Preview: Arsenal v. Pompey
Last week I talked about our chances for this season, and while I know it's too early for those claims to be justified, it certainly feels good to start the season off with a bang. Putting six past a rival on opening day can make a pessimist pretty optimistic. So after two impressive results on their travels, Arsene`s troops return to N5 to play Portsmouth at the new Ashburton Grove, which has gone under the supporter`s surgical knife. With the help of REDaction, Arsenalization of the Grove has been in full swing since the Emirates Cup. I better see photos on forums from those going to the match tomorrow!
Onto the match. Considering the predicament that Pompey finds itself in at the moment, three points on Saturday looks like a given. This feeling of entitlement against supposedly lesser opponents has been our downfall in past seasons, but you have to get the feeling that this fatal flaw won`t rear its ugly head this time around. Confidence, self-belief, and a sense of caution are resonating around Arsenal dressing room this season. The squad looks to have galvanized together, and senior leaders like Fabregas, van Persie, Gallas, and Arshavin will be looking to stamp out any sense of compliancy throughout the ranks. That needs to start tomorrow.
Vital Pre-Match Quotes:
Wenger had this to say on the season's title race: 'The big task for United is replacing the goals that Cristiano Ronaldo scored over the last few seasons. You can say whatever you like about Ronaldo, but you have to admit he had two fantastic qualities. Firstly, he was never injured. Secondly, he put the ball in the back of the net. I'm surprised that they didn't reinvest more of the money they got for Ronaldo, but they may do that in January. Manchester United, of course, will continue to be a major force in the championship, but you can see that where we drew four times 0-0, they won them 1-0, sometimes because Ronaldo made the difference.
About Liverpool and Chelsea, Wenger said: 'Alberto Aquilani will be a good player, but they have lost a great player in Alonso. He was the brain of the game for Liverpool last season. I don't expect them to struggle this season, but people might have a little question mark about how they replace Alonso.'
'I still think that Chelsea will be a main threat for the championship, but their squad is a year older which might have an impact when they have to repeat the games in short succession'
Portsmouth Team News:
Portmsouth comes into the match without a point, after losing to both Fulham and Birmingham in the past week. The lack of transfer funds have some Pompey fans fearing the worst for the club this season. Hreidarsson, Primus, and Finnan are out, while Diop is a doubt.
Predicted Portsmouth XI: James, Vanden Borre, Distin, Kaboul, Wilson, Kranjcar, Diop, Mokoena, Belhadj, Utaka, Piquionne.
Portsmouth Player to Watch: John Utaka
Utaka is blessed with dynamic pace, but he has problems combining his speed with the required technical ability to make it in the EPL. Sound familiar? On his day he can cause the best outside backs problems, so Sagna and Clichy will have to be on alert.
Arsenal Team News
Good news is that Arsenal's injury list hasn't gotten any longer, but it hasn't gotten shorter either. Walcott still hasn't recovered from a back injury, but Wenger said it was a matter of days not weeks. I seem to remember him saying that exact thing in January 2008 about a certain Czech. Nasri, Djourou, Rosicky, and Fabianski are all still out, while Eduardo has recovered from a tight hammy that kept him out of the Celtic match.
Predicted Arsenal XI: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song, Denilson, Fabregas, Bendtner, van Persie, Arshavin
Arsenal Player to Watch: The Front Three
Bendtner, van Persie,and Arshavin have started up front in the 4-3-3 against Everton and Celtic, but they haven't put their name on the score sheet yet. Even though we haven't lacked goals in those games, it is important for them to get the ball rolling very soon because we can't always rely on defenders, midfielders, and the opposition to get the goals for us. I expect at least two of them to find the net tomorrow.
Quick Vital Stats:
Arsenal has not lost to Portsmouth in 19 league and cup matches (W:11 D:8)
Arsenal has only lost one game in 2009
Portsmouth have yet to win an away game in 2009
Ref Watch: Steve Bennett
Steve Bennett will be the head official for this match. Last season he handed out 79 yellow cards and no red cards in 22 EPL matches. This gives him a 3.59 card per game average.
Portsmouth are really struggling right now, and I can't see anything but an Arsenal win. These are the games we might have slipped up in last year, but not this season.
I`ll go with a 4-0 home win. Goals to come from van Persie x2, Arshavin, and Eduardo off the bench
26/8 (Wed) - Celtic (h) - Champions League
29/8 (Sat) - Man United (a) - Premier League
12/9 (Sat) - Man City (a) - Premier League