I would like to welcome you all to the City of Manchester Stadium for today`s game, and a particular welcome to the players, staff and supporters from Arsenal who have made the journey. The visit of Arsenal is the perfect curtain-raiser to an exciting week for us, with next Sunday`s home derby coming just a couple of days after our trip to Germany when we take on Schalke 04 in the UEFA Cup. The prospect of European competition and games against top sides in a packed stadium like ours were what attracted me to this great club, and everyone in the squad and my staff are really looking forward to the next few days.
Last Sunday`s game against Hull was a perfect example of how exciting the Premier League can be, although I would have been much happier if we could have held on to the lead we took into half-time. I thought we showed some real courage and determination to claw back into the game, especially after the way in which Hull had taken the lead.
I thought that Lady Luck was really not smiling on us when Joe Hart went off with the injury he took when Daniel Cousin scored, but hats off to Kasper Schmeichel for the way played when he came on. He showed a lot of confidence and settled everybody down, substitute goalkeepers have to be ready if an emergency call like the one we had at Hull ever comes and Kasper should be pleased with how he played. Joe is out for two to three weeks with a sprained ankle, but at least that is not as bad an injury as we first thought last Sunday.
Stephen Ireland's two goals last Sunday took his total for this season to seven, which I think is testament to the way he has progressed of late. All credit should go to Stephen for the hard work he put in over the summer and in pre-season, because it is starting to pay off now. He has great stamina, covers a lot of ground and is getting himself into the areas where he can hurt the opposition. He is a lot more consistent now and I think there will be a lot more goals to come from him this season.
Joe`s injury prevented him from joining up with the England squad for the friendly in Germany in midweek, but a lot of our squad did get to go away with their respective countries. We did not get everybody back into training until Friday, which is hardly the ideal preparation for us at the start of such an important week. But it`s the same for most clubs, including today`s opponents, and when you sign players of the calibre that we have then you have to accept that they will get called up for internationals. Having said that, guys like Robinho and Elano are used to travelling the distances involved around these international breaks. They know how to make sure the travelling does not affect them too much and because they look after themselves, they are always ready for action when they return to us.
Given the nature of the two sides facing each other today, I think it`s fair to say that we could see an entertaining match. Even with the couple of injuries and suspensions that they have, Arsene Wenger has a talented squad at his disposal and you can be sure that whatever team he puts out will play the game in the way every football fan likes to see. They will be hurting after last week`s defeat at home to Aston Villa and they lost their last away game, to Stoke, but in between times they thoroughly deserved their win over Manchester United at home.
Both teams have an abundance of attacking flair and I think it is best to stick with the methods that serve you the best. We have shown that we can pose problems for anyone when we go forward, and with us being on home soil the onus is on us to impose ourselves early on, and not allow Arsenal to get into any kind of rhythm.
Thank you to everyone who has sent in their contributions to the My First City Game web site (www.myfirstcitygame.com) over the past fortnight. In the next few weeks you will start to see some of the best memories and photos start to decorate the inside of the stadium, and the project has certainly jogged my memory. My first game at the Club was the game in the Faroe Islands, and seeing all the City fans that had gone to such great lengths to get there to see their team that night underlined for me what fantastic supporters this Club has.