It's just what all the Arsenal players could probably do with in these troubled times - a match with no urgent pressure, away from any glaring spotlight. Certainly that was the impression given off by Aaron Ramsey on the eve of Wales's European Championship qualifier against Switzerland in Swansea.
Third place is still notionally up for grabs for Gary Speed's men, although in terms of incentive, the visitors have the edge as they still have a hope of making the play-offs. Indeed, in Cardiff today, Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Swiss's manager, all but pleaded with England “to do us a favour” and beat Montenegro tomorrow. Germans are not used to asking the English for favours, which indicates the Swiss stress, with a winner-goes-on showdown with Montenegro on Tuesday a possibility.
But then, Arsenal's Welsh players haven't been known for stating a preference for playing for a country on the apparent upgrade over a club in 15th in the Premier League. When asked whether it was easier and less pressurised playing for Wales, Ramsey, the Dragons captain: replied: “Absolutely. I think Arsenal are under a lot of pressure. It's been a difficult time...For Wales we're still learning still progressing, that's going along nicely. Obviously Arsenal is one of the top clubs in Europe and to be where are at the moment is not acceptable.”
Ramsey, who was man of the match in Wales's undeserved defeat at Wembley last month, will form an exciting new partnership with Joe Allen. The Swansea midfielder has impressed in the top flight and will make his first international start, with West Ham's Jack Collison and Leicester's Andy King suffering from a knee injury and bad back respectively.
Speed will be counting on the creativity of this duo, and of course, that of Gareth Bale and Craig Bellmany “to maintain the progress”, after the victory against Montenegro and close call against England. “We have to,” added Speed, “because time to the start of the next [World Cup] qualifying campaign next September is not long enough if we take a step backwards now.”
It's not been all positive vibes in the Welsh camp, however. Speed's No 2, the performance manager, Damien Roden, is missing from the set-up for tomorrow and Tuesday's trip to Bulgaria as he is in a “contractual dispute” with the Football Association of Wales. Speed refused to go into details, but did admit to being “disappointed”. “I don't believe it has weakened my position,” said Speed, who is reported to have demanded his employers to resolve the issue quickly.
Wales (probable, 4-5-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Gunter (Nottingham Forest), A Williams (Swansea), D Blake (Cardiff), N Taylor (Swansea); Bale (Spurs), Allen (Swansea), Crofts (Norwich), Ramsey (Arsenal), Bellamy (Liverpool); Morison (Norwich).Reuse content