Arsenal travelled to France yesterday ahead of tonight’s match with Montpellier. The headline news was that Wojciech Szczesny failed to get the flight – not because he forgot his passport or had a Final Destination-style premonition that the plane would crash – but because he has an ankle injury.
It’s an intriguing situation. During the second half of Saturday’s game with Southampton, in which Szczesny dropped an already infamous clanger, Vito Mannone was sent out to warm up. At the time I wondered if Arsene was trying to keep the Pole on his toes by reminding him of the competition. Now it seems more likely there was already concern over Wojciech’s fitness – with some suggesting he may have landed badly on his ankle just as he dropped the ball and allowed Fox to score.
When quizzed after the game as to whether Szczesny was fully fit, Arsene dead-panned back, “That’s what I am told”. He seemed to be harbouring an irritation – perhaps with Szczesny, who irked by the threat of Mannone and eager to put the horrors of EURO 2012 behind him, may have come back before he was entirely ready. With a huge game at Man City on Sunday, no risks will be taken at this tage, and Mannone will start tonight, with youngster James Shea on the bench.
The only other change to the 18 man squad is that Abou Diaby has returned and takes the place of Andrey Arshavin. It’s telling that in Saturday’s game, Arshavin was not even ushered from the bench to warm up. It’s clear he is way down Arsene’s current pecking order.
The same fate could befall Theo Walcott if he fails to sign a new contract. Since the breakdown of talks with him at the back end of the transfer window, he hasn’t started a game, and the longer those talks go on without conclusion the further away from the first-team he’ll find himself. When asked if the situation had an effect on team selection, Arsene said:
“It can, but at the moment, I still hope to extend his contract so, at the moment, it doesn’t effect me. Of course at some stage … if, in April, it’s not done, you can think it will be difficult to do.”
There’s due to be some rotation tonight, so perhaps Theo will benefit. I’m not so sure myself. Aside from Mannone, I think Laurent Koscielny is the one man guaranteed to come in. I also anticipate starts for Andre Santos and Olivier Giroud. Abou Diaby would not have travelled if Arsene wasn’t giving serious consideration to playing him, and whilst there’s an outside chance of Aaron Ramsey replacing Santi Cazorla, the Spaniard is already so integral to our game that I simply can’t see him being left out.
If Giroud does start, he’ll be immediately under the spotlight once again. It’s funny – Arsene said he left him out of the Southampton game to reduce pressure. Perhaps it would’ve been smarter to play him against the Saints and then leave him out of what’s sure to be an emotional night against his former club. Giroud, however, will be desperate to play – and I think we need him to. I think Arsene needs to take another look at him before deciding between him and Gervinho for the centre-forward role at Man City – the two have such different styles and the manager will want to be making an informed choice.
I think we’ll go with:
Mannone – Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Santos – Arteta, Diaby, Cazorla – Gervinho,
It’s a strong side and one that should be capable of getting a positive result against an out-of-sorts Montpellier. Arsene Wenger is banned from the touchline, so Arsenal will be under the command of Steve Bould – something I have a growing suspicion and hope we might see more of in the future. Come On You Gunners.