Those who believe our season to be over already should remind themselves of the number of back stories coming into tomorrow’s game with City. There are so many I may miss some, but here are the ones that stick out:
- The return of Adebayor to the Emirates. His first game against us came at the relative sanctity of Eastlands, yet he was still whipped into a mindless frenzy. Lest we forget, he put in an awful challenge on Cesc, stamped on Van Persie’s face, slapped Song and then did that celebration. Now he’s in our town, and the reception will be red hot, irrespective of Wenger’s call for calm. He knows as well as anyone that such pleas are pointless.
- In contrast, we welcome Vieira back. Sure, we’ve already done that once in European competition, but he is back in the Premiership now, and the greeting he will receive will put the Adebayor catcalls in sharp focus.
- And then there’s Toure. Still a legend, if you ask me.
- Van Persie is likely to make his first start since 1946, and Song returns to the squad. After their experiences at the hands of Adebayor earlier in the season, the handshakes could be far more interesting than the Bridge-Terry rebuff.
- And of course, there is the football itself.
For me, the last point remains the most important. I don’t believe either Spurs or City are challenging us for third, despite the opinion of the worriers, but even though it pains me to say it, I am desperate for Spurs to win the battle for fourth. One simple reason – City have the cash to capitalise on a Champions League place, whereas at least Spurs would have the decency to lose to Dubrunevik Village in the qualifiers.
If City win, they become a far more attractive proposition for the mercenaries they will be searching for in the summer. And if you think that type of player won’t help them, you are wrong – it was exactly how Chelsea started in the Abramovich era (Crespo, Veron et al). They may already be bound for a similar rise, but at least if Spurs pushed them down to fifth it would be slightly delayed. I can live with another hilarious summer of optimism of our neighbours for that.
Looking at the match itself, most of the bookies seem to agree that it will be a goalfest. They also think it will be close, but after a week of reflection, I expect a reaction from the players tomorrow. The media silence tells you everything you need to know about their mood – our club has made some PR gaffes on the official site this season but even they knew excuses and platitudes were pointless. What we need to see is a totally different performance in the next game.
That drives my bet of the day, which is a 4-0 win available at a massive 40/1 with Sportingbet. I’m tempted to bet on a few scorelines in that range – 3-0, 4-1 etc, as I’m convinced we’ll be seeing one of them tomorrow. We owe City, and the players owe us.
Elsewhere, much of the talk has been around our goalkeeping situation. With Almunia out of favour injured, Fabianski has been given the chance to prove his mistakes of the past were just blips. As we all know, all he managed to do was compound his previous errors to gift Wigan their equaliser.
The consensus everywhere is that he is useless, hopeless, a clown, a muppet, a no-hoper and definitely has no future with the club. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why so many take that view – his mistakes have been so frequent that it is easy to write him off.
But (and I think I’m alone in this) I still believe he can be a top keeper. I’m not sure what it is (it isn’t just blind optimism as I’ve written players off in the past), but something about him makes me think that when he gets over his confidence nightmare, he can finally prove himself. And while I’m certain that at least 90% of you will think I’m an idiot for that opinion, I’d hazard a guess that you never thought Heurelho Gomes would turn out to be a decent keeper either. And his gaffes were arguably more frequent.
I’m not stupid enough to claimthat Fabianski definitely will turn into a top keeper, all I’m saying is no-one can say that he definitely can’t. Call him Song Mk II if I’m right.
And call him Aliadiere Mk II if I’m wrong.
Szczesny is very highly rated, but still too raw to become our first choice keeper, so no matter how much of a shoo in he is for the number one jersey in the future, we need a reliable option for the next few years. If Wenger doesn’t buy one this summer, I don’t think he will for a number of years – he will either abandon both Almunia and Fabianski, or keep faith with one of them for the long term.
If he does decide that we need a keeper to last a few years, hehas previous – signing Lehmann for the final few valuable years of his career. Tim over at 7am Kickoff suggests Marcus Hahnemann. We could do worse.
My prediction is that we won’t sign a keeper – Wenger will point to having four at the club who played first team football this season, and will expect at least one of them to grasp the mantle.
One final thing I wanted to touch on today, and that is the decision to exclude Portsmouth from Europe next season. I’ve thought for a while that although everyone seems to be focusing on Liverpool’s failed attempt to reach fourth, the problem may be worse than that – they may not qualify for Europe at all. Thanks to United lifting the League Cup, fifth and sixth get you in, but Liverpool are in seventh and have a tricky run-in (two relegation fighters away from home, and Chelsea).
Now that Pompey are barred, seventh is good enough, which is highly convenient, don’t you think?
Enjoy the game.