I never really thought about it before but working for the club magazine or website must be quite a tricky job, staying on-message even though you may disagree. Then you have to interview a manager who sets the tone for an interview in the opening sentence. For example, Arsène observing that “we always take the [FA Cup] seriously“, pretty much tells you that it is going to be a whimsical chat, one where his impishness with the media will shines through. Always taking it seriously *shakes head with grin on his face*
Well, he will have that chance this weekend with Everton arriving in town on Saturday. Will the midweek trip to Munich influence his selection? I hope not, he has two injury scares from last night’s internationals but they should be the only distraction. As much as the Champions League is a trophy he strongly desires to win, realistically it isn’t going to happen this season. Rotating Saturday’s squad with that in mind is surely folly; the Bayern squad is the one he should be bringing in fringe players for not the other way around. And I think that is how Arsène will see it as well. The position this season is no different to last, the margin of defeat at The Emirates in the first leg was sufficient to render progress to the next round as extremely difficult and as such a shift in priorities for the rest of the season; Europe has slipped from second to last in the remaining three competitions.
Wenger hints at agreeing with that, admitting he took his eye off the ball with Blackburn’s visit ahead of the Champions League meeting with Bayern last season. It was a flaccid affair, Arsenal livened up with a triple substitution and promptly conceded the game’s only goal. I thought that was a good opportunity to progress last time and whilst Everton represent a solid obstacle to overcome, the home draw hands an advantage to Arsenal who begin the game as favourites. This despite the visitor’s good performance at The Emirates before Christmas when they were good value for a point in the Premier League. The shifting priorities shows how the delicacy of the balancing act Wenger has to manage; by the end of next week, he could be working a trip to Wembley into the fixture list as easily as only having the Premier League to think about until May.
Injuries will obviously influence his outlook, whether that be those returning to action or limping back through the door of London Colney following midweek exertions. Jack’s back with knack, the time-honoured tradition of running off a knock has apparently not done any lasting damage whilst Laurent’s twang may have stopped reverberating long enough for him to play. Some like Tomas Rosicky, enjoyed the international break. He found his scoring boots having lost them for a while whilst Mesut Özil gave an answer to his critics with an assist in Germany’s win. Surprisingly, Olivier Giroud was playing away from home and didn’t score.
Form, I hope, is the key to his selection for the match. We were awful at Stoke, quite a few players did not turn up despite being on the pitch and to some extent, Arsène shoulders some of the blame for that. As much as the media like to stereotype the players as “not liking it up ‘em“, the trip to The Britannia – as with The Reebok – gets inside his head as well. You can understand that with some of the horror shows he has witnessed at both grounds. As much as he may find the style of play distasteful, it is nothing new for him to deal with but it always seems to bring the worst performances out of him tactically. Everton’s more refined style will be more to his liking and perhaps Jack’s ankle knack offers him a reason to juggle the midfield around. As if he needed one. The extent of injuries will be clearer today and I am sure Arsène is relishing tomorrow’s press conference, wondering which garden path he will be led down.
It is the first of an Everton double-header at The Emirates, Saturday’s match is followed on Monday by the FA Youth Cup clash between the two sides with tickets at £4 per adult, £2 for kids which offers a good opportunity for those locally based supporters to support the youngsters. More details here.