be another interesting weekend. Hopefully Man City’s squad is big enough to mean their extra time efforts won’t hand Chelsea a routine victory at lunchtime, while we go looking to exploit Stoke’s tiring legs in the afternoon.
The perfect day goes a little like this – Toure scores the winner for City, Bridge scythes Terry down with a brutal challenge that sees the Chelsea skipper booked for diving, and Big Sol continues his scoring form against Stoke. A man can dream, can’t he?
Enjoy the game.