Sunday, 13 May 2012

Wenger targets win -Coquelin to start -RVP's subtle message over Song's future

Morning Gooners.

Well we're finally here. The last game of the season. And how this afternoon ends up will have a huge impact on our summer. Win the game and we've achieved our main onjective - automatic qualification to the group stages of the Champions League. After the start of the season we had, I don't think I'd be disappointed by finishing third.

It's up to the team to make sure we meet the expectation later. There should be no regrets. Our away form is the best in the division going by the last six games. We've won four, drawn one and lost one. But we've been staggering over the line in recent weeks.

This afternoon's match also has the added implication of being Roy Hodgson's last match in charge of West Brom. I'm sure the players would like to give him a winning send off. They're also safe, have nothing to play for, so we'll approach the game without any fear. This could cause us problems - as we saw with Norwich last weekend.

It's difficult to know how best to approach the game. We want to win - that will ensure of third place - but we don't want to give away chances at the other end. Anything less than a draw would see us play in the Europa League next season and no one wants that.

How the manager sets the team up will truly tell us how he'll tackle the game. I expect it to be the shame team which started against Norwich apart from the injured Bacary Sagna being replaced by Francis Coquelin. There is a slight doubt over Wojciech Szczesny. And if Theo Walcott is available I'd expect him to start from the bench.

So the starting 11 will be: Szczesny, Coquelin, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Ramsey, Gervinho, Rosicky, Benayoun, van Persie.

I expect it will be the last time we see Yossi Benayoun in an Arsenal shirt. What an important role he's played for us this season. Who would have thought when we signed him he would be the player who the manager turned to in all the important games in the second half of the season. 

While he's been restricted in general to a role as a squad player, the Israeli has been an example to his team mates. He's never spoken out when not selected, trained hard and had consistently high levels of professionalism and never let the club down on or off the pitch. He's been a model professional, someone his team mates have looked up to and a had a positive impact on the team.

It will be sad to see him go, but with all the changes which are being planned this summer, I don't see there being a place in the 25 man Premier League squad next season. So Yossi, we thank you for all you've done for Arsenal. Please help us end our season and your time with us on a high.

The manager has been proved right with the signing of Benayoun - he's done exactly the job asked of him. Now the rest of his team will have to  follow the manager's game plan to ensure we finish third.

Wenger said:
"Let's make sure we finish third and win our game - that is the only answer we can give. 
"To do that of course you need a full, committed performance from everybody. 
"On that front I am quite sure we will get that from our players and then we will have a very good chance to do it."
At his pre-match press conference, the manager said this season had been so thrilling because any team who turned up with less commitment than their rivals would be beaten. We've seen that in recent weeks with poor performances against QPR and Wigan. I don't expect that to be the case this afternoon. They know what they have to do, so I expect them to go out and do it.

Today's game is also the perfect opportunity to get a monkey off our back - winning a league game without Mikel Arteta. This team is good enough to do it. We've just got to show more maturity in certain areas when we've not got the ball.

I read somewhere that if we'd not had Robin van Persie's goals we'd be in eighth position with no chance of European football. We'll it's a good job we have got him. Robin is one goal short of equaling Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo's record of 31 goals in 38 league games. Matching that would be some achievement for a player who will end this campaign having started in all but one league matches (Stoke at home - we won 3-1 and Robin came on as a substitute) this season.

For a player who has been at Arsenal for eight seasons, this is the first time Robin has been involved in all the league games. Quite rightly he's won two personal Player of the Season awards for his outstanding achievements not just his goals but his assists as well. But he's said neither of those prizes or the plaudits he's received will mean anything unless Arsenal are in the Champions League next season.

Writing in his column for The Sun he said:
"A win, any win, even an ugly win — I will take that for sure. Just so long as we get third spot. I will do everything and anything to make sure we do. 
"You know what? All the goals I have scored this season, all the awards I have won — I would trade them all in an instant for us to win today. 
"What’s the point in achieving all that personal success if your team fails? Football is a team game and if my team fails then I have failed."
What a revelation he's been as captain this season. Rather than it all being about him, he wants it to be about the team. He's created an amazing team spirit both on and off the field and will quite rightly be offered a fantastic new deal at the end of the season.

If you read Robin's column in full there appears to be a not so subtle message about giving Alex Song an improved contact. Or perhaps that's just me reading too much into things?

Anyway, we've got to go to the Hawthorns and win. That is how we need to approach this game.

If this group of players don't want to go down in history as the first Arsene Wenger team to finish below Spurs, I would suggest they go out on to the pitch with heart, fight and determination.

Three points would give us guaranteed Champions League football, give Pat Rice a winning send off and set down a marker for next season.

To all you Gooners heading for the midlands today, have a fantastic day and be loud and proud. Our boys need you.

Until tomorrow.

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