We’ve had a weeks break after The Hammers and enter a huge week in our trophy hunt. Birmingham are a decent team, 9th in the PL, and under the stewardship of Alex McLeish easily capable of upsetting our plans. Home draws against Man U, Chelsea and the Spuds show they are no pushovers at St Andrews. We beat them 3-1 at the Emirates despite a feisty showing from Birmingham in the second half.
The centre of defence is the conundrum for this encounter. As TV is banned for this game we are left with 3 choices of centre back – Sol, Silvestre and Song. Wenger has said that neither Silvestre or Campbell are fit enough to play two games in a week, and after Birmingham we have the big midweek game against Barcelona. As such, we will be forced to play Song at centre back. My guess is that AW trusts Sol more than Silvestre and therefore Sol will play midweek. Song was superb alongside Sol during the second half last Saturday, and I have no qualms at seeing him there, however he will be sorely missed as our midfield enforcer against a team who have already shown a battling disposition. Of course the news of Gallas’s “miraculous” recovery gives AW the chance to play both Sol and Silvestre , hence even more permutations
The CB’s can expect a busy afternoon. Cameron Jerome has scored 4 in his last 3 games and looks a fine player, and Chucho is a player with Tevez like energy (thankfully not the skill!). Plus the Blues have a super-sub in the ancient Kevin Phillips. Birmingham have a decent midfield led by Barry Ferguson, and the Spaniard Michel, a creative MF signed from Gijon in January. They also have McFadden and Lee Bowyer, who in recent games have been on the bench.
I see this as a key game in the run in. As we have seen, Chelsea underestimated a Blackburn team that wouldn’t lie down, and they are similar to Birmingham insomuch as they have only lost twice at home all season. Some inspiration from any of our attacking players is a must. Our forwards cannot afford to be profligate with our chances (are you reading AA and NB?) as we cannot continue to rely on our midfield, and in particular, Cesc to keep scoring. I believe this is a good game to start Walcott as his pace could upset an ageing Blues defence (Stephen Carr?) Apparently Nik will not be fit for the match and Arsène has been bigging up Eduardo for the main strike role. Obviously it is his return to the scene of that horrific injury, so the boss is right to focus on the positives rather than dwell on that day.
I envisage a team of:-
Sagna Silvestre Song Clichy
Eboue Denilson Cesc Nasri/TR
I see Cesc coming off after 60 minutes to be replaced by Nasri/TR/Diaby – we need to keep our team fresh for Wednesday. Arshavin on the bench as he is a vital player for us in Europe, and needs a rest. An cameo appearance from Eduardo late in the game.
Clearly Wenger will have one eye on the Barcelona fixture, whilst at the same time focussing on what could be a banana skin. Three points at St Andrews and the world will start to believe this could be our year.