Arsenal take on Everton at home tomorrow afternoon in their 15th Premier League game of the season. So far they have won eight, drawn two, and lost four of their games which isn't overly impressive on the surface. However, they have recovered from an awful start to the season to win six and draw one of their last seven games.
Tomorrow's game is more than just a game for Arsenal though, as it will also make the celebrations for the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the club. The club has various activities planned for the hours building up to kickoff, and they have advised fans to arrive at the grounds early. Those activities got underway today with the unveiling of three statues of Arsenal legends outside the stadium.
It should be a great day for those Arsenal fans lucky enough to be there, and thankfully I will be among them. I'm traveling over to London before daybreak tomorrow along with a few fellow Irish Gooners, and we are looking forward to a great trip. All the celebrations will count for nothing though if Arsenal doesn't get the result they need.
Arsene Wenger played a second string side away to Olympiacos on Wednesday night with the exception of both Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Santos. Arsenal had already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and had won their group with a game to spare so he was able to rest most of the first team. His slight risk to play those two players has backfired though, as Santos picked up an ankle injury and will be out for a while.
It means that Arsenal have no recognised full backs available to them, and tomorrow's defence will consist of four central defenders. His options are very limited, but I am sure Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will all start. The way I see it, he has to decide whether to play Johan Djourou at right back or Ignasi Miquel at left back, and the other three will fit in around whichever one of those plays.
Thankfully Wojciech Szczesny will return in goal after the nightmare performances of both Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone on Tuesday night. Fabianski went off injured and Mannone had to soldier on when he picked up a knock, but neither of them will be available to warm the bench tomorrow. That means Arsenal fans will be treated to the familiar sight of Manuel Almunia in the squad, and I'm sure they will all be hoping Szczesny doesn't pick up an injury.
The three midfielders and the three attacking players pick themselves at the moment, and it should be the same six that played against Wigan last Saturday. Yossi Benayoun, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Francis Coquelin are all playing well enough to deserve a chance, but they will have to be patient for the moment. It's good to see that Arsenal have some options in the team though.
Robin Van Persie has scored 14 of Arsenal's 30 Premier League goals so far, and it's a great achievement for him and the team too. Both Theo Walcott and Gervinho have helped out with plenty of assists, and RVP has quite a few assists to his name too.
When Arsenal are called a one man team it has to be remembered that the rest of the Arsenal team has scored only one league goal less than the whole Liverpool between them. Since their early season woes, they have become a lot more lethal in front of goal, and the other goals are being shared among the team.
The return of Vermaelen has been a great boost for Arsenal, as he has scored three goals already in his six Premier League starts this season. In his Premier League career for Arsenal so far he has managed 10 goals in 45 starts, and many strikers would be proud of those statistics. His ability to bring the ball out from defence and score goals too are a real bonus for the team.
As well as his attacking abilities he has also strengthened the defence since his return, and it's blatantly obvious how much he was missed last season. If he can stay injury free I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up with double figures in goals in all competitions this season.
I'm hoping the occasion doesn't get to the Arsenal players and they can settle down and play their own game. If they can impose themselves on Everton I think the goals will follow, and Everton are finding it hard to score themselves this season. Their whole team has only managed one more goal than RVP in the 13 Premier League games they have played so far this season.
Their defence has been good over the last few seasons, but they have only managed two clean sheets so far this season. With Arsenal's defence conceding so many goals at the start of the season it's easy to forget that only Swansea and Manchester City have a better defensive home record than Arsenal. They have only conceded five goals in seven games, and it's a record to be proud of.
The only teams who have scored more home goals than Arsenal are the four teams above them, and all the statistics point to an Arsenal win. It could take a while to break Everton down, but I think the goals will come eventually. Ideally I would hope for Arsenal to come out with all guns blazing and blow Everton away, but they tend to start off gradually and grow into games this season.
I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal, and it's hard to predict RVP not adding to his goals tally too. I'll be hoping to be out of my seat cheering those Arsenal goals, and celebrating with a few drinks after the game too.
The club have issued a special programme to commemorate the big occasion tomorrow, and I've been asked to buy six of them for some Arsenal supporting friends of mine here in Dublin. I'm sure it will be well worth the money with loads of interesting facts about the last 125 years.
That's it for today, but spare a thought for those of us who have to get up at 3.30a.m. tomorrow morning to catch a bus to the airport. It's not easy supporting Arsenal from afar, but I wouldn't change it for anything. However, if I ever win the lottery I will be buying an apartment in the Highbury complex.
It's not too late to join the over 1,000 other teams in my fantasy league, and there are prizes for the top three teams at the end of the season. Just go to the site and use the code 125540-42785 to join my league when your team is set up.
To join the predictions league, just go to the site and set up your predictions. Then use the code F688F-JCO to join my league. I'll update the league table in my predictions every week.
I'm also a member of a very good and very active Arsenal group on Facebook which you can join here.
See you tomorrow!
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