Friday, 21 October 2011

Wenger jinxes his defence -Lille price £40m Hazard out of Arsenal move

Morning Gooners.

After Wednesday night's win against Marseille we have to now start looking ahead to Sunday's game with everyones not so favourite team Stoke. Whilst as fans we probably remember more the games we've played at their place and lost, our home form is very good. We've not lost against them for 30 years in north London... although that will probably mean nothing this weekend.

Arsene Wenger is hoping Stoke's European exploits will take some of the physical attributes away from their game, but I expect Tony Pulis will have his squad up for this one. I don't think there is too much fear from the Stoke fans that they won't be motivated for this one.

It's a grudge match. We hate them. They hate us. It's as simple as that. And although I very rarely remember wins against them, I do remember the defeats and the pain they've caused us as a  football club with their tactics.

One of them is to hoof the ball long to their target men and play the ball in the air over long distances. And we all know they love their long throws. They haven't got the nickname Stoke Rugby Football Club without a reason.

And it's at set pieces where we will have to be on our guard. Wenger believes we've looked better in recent weeks defending corners and free kicks in dangerous positions.

The manager said:
"I feel we do look more determined and less shaky [from set-pieces].  
"You do not feel the fear as much when there is a set-piece against us. We are improving, there is still room to improve but we are definitely better there than at the start of the season."
You just know that the manager has jinxed his own defence and well concede from a set piece this season. I remember when Bacary Sagna said something similar at the start of the season regarding zonal marking and then the following game we played Blackburn and we all know what happened there.

We have improved at set-plays. But I don't think we're out of the woods yet and there is no need for the manager to start talking about us not looking shakey at set-pieces. He could have said we have been working harder not to concede from them during training and left it at that. But it seems he's keen to instill more confidence in his team before Sunday's game and had to go the extra mile.

The early team news isn't good either. Carl Jenkinson is set to miss the next two weeks with a knee injury, although that won't be confirmed until later today. Which will mean the manager has a decision to make at right back (more on that in a minute).

We've also been given the perennial "two week" answer on when Thomas Vermaelen and Abou Diaby will be back in action. It seems despite having surgery after the Frenchman, Vermaelen will be back sooner than Diaby according to Wenger. But when that might be I don't know.

Although Vermaelen is set to return to full training with other members of the first team squad today.

The other short term injury is with Kieran Gibbs, with the manager predicting he'll be out for another week.

Which leaves us very short in our options for full back on both sides of the defence. I think it's far to assume that Andre Santos will continue at left back - after all he's the only fit specialist in the area.

I'm guessing the manager will probably play Johan Djourou on the right of defence. His other options are Francis Coquelin - who he's already said isn't confident playing there - or Nicholas Yennaris, who the boss has already said he's got his eye on to make the step up.

But Djourou is keen to play and I would imagine his experience other the youth of Coquelin/Yennaris will give him the advantage.

The Swiss international is keen to play wherever the manager needs him.

He said:

"I have played at right-back before, I played there in 2008 in games against Portsmouth and Bolton. 
"I am a centre back first but I love my game, I love playing football and when I can play it's a relief. So if I have to play right-back to help the team then I will do it.   
"Playing at centre back and at right back is a completely different game.   
"Obviously when you play in the centre you can see the whole game in front of you but when you're on the wing you have to adjust a little bit. But I'm a player who can play in different positions."

I don't think the manager will want to split up the Koscielny/Mertesacker partnership in the centre of defence, so we're more likely to see Djourou stationed on the right.

Anyway, I expect we'll hear more on the team news when the manager faces the media this lunchtime at London Colney. Five wins from our last six games in all competitions must be very pleasing for Wenger after the disappointing start to the season we had.

There is speculation in the press that Lille are set to start an auction in January for Eden Hazard, a player we've been continuously linked with since he burst onto the scene. However if the French club are looking for £40m for him, I think we'll be out of the race as although we could probably meet the transfer fee, we wouldn't be able to put him on the wages of a £40m player would expect with our current wage structure.

And the Daily Mail report we're scouting Nigeria international forward Ahmed Musa. The player would cost in the region of £12m.

If you've not already read the late post we published last night, have a read of Joss Bennett's thoughts on Laurent Koscielny's performance against Marseille.

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