Writer: Nick Simmonett
Date:Saturday March 15 2008
The Emirates Stadium
Arsenal will be under immense pressure to get a result this evening with United and Chelsea Derby and Sunderland respectively. Both teams are breathing downs Arsenal's neck at the top of the table, and both teams have a game in hand over The Gunners.
Arsene Wenger will be boosted by the return of Robin Van Persie and Kolo Toure to the starting line up after both completed a week of training with the first team. Wenger described the return of Van Persie as being as good as anew signing, something I'm sure you'll agree is true.
Rihchard Clarke picked some interesting words on Arsenal.com. He wrote: 'Arsenal's month of destiny starts on Saturday.' 'Destiny' sounds so strong. But he may just be right. Arsenal face United in the league at Old Trafford, Chelsea in the league at Stamford Bridge and Liverpool in the league at The Emirates, as well as twice in the Champions League. Stick a trip to The Reebok Stadium in amongst them fixtures and you've got a very tricky four weeks. If Arsenal get all the right results in that time, then this team is well on it's way to success and gaining the recognition it deserves. Come away with the wrong results, and the media will once again be dismissing Arsene Wenger's men.
Three consecutive draws in the Premiership has given United the chance to close the gap to just two points. And they still have a game in hand.
Middlesbrough look like they're in danger of getting sucked into the relegation battle. They currently sit just five points outside the bottom three. They'll be on a low after exiting the FA Cup at home to Cardiff, but a 1-1 draw away to Villa on Tuesday was a good result for the Teeside outfit.
Boro have won once in their last six outings. That came in the form of a 1-0 win over Sheffield United in the FA Cup, a game they won thanks to a Paddy Kenny own goal. Last Six: P6 W1 D2 L3.
Arsenal have lost only one game in the last six, but they've also won just one in the last six. A 4-0 demolition at old trafford represents Arsenal's only defeat, while a magnificent 2-0 win over AC Milan at The San Siro is Arsenal's only win since they beat Blackburn on the 11th February. Last six: P6 W1 D4 L1.
Arsene Wenger still has complete faith in his team and believes they can still do what they have to this season: 'We know it is down to us and our performances but I am very relaxed and very confident.
'This team has fantastic mental strength. We were under big pressure when we went to Milan, and you did not see that pressure in our game.'
Wenger also pointed to the fact that his team have lost just once in both the Champions League and Premiership this season: 'Don't forget we have lost just one game since the beginning of the season in the Premier League and in the Champions League we have lost one as well and that was when we had already qualified.'
'Genuinely, I believe the players want to do well in both competitions.'
Gareth Southgate was just talking out his arse: 'We are 12th in the league and we want to finish 12th at least.
'It is difficult to say what is a tough run-in and what isn't. Lots of people would have put us down to beat Reading at home and we lost that.
'Sunderland play Chelsea this week, Bolton go to Manchester United next week, Reading are at Liverpool, so everybody has hard games.'
Arsenal welcome back three important players for the visit of Middlesbrough. Kolo Toure is fit to start, while Wenger said that he could give Van Persie his first league start for five months.
Theo Walcott is also fit after recovering from a thigh problem picked up in a friendly.
However, Wenger refused to give a time-scale for Rosicky's return from injury. Diaby is also still missing while Eduardo will miss the rest of the season.
Van Persie couldn't have picked a better time to come back from injury. Eduardo out for nine months, Adebayor looking like he needs a rest, and Bendtner still not looking ready to play week-in, week-out.
As Wenger pointed out in his press confrence, he offers a threat from free-kicks, corners and of course, he's got a lethal left peg!
Ł13Million signing Alfonso Alves and former Gooner Jeremie Aliadiere both return, but Andrew Taylor isn't yet fit to play.
There's no doubting this lads ability. He scored goals for fun in Holland, and grabbed SEVEN in one game. He's yet to make a massive impact, but this is the sort of game players like him often blossom.
There should be no suprises when I say I think it'll be a draw. They're all the rage with Arsenal at the moment. 1-1 Van Persie and Alves.
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Date:Saturday March 15 2008
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