Are most Arsenal fans as sick of the headlines as I am?
Because I've really had it with all the "experts."
Yes, Arsenal have had a less than ideal preseason. We've lost two key players. We've lost one game. We've had a spate of injuries and suspensions. We all know that.
But the way the sports writers have been slamming the club, one would imagine we've lost all our games, have a squad comprising of only under-19 players, have just sacked our manager Arsene Wenger" target="_blank">Arsene Wenger, don't have a stadium and are £700 million in debt. Did I forget something?
Shut up, the lot of you!!
Arsenal go into a Champions League qualifier second leg later today at Udinese, with the cushion of a 1-0 lead (and with no away goals conceded). I wouldn't go as far as the pundits and call it "season-defining," but yes, it is a crucial game. Victory or defeat could definitely impact the squad's psyche, and the club's purchasing power in the remainder of this transfer window.
The playing squad has been severely weakened by injury, but I am confident that Wenger can put out a team that not only looks good on paper, but also will compete and win in Italy. Here's my take on how Arsenal will line up tonight.
1. Wojciech Szczesny (Goal keeper)
The new "Safe Hands" will soon be regarded as one of the top goal keepers in the world. He hasn't put a foot wrong in three matches so far this season. Szczesny has been strong and dominant, and we have yet to concede from the dreaded set piece!!
2. Carl Jenkinson (Right-back)
Although Armand Traore is back on the squad and played all of last year in Serie A with Juventus, I believe Wenger will go for the young Jenkinson, who is match fit, having played two games this season.
3. Bacary Sagna (Left-back)
The regular right-back will move across to the left to allow Jenkinson to play in his preferred position. Sagna is one of Arsenal's most underrated players, but his defensive solidity, consistency and attacking threat make him one of the best defenders in world football today. Fact.
4. Thomas Vermaelen (Centre half)
The Verminator's return has been one of the most encouraging aspects of Arsenal's season thus far. He is a leader and an organizer, brave, strong in the air and in the tackle—exactly what we missed last season. He will be busy tonight, but will take care of business.
5. Johan Djourou (Centre half)
Back to fitness, Johan's return is crucial. It would have been unfair to have thrust Ignasi Miquel into the spotlight in such a crucial position, at such a young age. While Djourou and Vermaelen may not be the best defensive pairing in the eyes of many, they're certainly not a soft touch, and should handle whatever Udinese throw at them.
6. Alex Song (Defensive midfield)
"Uncle Alex," as he is now being called, is back on the team after sitting out the defeat to Liverpool through suspension. Song now has the experience and the caliber to be one of the leaders of this Arsenal side, and must avoid an early booking to be at his best. Also, a little less attacking verve today, and more positional discipline. We need a big one from you today, Uncle.
7. Emmanuel Frimpong (Defensive midfield)
An overnight Twitter sensation, his battle with Piers Morgan and his send-off for Samir Nasri are the stuff of legend already. I believe Wenger will go for additional muscle in midfield tonight, given the 1-0 lead. Frimpong showed enough against Liverpool last Saturday to suggest that he will have a long and successful career, hopefully at Arsenal. Controlled belligerence tonight, Manu.
8. Aaron Ramsey (Attacking midfield)
Another player who has had his recent Arsenal career compromised by injury, Aaron is slowly getting back to his best. He set up Theo Walcott magnificently at the Emirates to get an early opener for the Gunners. A similar start tonight will soothe the nerves and allow Arsenal to play on the counter, when they are at their most deadly.
9. Gervinho (Right wing / attack)
The Ivorian sat out the defeat to Liverpool along with Alex Song, and he too should be raring to go tonight. His direct method provides a variety to Arsenal's usual attacking style, and I'm looking at him scoring his first Arsenal goal before the day is done.
10. Robin van Persie (Centre forward)
How much Arsenal missed him last Tuesday, we will never know. The tie may have been put to bed already. Robin brings his A-game to the fore every time he puts on the red and white, and he will do no less tonight. If there's one unanimous opinion about this Arsenal squad, it is that RvP is world class in every sense. Bring it home, skipper!
11. Andrey Arshavin (Left wing / attack)
I'm going for Arshavin over Walcott, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Arshavin gives the ball away a little less often than Theo. Second, Walcott as a substitute is a far more potent weapon than the Russian. The magic has been missing from Arshavin's game for too long. It's time he added the X-factor to the impressive stats.
On the bench:
Walcott, Rosicky, Traore, Chamberlain, Chamakh, Miquel, Fabianski. It's not the weakest list of subs ever, and most clubs in world football would die for a bench like ours tonight.
This squad, by itself, has plenty of all-round quality. Add to it the players who are missing, such as Wilshere, Koscielny, Diaby and Gibbs, and there really isn't so much to worry about. And Arsene will sign a couple more. He isn't a genius for nothing.
So chin up, all you Gooners.
This Italian Job will be done tonight.