Right, enough of all this hyperbole about the league being over already. One weekend United lose and we win, Arsenal are certainties for the league. An incorrectly given last minute penalty and a United victory, and United are certainties for the league. We should have won that game, regardless of how the players were affected by seeing their mate’s foot no longer attached to his leg, but we’re still three points clear. United will have games that go wrong between now and the end of the season, although maybe not on such a spectacular scale, but we need to not feel sorry for ourselves and be there to punish them when it happens. It’s unlikely to happen this weekend though, with United undoubtedly thrashing second from bottom Fulham. We can’t let last weekend be seen as a turning point in a season where United inevitably storm to consecutive league titles. We need to destroy all before us and win the league to give blinky something to smile about.
Villa’s Champions League aspirations took a bit of a blow a couple of weeks ago when they lost to Fulham, and drew twice before that, allowing Liverpool to reclaim fourth and Everton to edge into fifth. However, they’ve won their last two, and certainly aren’t going to be an easy game. They gave us a bit of a fright in the second half of the 2-1 victory at Villa Park, and have gotten results at Anfield and Stamford Bridge this season. They’ve only lost twice on the road this season, a record bettered only by us. They’ve also scored more away goals than everyone except us. We’ll need to be up for this game, because they certainly will be. I reckon they might sniff blood given the forgettable last couple of weeks we’ve had.
It’s fairly unusual to have mid-week breaks, but in March our trip to Milan is the only disruption, otherwise it’s one game every weekend. This month we can’t really use fatigue as an excuse for poor performances, the players will have plenty of time to recover from matches, and players like Rosicky and van Persie have plenty of time to get fit.
Since Arsene has been in charge, we’ve beaten Villa thirteen times, drawn seven times, and lost twice. They last beat us nearly a decade ago. They last beat us away from home nearly fifteen years ago, with a victory at Highbury in 1993. Of the last nine times these two sides have met, we’ve won seven and drawn two. In recent meetings between Wenger and O’Neill, it’s two wins and two draws.
While scientists work tirelessly trying to figure out a way to piece Eduardo’s leg back together, I won’t mention him in these little injury bits. We’ll see him some time in 2009.
Van Persie can’t be too far away from fitness now, and Eduardo now gone I expect Wenger will make an effort to get Robin match fit as soon as possible. Obviously not if it’s detrimental to his injury, but with some of the games we’ve got between now and the end of the season, away at Old Trafford, away at Stamford Bridge, potential latter stages of the Champions League, we need someone of Robin’s class available. He’s been in training for weeks now, and going by Wenger’s more recent comments about him, the main issue now is the lack of match practice having been injured for five months. Well, let’s put him in some intensive training then, if he hasn’t got an open ankle dislocation then he’s not properly injured.
Toure and Djourou are definitely injured, and Eboue is suspended for this and the Wigan game next Sunday. Rosicky will be short of fitness, but Diaby will be back in the squad. The back five picks itself, as do the wingers. The only question is whether Wenger uses best buds Adebayor and Bendtner up front, or if he plays a third central midfielder and uses Walcott and Hleb pushing forward to support Adebayor. I think we’ll need Nic’s height in a game like this, so I’ll guess 4-4-2, the same team that played against Birmingham, once Eduardo went off.
Subs: Lehmann, Hoyte, Diaby, Gilberto, Denilson.
Villa have no injury concerns. Good for them.