Evening all. As we prepare to bring a marathon run of seven games in 21 days to a close by hosting Tottenham on Sunday, Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news at his pre-match press conference earlier today.
According to the boss, Laurent Koscielny has an 80 percent chance of recovering from the hip injury that kept him out of our defeat at Bayern Munich on Wednesday, and along with Mikel Arteta, faces a fitness test ahead of the game.
But Hector Bellerin has been ruled out until after the upcoming international break. Mathieu Debuchy will therefore play in what, I think, will be his first Premier League start of the season, and Arsene says his French right-back is nearing peak match-fitness:
Mathieu needed a little competition. Game after game he has basic fitness and now with another game he should be better.
Let’s hope so. I mean, if we could see the Mathieu Debuchy of early last season, the one with the mohican hair-cut, determined attitude and high levels of self-confidence, as opposed to the sluggish, distant and defensively suspect version we’ve seen this, then that would obviously help our cause no end against Spurs and their youthful, high-energy side.
And perhaps we will, finally. As the boss says, Mathieu is improving physically game by game and now nearing his best shape. I do wonder if all he actually needs is just a trip to the barbers though …
Of course every Premier League game is a ‘big’ one for us at the moment as we try to match Manchester City stride for stride at the top of the table, but being the north London derby obviously gives this fixture added significance, even more so as we look to put our midweek mauling in the Champions League behind us.
Arsene was asked about the rivalry between the two north London clubs and whether ‘the gap’ between them had narrowed but he remained modest and insisted:
They have been a threat every year since I’ve been here. In the last 20 years, they always had very strong teams and let’s not forget that some periods we were eight or nine points behind them in April, so they have had very strong teams. This year they are younger, they work very hard and they will be a tough opponent again – they are every year. I enjoy [the derby] because I believe that what you want in football is to play games that are important and where there is an excitement in the preparation, games that have meaning for everybody. Football can give special emotions to people and you want to be part of that.
As much as I respect Arsene for being typically polite and professional, I’d have loved for him to have just shrugged and said:
Spurs? Well, they’re a bit shit, they’ve always been a bit shit, and they’ll always be a bit on the shit side – the gap’s more a colossal chasm.
But I suppose we have Jack Wilshere to tell it like it is when it comes to that lot, so we shouldn’t complain. Anyway, moving away from the derby for now and the boss has been fulsome in his praise for summer signing Petr Cech.
Calling him one of the greatest ‘keepers to ever play on these shores, Arsene suggested the former Chelsea man could play on for a good four or five years yet, despite being 33 already, and said he wasn’t surprised Cech was closing in on David James’ record of 169 Premier League clean sheets, saying:
I believe that there is no coincidence. What is repeated is not coincidence, it is just class. As well, not only class but dedication and consistency of quality. Knowing him well now after a few months, I’m not surprised by this kind of achievement because he is absolutely dedicated to his job, he analyses absolutely everything and is gifted as well. He is a super talent. He is certainly one of the greatest goalkeepers we have ever seen here in this country. He plays in a position where age is less of a restriction than in any other job. Until 37 or 38 I consider that a goalkeeper can be completely able to play at this level.
To add a bit of context, Cech has managed 167 clean sheets so far from just 337 games, whereas it took James 567 to set his record.
But it’s not just in England Cech’s eyeing top spot for shut-outs, he’s currently third in the Champions League list with 45, behind only Edwin van de Sar who has 50, and Iker Casillas who’s managed 51. Again though, Cech has achieved his haul in far fewer games, having played 107 compared to Casillas’ 153.
There will be those who try to taint Cech’s achievements by pointing out he was massively aided by Chelsea being the most defensive-minded club side in history, over this past decade or so, but that would be unfair.
Yes the Blues have parked the bus most weeks since 2004, but behind that bus they’ve undoubtedly had one of the finest goalkeepers of the modern era. I’m just glad we can now call him ours and that he’ll set those records as a Gunner.
Back with a Spurs-preview on Saturday.
Have a good one.