If there is some solace to be taken from the weekend’s defeat, it’s that it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Oh, I know, you’re expecting me to launch into some diatribe extolling the virtues of Roberto Martinez’s tactical flexibility along with his ability to inspire his players to find a level of consistency that we can only admire at this stage of the season. That you are thinking that means I am entirely predictable or you agree that his first season has been successful. On that subject, his reign contrasts with that of David Moyes, proof if you like, that managerial change doesn’t necessarily have to be a backward step. That’s before you add in that Manchester City and Chelsea’s achieving higher league placings than Arsenal. Stability can be so over-rated.
No, I was actually referring to a point I made in Sunday’s post, that defeat to Everton should almost have been expected. I know what you’re thinking, you didn’t say that at all, you hoped for a draw and that is true, I did but I also pointed to history being against that happening. Right at the bottom of the post, if you want to check that out. Everton have a 100% record against Arsenal in the matches played between the two sides immediately before the semi-final or final in a cup competition. It is entirely out of keeping with the record between the two sides over the course of the rest of a season. We can’t of course be sure that Arsenal will go on and win the FA Cup, they didn’t in 1927 when Everton were the opponents before Southampton in the semi-final. But, if it is was written in the stars that Everton were going to win on Sunday, it must be so that Arsenal will win the semi-final this weekend.
You can see by this that the bolshy arrogance is a little shaken at the moment. Of course I expect Arsenal to win at the weekend but there’s an uneasiness which wasn’t there when the draw for the semi-final was made. I look back and the relief that it isn’t Manchester City we face that, is magnified. And I think this gets to nub of the problem, I am not confident of the reaction from the players. Were it City, the fear of a capitulation would be very real, there’s a bit of recent history to substantiate that. I would normally expect the squad to be fired up, furnished with a strong desire to prove the doubters wrong, to take revenge for the gubbing at Eastlands. But I wouldn’t be confident of that happening. It’s plucky little Wigan we face on Saturday, the pluckiest team in pluck town and frankly if we don’t win that game, well, I don’t know what will happen immediately. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
If that reads like I think Arsenal have just got to turn up on Saturday, it shouldn’t be taken as such but…but, well, Arsenal sit fourth in the Premier League, a whole division above their opponents and there is good reason that is the case. I know a lot of our current league position was established on the back of our pre-December form and the last eleven games have been generally horrible but this is the FA Cup and our horrible form has been the only consistent thing running alongside our progress thus far. We beat Liverpool in a match that could have gone either way for long spells but I thought Arsenal deserved to win overall which is in no way influenced by my bias. We were worthy victors against Everton, Tottenham and Coventry, I haven’t seen a cohesive argument made to contradict that view. Why can’t these be drawn upon as a source of inspiration behind the perspiration we will shed.
Frankly, it’s just that well that it’s Wigan because unlike Arsène, I am not entirely convinced that the change of competition will make a blind bit of difference. It is a high pressure match, where we have established a track record (of sorts) in recent months; one of failure but why not look to turn that around on Saturday when something is genuinely at stake. Oh, I know there is something at stake in all our matches but perhaps the players aren’t ready mentally to claim the Premier League title so with the League Cup beneath them, the FA Cup is the best of very limited options.
But that is the FA Cup’s role, it is supposed to be the stepping stone so you look at the history of recent winners for solace in the now, for hope. I mean, aside from Wigan being relegated and Portsmouth languishing in the lower reaches of the Football League, what could possibly go wrong? Manchester City won the cup and then the league. Chelsea won the Europa League the season after the FA Cup and the title. Finished second too. We’ll skip the defeat in the Champions League final; been there, done that, looking for hope here and it’s in desperately short supply although more than yesterday, to be fair.
Speaking after the defeat at Goodison Park, Arsène observed,
Once you are in the semi-final you want to go through to the final. To play in a different competition will help us find confidence back and focus on our next game.
Only if you win, Arsène, only if you win.