Portsmouth Preview: Keep The Pressure On
The last league fixture of 2009 for Arsenal arrives in the shape of a visit to Fratton Park. Portsmouth currently prop up the Premier League and if the first half of the season is anything to go by, the mismanagement of the club will see them start next season in the Championship.
As is always the case, injury news dominates pre-match. The luscious passing of Fabregas and Denilson will be missing this evening as Arsene will be seeking to utilise his squad in the midst of a run of two games per week. Replacing the pair will no doubt be one reason for Wenger to content with Alex Song remaining until the finish of the FA Cup tie at Upton Park this weekend; Abou Diaby’s rich vein of form another.
Responsibility is resting on his shoulders as one of the more experienced, fit midfielders in the squad. It is not often that we have been able to use that phrase during his time at the club but his form this season, on a consistent basis, shows that Wenger’s perserverance with him has not been misplaced. Alex Song is in the same boat and we must hope that he does not suffer adversely following his international exertions, in a similar fashion to the loss of form and injury which afflicted Kolo Toure two seasons ago.
Brighter news is that Tomas Rosicky is going to be fit and raring to go either tonight or on Sunday. If there is any doubt, it should be the latter when he returns to the fold given the previous false starts we have had with players returning too quickly after absences. Nicklas Bendtner, meanwhile, will continue to occupy the minds of the medical staff for the best part of January, his hernia cleared but a groin problem grounding him.
Portsmouth have enjoyed a mini-reversal in their form on the pitch, not being defeated at home since Manchester United trounced them 4-1 at Fratton Park in November. Indeed it is the only time they have not emerged with at least a point since Tottenham walked away with all three in October. There is a theme here; top four sides should win this fixture.
Arsenal tend to enjoy their visits to this part of the south coast, not tasting defeat since March 1958 in 5-4 defeat. Of the eight matches since then, 5 have been drawn with Arsenal winning the others. At this time of the year, Arsenal have never lost either, winning twice and drawing three. Last season saw a much changed Arsenal trounce the hosts 3-0, a scoreline which was not at all flattering. A repeat of that performance would go down very nicely in these parts.
With the injuries, I would expect Arsene to rotate one or two with Sunday in mind. Defensively, no change is necessary but with Eboue going post match, I wonder if Wenger will give Sagna one more rest before a busy January kicks in. In midfield I hope Ramsey is given the time to shine, him being the most logical replacement, adding guile to the directness of Diaby. Up front though, I would be inclined to ring the changes, Walcott coming in on the right and Vela on the left to support Arshavin. This would allow Eduardo to play centrally in upcoming FA Cup tie. Nasri likewise could do with a rest, having played pretty much full-on since his return from injury. Absentees tonight are a chilling reminder of what can wrong with overplaying.
Those changes would leave the line-up:
Almunia; Eboue, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Ramsey, Song, Diaby; Walcott, Arshavin, Vela
Whichever side Arsene fields, they should be good enough to win this match. They have to be in order that the pressure placed on the top two can be maintained. Next week, the game in hand disappears so the squad need to be in a position to take full advantage of that.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.