Weekend Preview: The Kids Are Alright, But Nobody's Fit

Bon jour, mis Arsamis. I don't expect this to be a particularly long and involved entry, but I've said that before and ended up with many many pages written, so let's see how it pans out. However, when that's happened in the past, I haven't necessarily had a crippling hangover and little to discuss regarding Arsenal, so Magic Eight Ball says, "All Signs Point to a Brief Post.

Arsenal did have a midweek match against Olympiakos in Greece, the last of the group stage. Having already won the group and secured advancement in the competition, Arsene understandably fielded a largely Carling Cup team, with a handful of senior squad players to balance out the large number of teenagers on hand. Silvestre was, to my knowledge, the only player over 30, and beyond him, the oldest player was the 24 year old Polish 'keeper Fabianski.

Not that the manager had much choice of course. It seems everyone in the first team is either injured or questionable due to injury, apart from Alex Song, who Wenger played for the full 90, which in my opinion was risky to the point of foolishness. This was a meaningless match, the result meaning absolutely nothing in terms of the competition at large. Song has gone from a Carling Cup player and useful defensive sub to being the lynchpin of the Arsenal midfield and has, to my knowledge, played more minutes than any Arsenal regular this season. Having him travel to Greece midweek to take part in a game that didn't matter and risking injury to a player who has been crucial to the club's success this season was certainly not worthwhile. Thankfully he came through unscathed. Arsene needs to recognize that while he's still rather young, Song is no longer one of the up and coming youngsters, he's a full-fledged starter now. He's our new Wall.

Understandably, the more experienced Olympiakos won the match, 1-0, but the youngsters acquitted themselves well, controlling possession throughout and creating some chances that just weren't taken for a variety of reasons. Carlos Vela had a couple of good opportunities that he should've done better with, while Aaron Ramsey had a header that would've been in had a defender not accidentally drifted into the play. Several players looked a bit out of their element; Wilshere, Vela and Walcott spring to mind. But in a hostile environment, against a team that needed a result to advance from the group, and on a European night, it's not hard to see why. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey and Song stood out in midfield, Ramsey looking particular good out there. The Welshman was active all over the pitch, strong in the challenge and harrying the opposition for possession, and driving forward with the ball. Song and Ramsey played particularly well together, Song collecting and distributing to Ramsey, who organized the attack.

In the end, while it was a loss, it was to very good team and on the road, and the young gunners can hold their heads up high regardless. Unfortunately, this will be the last we see of many of them, as a number will doubtless go out on loan, including Jack Wilshere. Considering the number of injuries the squad has suffered and the lack of attacking options at the moment, I don't know how wise that is, but if it gets the boy some experience, then he should go. I know Celtic have expressed interest, and Tony Mowbray likes his sides to play football rather than hoofing it around like much of the Championship and First Division sides are wont to, so if Jack will move on for the remainder of the campaign, he could do worse.

The proper Arsenal first team, what's left of it, will travel to Merseyside to face the Scousers at Anfield. We all know how this fixture played out last season, Arshavin netting four times and our shambolic defense allowing four as well to earn a draw. This time, most of our back four is intact, while our attack will be missing some very key components. Eduardo is doubtful to play, van Persie will obviously take no part, Rosicky shocked us all by picking up another long-term injury, the list goes on. I expect a side like the one played against Stoke last Saturday, although Eboue and Rosicky, who started that match, will miss due to injury, and Traore is still a question mark. With Clichy and Gibbs already out, frankly I think we need to stop buying fullbacks at china shops.

We can expect Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, and Silvestre/Traore, Song, Cesc and Denilson, with possibly Ramsey and Nasri in the mix, and Arshavin up top. Can the owly one get it done at Anfield again? I would hope so, and the way he was timing his runs at the Stoke defense last week was masterful, but one would expect better from Liverpool, althought they've been leaking goals worse than we have this season, which is saying something. Also, they're playing us at our worst time this season, with injuries mounting amid a squad that was already a bit thin. Also they'll have their "talismanic striker" (I love that term) Fernando Torres back, so they'll have a boost there as well. I think Rafa will play a defensive lineup, knowing our attacking prowess and his own side's defensive frailty, but it will be interesting to see how this one shakes out.

That of course is on Sunday. There's plenty of football to be seen in addition, however, so let's see what's on the menu, shall we?

Stoke City v Wigan
If you're watching this match and not a fan of either team, I think you should check your heart rate and breathing because you may be dead.
Prediction: Stoke 1-0 Wigan

Birmingham v West Ham
Every match will be critical for both of these teams still trying to avoid relegation. Expect a scrappy match.
Prediction: Brum 1-1 Hammers

Bolton v Man City
Shitty are rolling, coming off wins over the Arsenal reserves and a more unlikely victory over the Chavs, and Bolton are... well, they're Bolton.
Prediction: Bolton 0-2 City

Burnley v Fulham
Burnley can't seem to get out of their own way at times. Fulham have been hot, led by Clint "AMERICAN, FUCK YEAH!" Dempsey. They play a more defensive style of football, but they should be able to finish off the little Clarets.
Prediction: Burnley 0-2 Fulham

Chelsea v Everton
Will the real Everton please stand up? Landon Donovan won't arrive in time to keep Chelsea from unleashing the dragon against the Merseysiders. With the way Everton's defense has looked, Tim Howard has to be a little bit worried. I think Arsene should buy him and spare him these headaches. Just saying.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Everton

Hull City v Blackburn
This contest will be like trying to figure out which shit sandwich tastes better. No matter the result, there are no winners here.
Prediction: Hull 2-2 Blackburn

Sunderland v Portsmouth
Sunderland can beat us, but not Fulham? Am I missing something? Luckily for them, Pompey are an utter mess. It's going to take some serious spending in January (and probably a new manager) to save the seasiders from a visit to Coca-Cola Land.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Pompey

Tottenham v Wolves
Last week, when I previewed the Tiny Totts away at Everton, I said, "If the Spuds can't beat this team, they're as sorry as we all think they are." That goes double this week. They're at that rat infested sewer of a ground they call home, hosting one of the worst sides in the league. Another collapse would be delicious, but unlikely.
Prediction: Sp*rs 2-0 Wolves

Man Utd v Aston Villa
An interesting match, made less so by the fact that it's at Old Trafford and will be referee'd as suck (no, I didn't misspell 'such'). Villa have been a hot team of late, but unfortunately they just won't have enough to get by Man U and the man holding the cards, in this case, Martin Atkinson, who is being administered a fitness test by Fergie as we speak.
Prediction: United 2-1 Villa

Which brings us to Liverpool v Arsenal. With the season that the Scouse have turned in thus far, and with Arsenal dropping players and points throughout November, this fixture has lost a bit of lustre for the common fan. Liverpool won't finish in the top-4 this season unless they have a major reversal of fortune, and Arsenal's title hopes are not what they were earlier in the season, although they're better than they were headed into last weekend. It's critical for the Gunners to take maximum points from this fixture, and a trip to Anfield has not been this inviting in quite some time.

What Liverpool do have is another player who can change a game with his mere presence, in the form of aforementioned Torres. The Spaniard is a pure goalscorer, and despite only just coming back from injury, I can't imagine he'll need much time to shake off the rust. On a positive note for Arsenal, he's still not fully fit, having only come off the bench in midweek to play the final 20 minutes against Fiorentina.

So what does it come down to? Will our injuries prove too devastating? How many goals will Arshavin score? Who is... The Shadow? These are the questions that will need answering. On Sunday, we'll know more after 90 minutes of asking.

Not much more to say, really. So I'll leave you with a look at our Russian mastermind against the hubcap thieves:

You stay classy, Gooner nation.

- B, a Gooner.