Following Chelsea’s victory on Saturday, second place is now looking a bit of a bleak prospect. If we beat Derby we’re four points behind with two games to go. They would have to draw their two remaining games against Newcastle and Bolton, but now that they have a genuine shot at the title I doubt that’ll happen. A win today secures third place as Liverpool would be seven points behind with two games left, and third is where we’ll stay. At least it’s an improvement on last season. It’s a bit gutting to look at the top of the table. Even during our run of horrendous form, drawing to teams like Wigan and Birmingham and going out of the Champions League, in spite of all that, if we had held onto our leads against Chelsea and United and won those two matches, we’d be top of the league right now. We were leading in both those games with half an hour or so to go. I would have quite like to see United beat Chelsea at the weekend. Not that seeing United win ever makes me particularly happy, but it would have ended the 85 year unbeaten streak that Chelsea hold at home, and I don’t want a side managed by Avram Grant to win anything, ever. Having said that, the Chelsea victory has made it interesting. Again, not that I’m happy to see them win, but when’s the last time the title race went right down to the wire? 1999 when we fought it out with United on the last day, I’d guess.
We’re playing a side that have lost 24 of their 35 games this season, and conceded more than two goals a game on average. We scored more goals in our first nine games than they’ve managed all season. This has to be three points. The pressure is off, this should be an end of season trouncing. It would be nice to see Fabregas or Walcott among the goals. One would hope Walcott will keep his place after his promising performance on Saturday, Derby are the kind of side he could get a goal against to boost his confidence further. He played well against Reading and the manager has praised his ability this week, starts against Derby, Everton and Sunderland won’t hurt his development at all and give us a better idea of whether he’s ready to be starting matches yet or not. Hleb could perhaps have played his last game for Arsenal after being given a three match ban with possible interest from Italy for a summer move. I don’t really want him to go, only because I don’t think Arsene would go out of his way to replace him. We’d get Vela and Barazite being promoted to the first team or something. He’s a quality player, but doesn’t get enough in the way of goals and assists. Maybe if the winger on the opposite side was someone other than Eboue or Diaby, the pressure might be taken off of him to get the midfield goals. But he should be getting them anyway.
Sagna, Diaby and Rosicky are out for the season. Flamini has probably played his last game for the club, as has perhaps Hleb. Fabianski will start the last three games to give us an idea of his readiness for first team football, with Lehmann probably off in the summer. Wenger has mentioned possibly resting players that will be involved in the European Championships in the summer. If he does that, I have pretty much no idea what the team will be, so I’m going to pretend he didn’t say it. The players that could be rested would be Clichy, Gallas, Fabregas and van Persie. If that were to be the case we’d see Traore at left back, Senderos and Toure or Song at centre back, Hoyte or Toure at right back, Gilberto and Denilson in central midfield, Eboue and Walcott on the flanks, with Adebayor and Bendtner upfront. But, as I said, I’m going to pretend he didn’t say it.
Subs: Almunia, Senderos, Traore, Song, Bendtner.