Sunday, 18 December 2011

Wenger targets win -RVP reveals initiation test secrets -Rowley watches African striker

Morning Gooners.

Well here we go. Our biggest game in Manchester since that fateful August day and a match which I don't feel nervous at all about. We know the opposition are a good side. We know they've spent millions assembling this squad. We know they're league leaders having scored the most goals and have conceded just four times at home. They're unbeaten at Eastlands.

But they've just lost their unbeaten league record and have been dumped out of the Champions League. Personally, I don't think there is a better time to be playing them given the league form we're in - having won seven out of our last eight games since the trip to White Hart Lane. We also beat Mancini's men 3-0 in Manchester last season.

It's a big test, let's not underestimate the importance of this game. We want to see how far we've come since the dark days of that 8-2 defeat to City's neighbours. But we've made progress on the road since that day albeit with disappointing results at Ewood Park and WHL, Wenger's men have turned it around with three away wins on the bounce - which started with a win at Stamford Bridge - the place today's opposition were beaten six days ago.

The Gunners team should have no fear. We know that we can beat anyone on our day and if we turn up with a performance this afternoon that is worthy of three points we'll be bringing home three points. If we do win, it will put us within six points of today's opposition and level with Chelsea who could only draw away at Wigan yesterday.

The manager knows today's game is important. Talk of being involved in the title race is a bit premature. But we've come along way since we were 17th in the table on August 29. It's keeping that forward momentum that is vital.

Arsene Wenger said:
"We are on our way to recovery, but we have a big, big test on Sunday and let's see how we survive that test.  
"We are not yet in the title race. We have to come closer to Man City to be really in it, we are in a race for the Champions League places at the moment.  
"And the purpose is to get closer and we have a good opportunity to do it."
The team news is that we've got the same squad who faced Everton last weekend, so we will know doubt continue with our make-shift back four which will include four central defenders. I expect the line up to be the same as the one who won 1-0 at our 125th anniversary game:


Djourou - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Vermaelen

Arteta - Song

Walcott - Ramsey - Gervinho

van Persie

Subs: Almunia, Miquel, Frimpong, Rosicky, Benayoun, Arshavin, Chamakh

It's the man who leads our attack who will be vital to us winning the game. Robin van Persie has been in cracking form and since the start of the calendar year scored 33 goals in 32 Premier League appearances. Another four goals would see him break Alan Shearer's record.

As I mentioned in the week, it's van Persie's role as captain which has seen him transform the mood in the dressing room. The atmosphere is totally different from the days of Cesc Fabregas and William Gallas. The players have bonded and enjoy one another's company both on and off the pitch.

This week's Christmas party at Whisky Mist was another of those occasions. Getting the players to bond off the pitch helps them to understand one another more on it.

And Robin has been speaking to Dutch Magazine Voetbal about his role as captain.

He said:
"You can see some of the lads we have signed have been around as professionals for a while.  
"They jumped on the chair and did their act. It was hilarious. Mertesacker had the performance of the night. He did Rihanna and it was brilliant. We really had a top night as a squad. 
"[Becoming captain] has been a kind of natural process. Off the pitch you notice it. I organise the group social outings, which ranges from a night out to a golf day.  
"If I didn't do it, no one else would but I really enjoy doing this. And now I'm getting help from Thomas Vermaelen and different players. Everyone joins in organising."
I can't really imagine Per Mertesacker performaning a Rihanna song - it just doesn't fit. But you can see the difference the bonding it having - especially after the victory at Stamford Bridge when all the players gathered and celebrated with the away fans.

We can worry all we want about Robin's contract at the end of the season. There isn't any point talking about it now because he's made it clear he doesn't want to sit down with the club just yet. But if the team spirit is good and we're moving in the right direction in the league and Champions League, surely that will give him more reason to stay.

There are a couple of bits of transfer tittle-tattle. Cheif scout Steve Rowley has been watching a bit of Portuguese football and keeping an eye on Academica striker Ederzito. The 23-year-old 6ft 2in African is out of contact at the end of the season according to The People. Sounds exactly the sort of player the manager would sign - especially as he'd join on a Bosman free.

Whilst the Sunday Mirror link us with 16-year-old Derby County midfielder Will Hughes, who apparently impressed when he played for them in their FA Youth Cup victory over our youngsters on Tuesday.

For some extra reading take a look at Lee Dixon's thoughts on today's match in the Sunday Mirror.

That's it for this morning. Enjoy the game where ever you watch it.

Follow Ashburton Grove on Twitter, chatting Arsenal throughout the day. To receive the blog everyday you can subscribe via e-mail or take the RSS feed to your favourite reader.

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