Anyone who had a heart. No, wait, that’s not on this morning’s playlist, Alright, which can be found here or on the right-hand sidebar under Dad’s Jukebox.
It’s how things used to be, how every knockout tournament was decided. A free draw, unencumbered by the shackles of the sponsors pound, mark or franc which suppresses competition for the promotion of market share. Imagine a Champions League where you could as easily be drawn in a group with Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern as Chelsea, City, United or Tromso, Cluj, Marseilles. Sometimes the FA get things right by leaving well alone. They have mishandled their crown jewel, of that there is no doubt. When the Aston Villa manager notes that the majority of the Premier League could do without the distraction, something has gone horribly wrong although thinking about it, Villa have form in showing disrespect to cup competitions. Martin O’Neill’s credentials were hardly enhanced when he took a reserve side to Russia for a UEFA Cup match.
Perhaps today is the injection of life, spice and verve which the FA Cup needed from an Arsenal perspective. Arsène can’t really tinker with the starting XI too much, he doesn’t have that many fit players. If the media were believed, he would surely have called upon his latest signing, Dimitar Berbatov, for a debut against his former employers. Thankfully the manager took time to dispel the notion that the club were looking to buy the Bulgarian. It seems there might be a regular feature at his press conferences this month; ‘Arsène, Are You Really Going To Buy…‘ is a double-edged sword. One the one hand it would be information to sell newspapers and advertising space but the downside is creative juices will need to flow to flush out the true targets. If you are fed up with transfer speculation already, the latter is a bleak prospect indeed.
Surprisingly, Arsenal have not requested the FA cancel the game. Essentially, it is going to be the same side which beat the conditions and Cardiff – two opponents in one day and we wonder why the players are so tired – without the option of bringing Bendtner on from the bench. Striking options are, to be polite, limited. Giroud was ready for the starting line-up but has been taken ill apparently so it’s Podolski or Walcott leading the line. Wenger has shown little inclination to use his younger options thus far and it is too big a game for such a risk to be taken for a first start of the season. By all means include the likes of Zelalem and Akpom on the bench, introduce them later in the tie when changes are needed. Will the policy of rotating his goalkeepers continue? The words yesterday when talking of last year’s defeat to Blackburn, make me wonder if he is more concerned with keeping the momentum of an unbeaten run going. Wenger noted,
I had the luck to win four FA Cups, that means I always put the effort in. I’m very keen to do it again, it’s a long time now. Honestly I still have in my mind the fact that we went out last year at home against Blackburn, that was not good enough for us and we have to make sure we absolutely put the effort in to have the chance to go through.
It’s an opportunity that we want to take. On top of that, afterwards we have nine days until the next Premier League game [so] we can give absolutely everything in this game.
Indeed it is but if this ends in a draw, the replay is two days after the Aston Villa game which makes the Premier League’s decision to allow Sky to reschedule the fixture to a Monday night at once surprising whilst underpinning the belief that they will not be happy until the FA Cup has been reduced to a pale shadow of the poor imitation of the past it has become.
Wenger used a determined turn of phrase, one acknowledging that this is the North London Derby as well as the FA Cup Third Round. August’s win in the Premier League is not forgotten by either side, Arsenal thoroughly deserved their victory. Much is being made in the turnaround in Tottenham’s fortunes since Tim ‘Gooner’ Sherwood took over. As Theo Walcott observed, it isn’t a good time for them to be playing Arsenal either. That form adds spice but the cliché tells us the form book goes out of the window in such matches.
Talking the tie up is to be expected, Arsène is after all the equivalent of a boxing promoter when talking to the media. However do his words acknowledge that this might be considered the easier tournament to win? There does not have to be a trade-off at this moment in time between the FA Cup, Premier or Champions Leagues. We have seen how badly focussing on one competition can end with ambitions for a season ending before Easter. I cannot see that lower the priority for the FA Cup is beneficial. After all, if the players cross the white line with a ‘meh‘Attitude, they will lose. Far from easing the pressure, defeat coupled with that attitude leaves them with points to prove.
For that reason, I think the line-up will be largely intact from Wednesday. Personally, I would not include Flamini from the start, preferring the dynamism of Rosicky’s passing. At the moment, the Flamini / Arteta axis is struggling and whilst the Frenchman is noticeable, Arteta is more productive in terms of passing and tackling. The only other change will be if Mesut Özil’s recovery has progressed better than is being reported. If that is the case, I would think that Podolski would make way, giving the manager options from the bench. It leaves the line-up,
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal; Arteta, Rosicky, Wilshere; Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski
Whatever the line-up is, the players will be ready and are aware of the importance supporters place on this fixture, if the words of Laurent Koscielny are anything to go by. It ought to be a match of biting challenges, where no quarter is asked or given. In short a good, old-fashioned FA Cup tie. And Arsenal winning, of course.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.