We’re less than 24 hours away from our most high-profile game of the season. As I’m going on an all-day stag party tomorrow, I thought I’d do a preview instead of my customary post-game thoughts, as I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to watch the whole game. So, here are four things to think about before kick-off tomorrow.
· * Will Robin van Persie re-find his shooting boots? To criticize Robin for a lack of goals is surely the height of churlishness after his amazing season so far. But, only one goal in open play since we played Newcastle on March 12 is a little worrying. As this excellent analysis of Robin’s recent performances have shown, it’s not due to fatigue on Robin’s part, it’s due to the team creating less chances as a whole, and teams restricting Robin to long-distance efforts. Without his goals, we are a far less dangerous proposition, and we need him to find the time and space in the box that he's been denied in recent weeks.
· * Will Gary Cahill prove us wrong? Linked to the first point, one has to imagine that Cahill will be a part of deciding whether Robin has a good game or not on Saturday. We were, of course, heavily linked with the ex-Bolton player, even putting in our customary, derisory bid. Cahill has done better at Chelsea than I anticipated, and was part of the unit which kept Barca at bay on Wednesday. Now that Villas-Boas’ dangerously high-line has been disposed of, I can’t see us getting near five goals again, but question marks do hang over Cahill’s ability. He may well want to prove a point on Saturday – let’s hope our decision not to buy him is vindicated.
· * Who will replace Mikel Arteta? It’s a thorny issue. No one else in the squad has his steady, metronomic ability to pass, with, perhaps, the exception of Coquelin. With the youngster apparently fit again, could he come in? It would be a big ask, despite the fact he actually came out of the 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford with a degree of credit when playing in a central role. Ramsey may be the more obvious replacement, but he is a player that likes to push further forward. I worry a three of Ramsey-Rosicky-Song will neglect their defensive duties, and allow the likes of Ramires dictate the game. Whoever slots in will need to play with a level of controlled discipline that seems unfortunately alien to too many of midfielders.
· * Would you take a punt on Diaby? So, Diaby is supposedly fit enough to be included in the squad, but would you risk him? I’m a fan of Diaby, but I was expecting him to be involved in more games after his supposedly ‘minor’ injury against Liverpool. It’s the type of game that you would expect him to boss, but you can’t boss anything from the bench. Except, maybe, a crossword.
Alright, gooners. See you on the other side.