Saturday, 28 April 2012

Wenger's two changes -Rice set to announce retirement? -Martinez and Biglia scouted

Morning Gooners.

It's a huge game for us today as we take on Stoke. I think we know that we cannot afford to go there and lose. We've got to be up for the game and ensure we take at least a point from it. There can be no repeat of last season's 3-1 defeat, even though we are without two of our most important players in Arteta and Walcott. Their absence cannot be an excuse and the players who come in for them will be just as good.

Arsene Wenger knows the race for third is in our own hands. Win all our remaining matches and we are guaranteed Champions League football next season. Newcastle, currently fourth, face Wigan today at the DW Stadium. Tomorrow Chelsea play QPR and Spurs take on Blackburn. If we can take three points we can certainly think we've had a good day at the office.

The manager know that this afternoon's match won't be easy. He said:
"Every big team who go to Stoke know they get a game.  
"From our side anyway we are in a position where we have our future in our own hands but only if we win the three games."
I expect the team will be: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Ramsey, Gervinho, Rosicky, Benayoun, van Persie.

There is a debate to whether Alex Oxlade Chamberlain should be involved but I think he would be best used today as an impact substitute in the second half.

The one player we need to see get back on form is Robin van Persie. The captain has just picked up to prestigious awards for his work this season but has failed to score in open play in seven games. We really need for him to get back to scoring when he wants.

There is no denying he's played exceptionally well and has physically and mentally given 100 per cent in each match. It would be a great shame if he couldn't find some more energy in his reserves to push us to third with a series of goals. We need him to get back to putting the ball in the back of the net.

As for his future, Wenger said at his press conference yesterday:
"I am confident for two reasons. First of all I want to convince him to stay here and to extend his contract. Secondly he is not free at the end of this season, he has one year of his contract left anyway."
The manager also admitted he would try to make the deal happen in the week after the season ends and before Robin has to go to the Holland training camp for the European Championship.

As for Jack Wilshere, the manager is less keen to set targets for the miidfielder - having faced a set back which means he won't be fit to go to the Euros. Wenger says he and his medical staff are taking things step by step with the 20-year-old to ensure he doesn't relapse again.

Wenger said:
"We are in a slow progress world where we go step by step. If we start pre-season at the beginning of July and he is completely fit to join in normal training, then we will see [about the Olympics].  
"But let’s not forget he has not played for a whole year. To be competitive at the top level it will take him some time to come back and we have to give him that time."
Personally I don't think Jack should be involved at the London 2012 Olympics. I think he needs to go through a full pre-season with Arsenal to ensure he's fit, healthy and mentally prepared for next season. His focus has to be Arsenal. He's going to face a lot of competition for his place next season and if he's not at the top of his game he won't get in the team.

He might also have to fight for a place in midfield with any new signing Wenger makes in the closed season. This morning we are linked with Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martinez and Anderlecht midfielder Lucas Biglia. Both players are being scouted just in case we walk away from the deal to sign our first choice target Yann M'Vila, who as I told you yesterday has been in talks with the club.

Next season could also see a new man as Wenger's assistant. Pat Rice is expected to stand down in the summer after spending the last 16 years as the manager's right hand man. It has been interesting to hear about  the number of old players who have come back over the season to speak with Wenger and to make sure their name isn't too far from his thoughts when the time comes to choose Rice's replacement.

Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Gilles Grimandi, Martin Keown, Jens Lehmann, Thierry Henry are all interested in the job. However I think the main candidates are reserve team boss Neil Banfield and youth team boss Steve Bould.

Asked whether Bould could be Arsenal’s new assistant manager, Wenger said:
"It is possible. Everywhere I go I keep somebody who knows the club and worked inside the club, so it is a possibility. 
"It (Rice’s future) will be decided very, very soon and I will decide after that. It looks like he could stop, but it is not official yet. 
"Pat is fantastic. He works every day hard."
It is of course made more interesting because the assistant manager will have to see the team through three European games next season because of the manager's touchline ban. However that's something to ponder over.

I don't think anyone should underestimate the job that Rice has done at the club and I hope - should he decide this is his last season - he gets a fantastic send off at the Norwich game. He really is a fantastic servant to the club.

That's your lot for today. I'll have to get myself ready for trip to Stoke. Hope to see and hear as many of you Gooners going there later. Let's cheer the boys on to three points.

Until tomorrow.

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