Arsenal preview

Last updated : 18 December 2004 By Keith Allman
What have Portsmouth and Manchester United got in common?

The answer is that they're the only teams who didn't get beaten by Arsenal in the league last season. A 1-1 draw at Highbury, a match forever remembered for the dive of Pires who will no doubt be mysteriously "injured" tomorrow, and a 1-1 at the return match in Fratton, means that whilst Arsenal were the "unbeatables", they couldn't beat Pompey. Well, outside of a drubbing in the FA Cup that we don't need to talk about in this context.

Want even more good news? We're actually in better form than them. Under the stewardship of Velimir we've gathered eight points from four games, whereas the visitors have managed a mere five. Amateurs. Add to the fact that Yakubu should be back, plus Quashie and Kamara marked down as "possibles", then surely a home win is the only outcome.

Alright then, maybe not. In truth to get a draw out of this game would be a fantastic result, leaving us in a healthy mid-table position before a frantic run of games after Christmas. With Stefanovic and Unsworth out we're a bit short at the back, not to mention tiredness creeping in after two totally exhausting performances at Newcastle and Liverpool within the last seven days - any result is most definitely a good result. Let's be honest though, who thought we'd even have two points from the last two away games?

And then of course, there's the sheer quality of players in the opposition squad - Henry, Vieira (back from a ban), Berkgamp, Campbell - a tough old nut to crack. We can at least take some solace in the fact that Ljungberg is out injured (much to the disappointment of the ladies, I'm sure), and that Arsenal have Almunia in goal. That's right - the most awful goalkeeper in the history of English Associaton Football, with the obvious exception of Jimmy "what's that round thing coming towards me" Glass.

It's a sign of how things are going under Velimir that I'm confident of at least getting something. Alright, maybe my confidence will prove ill-founded and it'll be a little bit of a wake-up call but to be honest, we're playing with quality, passion, and energy. We've scored goals from set pieces lately and Arsenal's well known Achilles heel is their inability to defend dead ball situations. What's more, Thierry Henry loves us; he said on Sky Sports News today that Fratton Park was the only away ground he enjoyed coming to, so he won't dare score tomorrow.

I remember an interview Judas gave before he left saying how games like this were just "bonuses", and that before the start of the season you write them off. Anything you get was a bonus, so said the twitchy one. At the time I could see his mentality and point of view, and in a way it's still true, but I can't help but think that Velimir's attitude towards the big matches - as we've seen at Liverpool and Newcastle - is somewhat different. They don't deserve special treatment because they're big names. We're still going to play our own game plan regardless of what happens (i.e. going a goal down early doors at St James'), and the players seem to be going into the game, forgetting who the opposition are, but believing in themselves and their own ability to get the points.

Expect a big performance tomorrow; we always do well against the big teams. What's more, it's on Sky - so Amdy Faye is guaranteed to play well. Might be worth a couple of quid on De Zeeuw as first scorer too, even if we don't get anything out of the game. We've fought for years amongst the likes of Grimsby and Crewe (all disrespect intended) and this is what it's all about, so let's make the most of it.