Despite yet another iffy performance from Lukasz Fabianski at the weekend, it appears that the young Pole has managed to win possession of the Arsenal goalkeeping jersey, with football rumours currently suggesting that Manuel Almunia would be free to leave the North London club in January should an offer arrive at the Emirates for him.

Fabianski isn’t exactly the sort of goalkeeper who inspires widespread confidence among Arsenal fans, but his performances have been of a far higher standard than many expected this season. In fact, despite a return to fitness for Almunia, few fans are calling for the Spaniard to return between the sticks.

However, Arsenal fans should bear in mind that Fabianski could be performing at this admirable level because he feels the pressure of the competition that exists at the club in the form of both Almunia and the club’s other young goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, a man who has performed very well in the Carling Cup this season.

If the rumours concerning Almunia do turn out to be true, it appears that Arsenal have decided that Fabianski is the man who they can rely upon to help the club to mount their first serious title challenge for some time. With the Gunners genuinely appearing to be a serious competitor in the Premier League title race this season, Fabianski will be under even more pressure to perform consistently than at any other time in his career. The fact Arsenal’s Champions League betting suggests they are in with a chance of winning that tournament only adds to the pressure.

With Arsenal fans truly hungry and desperate for success, he will now need to show that he is capable of dealing with the immense pressure of being the number one at a top Premier League club.

Even they have won it, but we haven't. Yet

Arsenal have had to deal with more than their fair share of doubt over the years, but they are now being forced to deal with perhaps the toughest mental pressure of them all and that’s living with the tag of favourites.

OK, so the Carling Cup is not exactly the creme de la creme of trophies in the footballing world, but it is perhaps a test of just how much the Arsenal squad is capable of achieving. Most people make Arsenal betting tips to win the cup, but it may be the start of something bigger. Should the side go all the way to Wembley and pick up the trophy, Arsenal could be entering a new golden age under Wenger.

Conversely, failure to capitalise upon the fact that they are undeniably in the strongest position to win a trophy, no matter what the identity of that trophy or the level of regard in which it is held, could have long lasting effects on a squad that the club has spent millions of pounds developing and keeping hold of.

If Arsenal fail to win anything this season, or worse yet lose their nerve when they are finally being considered as a top team, then Wenger is going to have a tough job on his hands convincing players to stay together and keep believing in themselves after so long without a trophy. With Gunners fans already beginning to lose their patience with Wenger’s continued belief that success can be developed rather than bought, the mental test his side are facing may represent one of the most pivotal moments in the recent history of the club and the football predictions reflect this.

Despite this, Wenger himself seems to be continuing to play it cool and keep the faith that has often been shown in him by the Arsenal faithful. Now is the time for his team to repay that faith.

Arsenal briefly went top of the league on Saturday but their fans were probably too busy calming their racing pulses to celebrate their fleeting stay at the summit.

Once again Arsene Wenger’s men were delightful to watch in spells, their crisp incisive passing running rings round Aston Villa.

But beyond the pretty façade is a soft centre that looks liable to shoot itself in the foot at any given moment.

That was the case last week against Spurs, when a comfortable 2-0 lead was thrown away in the most painful of circumstances.

With 2-0 also being the score at the break at Villa Park, you could forgive Gooners following the latest scores for feeling more than a bit twitchy when play resumed.

Especially when young Ciaran Clark was given the freedom of the Villa Park to control the ball, size up a shot, have a cup of tea and then volley home to halve the deficit seven minutes into the second half.

Their vibrant attacking flair won out in the end, though again their next two goals sandwiched another piece of poor defending, with Villa winning two headers from a corner to drag themselves back into the game.

Those that study football live scores will be aware that nerves and entertainment are vital part of the game I admit and Arsenal fans got that in bucketloads in the Midlands. But they also know that if they want to challenge for the title this season things need to tighten up at the back – their North London derby defeat is evidence of that.

Six-goal thrillers are great, but I’m sure Gooners would take a few “1-0 to Arsenal’s” in the coming weeks as well.

Nicklas Bendtner has been assured by Arsene Wenger that he is still a major part of the Frenchman’s plans despite a lack of recent first team opportunities. The Danish striker voiced his frustrations in an interview and made it clear he would move clubs if the situation didn’t improve prompting his manager to clear the issue up.

The 22-year-old has only just returned from a groin injury which kept him out of action since the World Cup and should perhaps show a bit more patience at a club which is currently third in the Premier League just two points off the summit of the table.

With Bendtner and Robin Van Persie both sidelined with injury for the start of this campaign, Wenger needed someone to step up find the net on a regular basis. New signing Maroaune Chamakh has so far been that player and the Moroccan forward has settled in quickly at his new club, leading the goal charts at Arsenal with eight goals so far this season and the Betfair Football bettingnow suggests he will be the side’s leading scorer this season.

Bendtner’s first issue should be getting himself 100 per cent match fit rather than trying to start arguments with Wenger.

Once he is free from injury, Bendtner is going to need to impress whenever he gets his chance if he is going to jump ahead of Chamakh in the pecking order.

Time is still very much on Bendtner’s side and if he keeps his head down and performs when called on then he could be a part of what is sure to be a promising Arsenal future. If Bendtner can’t find that regular first team slot at Arsenal and if so then he may have to lower his expectations regarding his career achievements if he moves clubs.

The Dane is a quality forward but whether or not he would be a regular in any of Europe’s other elite sides is arguable. With the season only a third of the way through, Bendtner could be a important part of Arsenal’s plans. If they are going to win their first piece of silverware in five years then it’s going to be a squad effort.

 

Looking at Arsenal’s form so far, success in the Champions League seems quite a possibility. Arsenal have hammered 14 goals from their opening three games and conceded just 2. This Arsenal side is renowned for it’s attacking prowess but as we have seen lately, bar the 3-2 humiliation by West Brom at Emirates, the defence is really starting to step up. Arsenal are coming into this game with 3 consecutive clean sheets to the names of Fabianski and Szczesny. The absence of Almunia is proving to be of immense help.

Arsenal can make it to the knockout stages of the Champions League with a win tonight. It would be an added advantage to qualify this early so Wenger can save his big guns for the other competitions. And looking at the form, it shouldn’t be a problem. 15 goals in the last 5 games and conceding just 2. However, away from home Arsenal usually are a shadow of themselves; especially in Ukraine. They haven’t managed a win in Ukraine in the previous 4 attempts, losing thrice and drawing once. Even away from Ukraine, Arsenal have managed just a one win in their last 5 Champions League away fixtures. Not a thrilling record there, is it? But it could be a different story for the Gunners this time around as the confidence is fast growing in the side that this could finally be the season they end their hopeless run of 5 barren years.

Arsenal will surely face a different Shakhtar than the one they breezed past at the Emirates. That defeat, in fact, was Shakhtar’s only defeat this season. They have managed to win 18 of their 21 games so far. They will be looking to avenge the hammering, and it doesn’t look a distant possibility.

As for the team news, Arsenal will be handicapped. Cesc Fabregas will be rested as more of a precautionary measure. Arshavin, Denilson and Song are also doubts and will face late fitness tests to determine their availability. Other than them van Persie, Ramsey, Vermaelen and Almunia will remain on the sidelines. The only good news is that that teenage prodigy Jack Wilshere will return. Here’s the lineup I expect:

Fabianski
Sagna     Koscielny     Squillaci    Clichy
Nasri     Song    Wilshere
Walcott     Chamakh     Rosicky

I would love to see Szczesny ahead of Fabianski. The back four picks itself, they are in quite a form. Song might be replaced by Rosicky with Wilshere playing the holding role, depending on Song’s fitness. Up front, Bendtner might be given a chance and Chamakh a rest. It’s amazing to see such a strong lineup despite the huge amount of injuries. What a squad we have!

Expecting a close encounter but hopefully a resilient Arsenal can come home with the three points. Fingers crossed.

Fabianski – Yet another solid performance from our (hopefully) new number 1. He’s got a safe pair of hands and is starting to be pretty vocal now which is a good thing. (8)

Sagna – The usual sound performance from the right back. Good to see his crossing is improving with every match. (8)

Squillaci – Pretty solid. No mistakes and forced a save from Green as well in the first half. Good performance. (7.5)

Koscielny – I’m really starting to love this guy! Amazing once again. He has a great calmness about him and no one gets past him from one on ones. (8.5)

Clichy – One of the best performances I have seen from Clichy. Excellent defending and that run and cross for the winner was absolutely brilliant. (8.5)

Denilson – Not the best of games. He was caught in possession plenty of times due to his lack of pace and played quite a few misplaced passes. Not in the same class as Jack Wilshere, no doubt. (6)

Song – As Wenger said “he has a taste to go forward, but a little too much sometimes for a holding midfielder”. Defensively he was poor today. Which is his main job. But offensively he was great. A few good balls, like the one to Sagna in the first half, and popped up with the winning goal as well. (8)

Fabregas – Not his best game today. He didn’t have usual pinpoint accuracy with his balls today, except for that one at the end to Theo. That was amazing. Forced a couple of saves from Green too. And this wasn’t even his good day! (7)

Nasri – THAT free kick from 35 yards. What an effort it was! Not everyone can do something like that. Such a pity it didn’t go in. Other than that he was always involved too. Good performance. (8)

Arshavin – At the start of the game he was electric and I thought today could be the day the old Arshavin returns. How wrong I was. He works hard but his finishing is really starting to worry me. (6)

Chamakh – A rare poor game from the forward. (5.5)

Substitutes:

Walcott – Didn’t get much time, which was very surprising. But he changed the game in the little time he got. Nearly scored the winner himself. (7)

Bendtner – Not enough time for him either but he did look better than Chamakh today. (No vote)

Eboue – Too little time to make a contribution. (No vote)

 

Szczesny – A mistake early on that fortunately he got away with. But the lad has got the mental strength which apparently Fabianski doesn’t. He bounced back from the error and made a string of superb saves and was confident with crosses and corners. When Arsenal went 2-0 up I actually wanted Newcastle to work Szczesny in the end, which they did and how well our young Pole responded was exceptional. (8)

Eboue – He was sound defensively despite being forced to play in an unfamiliar left back position. Offensively however he needs to improve his decision making. (6.5)

Djourou – A below average performance once again. He is brushed aside by the attackers far too easily because he tries to get too tight on his man. He also shows an alarming lack of pace sometimes. Had a comparatively decent 2nd half but still one expects a lot better than that. (6)

Koscielny – Thank God he’s back! He was the leader of the defence. Made some vital tackles and interceptions. He’s brilliant at one on ones, very rarely does he let someone get past him. Rock solid. And his added quality is he’s technically superior to most centre backs around, so calm and composed on the ball. (8.5)

Gibbs – Such a pity he’s injured again. Hope it’s not serious but it looks like he’s a crock. Injuries come way too often for him. (No vote)

Eastmond – I would have preferred to see Lansbury instead of him and it was quite clear why. He looks very fragile for a holding midfielder. And with him and Denilson in the centre, there was hardly any creativity from the central midfield. (6.5)

Denilson – Didn’t really have a poor game but not his best either. Shocking lack of creativity with his sideways passing. (6.5)

Rosicky – Tireless performance from our experienced Czech. The only one from our midfield three who looked to play forward passes. He has a good vision and his passing is pretty good as well. But I really miss the old Rosicky who was renowned for his long shooting. He really has lost that aspect of his game since returning from his long term injuries. (7.5)

Walcott – His directness and pace is such an asset. Add to that his clinical finishing and he can be a deadly striker. (8)

Bendtner – He has improved his decision making and looks like a mature striker now. What a finish it was for the 3rd goal! He’s actually a better finisher than Chamakh. (8)

Vela – We all know he’s got exceptional talent. But I feel the lack of games he gets to play is having a negative effect on our young Mexican. Disappointing performance. (6)

Substitutes:

Sagna – Decent performance as usual. Good thing he is starting to improve his crossing (the only main flaw in his game). (7.5)

Fabregas – Introduced to give him some more game time as he’s returning from a recurring injury. Made instant impact and grabbed an assist. (7)

Emmanuel-Thomas – Didn’t have enough time to make much of an impact but he showed some signs why Arsene Wenger rates him so highly, especially with that clever one touch back-heel to Walcott. (No vote)

Even though he is a player not lining up for the side currently occupying the position at the top of the league and one clearly not capable of generating the level of headlines that some of the more ‘obvious’ candidates for player of the year will achieve without even trying, Arsenal’s young Frenchman Samir Nasri is beginning to have a significant impact upon the Gunners’ season.

With the Frenchman starting to show a touch of a younger Ryan Giggs in his mazy runs and well placed finishing, Wenger may be forgiven by those giving out football betting tips for wondering if this is the same player he originally signed, such has been the improvements in the player’s game.

Despite the fact that he appears to be an older player in the Arsenal squad (yes, 23 is almost geriatric for an Arsenal player!), he is still young enough not to have reached his full potential. With this in mind, his stellar performances in an Arsenal shirt this season take on an even greater significance, despite the majority of the headlines being directed towards young Jack Wilshere.

If Nasri continues to display performances of the kind shown in the club’s away fixture at Manchester City, he will surely be central to any title challenge that Arsenal are hoping to launch. If Nasri does end up propelling Arsenal to their first league title since they so famously won the Premier League unbeaten, then he may well be able to gain the admiration of his peers to such an extent that he emerges as a surprise contender in the PFA player of the year awards, despite not earning the column inches that the likes of Drogba, Rooney and Torres are able to generate year on year.

With the season about to enter a crucial phase, those looking at the football betting odds are about to find out just how good both Nasri and Arsenal can be.

Fabianski – Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I always knew the lad had talent, lack of confidence was his problem. Now that confidence is on a high you can see the difference. Making world class saves, superb decision making, excellent on crosses and set pieces. Goodbye Almunia! (9)

Sagna – He was everywhere today. Superb defending and he was involved in nearly every attack as well. He sure has quite a stamina. And it seemed he’s been working on his crosses as well! (8)

Squillaci – Nothing special from him really but didn’t make any mistakes either. (7)

Djourou – Poor. Looked pretty shaky. His decision making and positioning wasn’t the best on plenty of occasions. Missed a simple header too. Not a good game. I can’t wait for Vermaelen and Koscielny to return. (6)

Clichy – Decent performance from him. Did get humiliated a couple of times in defence but other than that he was his usual self. Not bad. (6.5)

Song – His passing is still annoying and his renewed belief that he’s great going forward is a nuisance. But it did pay off today, fortunately. Got a good goal, great finish. (6.5)

Denilson – Worked really hard today. Good performance but I’ll have Wilshere over him any day. (7)

Fabregas – Our captain is just sheer class. What he adds to the team is priceless. His vision is exceptional, execution is always perfect. Missed a penalty but he made it up with his performance. (8.5)

Nasri – Excellent performance yet again from the Frenchman. He’s doing it week in week out. Scored a very well taken goal and got the assist for the 3rd goal. He’s a really skillful player and his ability to take on defenders is a treat to the eye. (9)

Arshavin – Saw some improvement today from his recent lackluster performances but still a long way to go to being back to his best. It was pleasing to see him tracking back today, something that has been his weak point from the start of his Arsenal career. He was pretty active in the attacks as well, good assist for Nasri’s opener. But he’s unable to take defenders on and beat them like he was in his early days and score some surprising goals which is worrying. (7)

Chamakh – The usual from our Moroccan. Good link up, decent runs, it was a tackle on him that resulted in the early red card. (7)

Substitutes:

Rosicky – Involved a lot since coming on but wasted an opportunity to shoot by trying to find Denilson. But it was probably because of his lack of confidence in front of goal; he hasn’t scored in quite a while. (6.5)

Walcott – Nothing to mention in his little cameo.

Bendtner – Great to see him back. He had a nice touch, movement was good and finishing was excellent. (7)

The Super Sunday encounter between Arsenal and Manchester City can rightly be called a battle of ideologies. Cash rich Manchester City have not been shy of spending money. They have made a completely new team over the last year or two spending lavishly. Arsenal, on the other hand, with Arsene Wenger at helm have been the least spending Premier League side. They have persisted with project youth in the past few years with not more than a couple of additions each year. Tomorrow we may well find out how right Wenger is when he says “You can’t buy success.”

We usually don’t term games this early in the season as must-win. But its getting the 3 points especially in big matches like the one tomorrow that help to keep those must win games to a minimum in the final stages of the season.

The trip to City of Manchester Stadium used to be an easy ride for Arsenal till 2006. But since the influx of virtually unlimited money at City, Arsenal have managed to avoid defeat just once in the last 5 trips to Eastlands. Not to forget last season’s 4-2 defeat – a result that was overshadowed by Emmanuel Adebayor’s infamous stamp on former teammate Robin van Persie. Neither of the two might feature tomorrow though. Van Persie, as usual, is out injured and Adebayor has fallen out of favor with manager Roberto Mancini.

What’s more worrying for Arsenal is that they have a horrible away form. They have not kept a clean sheet in their last 15 away games and have won only one of their last eight Premier League away games. It really makes one wonder whether Arsenal can manage to get the 3 points tomorrow. Looks doubtful, honestly speaking.

As for the team news, City have an extremely short injury list. Balotelli, Jo and Toure are the only big names doubtful for tomorrow. Balotelli and Jo will surely not be missed with the form that Carlos Tevez is in. 28 goals in his last 31 Premier League appearances, including 7 already this season, says it all. It is this remarkable form that has forced Adebayor to the bench. But the lanky forward did get a hattrick in the Europa Cup in midweek so he will surely be contesting for a start against the club where it all started for him. New boy David Silva is also starting to fulfill his potential and could pose a serious threat to the weak Arsenal defence.

Arsenal’s absentee list is a lot longer than that of City. Almunia, Frimpong, Ramsey, Van Persie, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Wilshere (suspended) will all be missing. The list has shrunk a lot in the last week or two. Sagna is back, so are Walcott, Bendtner and Fabregas. The captain’s return is a timely one considering the little man running the show from midfield this season, Jack Wilshere, is suspended. The probable line-up will be:

Fabianski
Sagna     Squillaci     Djourou     Clichy
Nasri     Song    Fabregas
Walcott     Chamakh     Arshavin

Fabianski is turning out to be a reliable goalkeeper. You don’t have mini heart attacks anymore whenever he’s called into action, and instead you really fancy him to pull out a save or make a good punch. Sagna is back fit and I would prefer him over Eboue because he’s better defender defensively. The back two pick themselves since they’re the only options we have unless Koscielny makes a surprising recovery from his back injury. At left back I wouldn’t mind either of Clichy or Gibbs but Wenger will probably go for Clichy’s experience. Nasri has been Arsenal’s best player this season so he’s an automatic selection. Song is the only holding midfield option we have. Fabregas picks himself. As for Walcott, I think we really will need his pace and direct approach in a big match like this because as Wenger said the first goal decides the game in most big matches so better to start him than bring him on as a super sub. Of course you can’t drop Chamakh. He’s been The Man so far. Involved in nearly everything – tracking back, good link play, assists, winning penalties, scoring goals. And we all know Wenger wont drop Arshavin so lets not argue about that!

MANCHESTER CITY:
League position: 2nd
Points: 17
Goals scored: 12
Goals conceded: 5
Form: WWWWD

ARSENAL:
League position: 5th
Points: 14
Goals scored: 18
Goals conceded: 10
Form: WLLDW

Lets hope Arsenal can turn their away misfortunes around and turn up with a performance we’ve all come to expect from them at home. With Chelsea getting a win today, not dropping points is all the more important now.

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