Arsene is not really the sort of manager to deliver a rousing team-talk before a big game. Fortunately, today, he doesn’t need to.
All he need do is print out the following, and tack it to the dressing room wall.
I’m sorry to have made you look at that again. But it’s important we do. It’s important the players do. And it’s important Arsene does. On that day, Arsenal let down themselves and their supporters. That simply cannot happen today.
I don’t necessarily expect a victory. Arsenal come in to this game in the familiar position of being out-of-form and embattled with injuries and African absentees. What I do expect, however, is that Arsenal play with passion and a desire to avenge the humiliation suffered in August.
In the aftermath of the Old Trafford game, I said:
“What sickened me more than anything was to watch this team perform without pride, and without belief.”
The last few months have seen a steady process of recuperation, interrupted by a recent blip. Arsenal need to fight, to battle, and to allow the fans to banish the memory of that shameful day from their minds.
Our team is dependent on two fitness tests: one for Thomas Vermaelen, and one for Thierry Henry. If fit, both could start. Vermaelen is reportedly the more likely to make it, and would come in at left-back for Ignasi Miquel. That could be vital – United’s main threat comes from their wingers in Nani and Valencia, so our makeshift full-backs will have to be at the top of their game to cope.
If he’s ready to go, Henry could start ahead of the out of sorts Andrey Arshavin. Suggestions two hours before kick-off, however, are that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be handed a first Premier League start. Chamberlain actually made an inauspicious debut as a substitute in the 8-2, and after a relatively impressive cameo at Swansea could be thrown in to the fray today.
At least if he is, we know he’ll play with courage, and with fire. His team-mates had better do the same. They owe us that.