The aftermath of Vermaelen’s red card last weekend was telling. A centre back down and defending a narrow lead, Wenger had a suitable (ideal may not be the right word) replacement on the bench in Silvestre. Instead of sacrificing a midfielder (probably Denilson) to bring him into the fray, he opted to drop Song back into defence.
The obvious conclusion is that the manager considered Song a more reliable option at the back, and I’m not sure you’d get find too many people arguing against that assertion. But it actually runs deeper than that.
Song was putting in a match-winning performance in midfield, yet Wenger was still content to weaken that area of the pitch to shore up his defence. So the actual statement of preference was:
Wenger considered Song a better option than Silvestre in the defence, and the disparity was sufficient to voluntarily risk handing West Ham the initiative in midfield.
That is quite the indicator of where Silvestre currently lies in the pecking order. I first mentioned this on Wednesday, coming to the conclusion that Wenger would continue to prefer Song in defence if necessary. That view was backed up in yesterday’s press conference, with the manager confirming that Campbell will start tomorrow, rather than resting him ahead of Barcelona on Wednesday.
If Campbell doesn’t play, then Silvestre does, and I don’t see that happening. I expect Song to partner Sol again tomorrow, and also line up alongside Vermaelen in midweekif necessary. If Sol can play twice in four days, great, but either way I can’t see Silvestre getting a look in.
Central defensive worries are not the only story leading into tomorrow’s game. If he passes a fitness test, Bendtner will get a chance to lead the line against the team he had a successful loan spell with, but perhaps the most emotive story could be that of Eduardo, who returns to St Andrews for the first time since having his ankle shattered by Martin Taylor a little over two years ago, a blow his career has never really recovered from.
Bendtner’s injury means that even if Eduardo doesn’t start, he is likely to emerge at some point, and with football being a game of poignant stories, my bet of the day is for the Croatian to score at any time during the game. You can get odds of 6/5 with Sportingbet on that.
If you are feeling less romantic, it would probably be wise to tip a tight match. Birmingham are unbeaten in eleven games at home, and are hard to break down. But they played midweek, so you would hope our fitness would tell in the end, and you can get 3/1 on the match being level at half time, but us picking up the points after the ninety.
Two years ago, our campaign was derailed at St. Andrews, and if the players have one eye on Barcelona, the same might happen tomorrow. But despite their youth, this team seems to have the fabled mental strength that Wenger so often talks about, and focus seems too strong minds to let the concentration slip. We might have Europe in our sights, but they won’t be thinking about that tomorrow.
Besides, we owe Birmingham after the incidents of two years ago. Get it done.
Enjoy the match, wherever you are.