The tease continues. A month on from this, “You will soon know. Very soon”, we have graduated to, “I haven’t told anything to anybody“. It’s worse than waiting in all day for a delivery which is scheduled to arrive any time between 8am and 6pm, only to get a text late in the day telling you it will come another day. Repeatedly.
Despite the protestations that the FA Cup won’t influence his decision – and I’m sure it hasn’t – it’s definitely affecting the announcement. I can’t shake the feeling that if we win, he’s going to bound on stage at his pre-Leicester press conference in a gold lamé suit, with pound notes printed over it, with an inane grin like it’s been some big game for him.
Sunday’s team news is not unexpected. None of the walking wounded are ready to run, so it’s pretty much the same squad as the one which demolished Middlesbrough. Danny Welbeck might be back but to be honest, it’s hard to see any changes if – and it’s a big IF – Arsène goes with three at the back.
Is there a case for it? Personally, I’m sceptical. Against City in recent years, we’ve played rope-a-dope with some success, relatively speaking. Yes, we caught cold at the Etihad in December but with one defeat in the last seven, there’s a suggestion that it worked.
However, Pep Guardiola knows how to beat Arsenal or not be beaten by us is probably more accurate. A win and draw against Barcelona, the same against Bayern. Wasn’t he also in the Barcelona team as a player when we drew and lost at Wembley. From memory, he was fairly instrumental in Gilles Grimandi’s sending off in the Camp Nou.
Tiny Step of Advancement
While Arsène was understandably coy about his intentions for Sunday, the question is whether City saw three at the back as a problem or massive opportunity. One of the reasons it works for Chelsea so successfully is that the midfield and wing-backs understand the needs of the pressing game.
We don’t have the players for that system. They can run a lot; they have the stamina. But what they don’t have is positional discipline. Hector Bellerin is suited to the formation but with confidence draining away, is struggling. Leroy Sane punished his naïvety with the opening goal at the Emirates and generally ran the young Spaniard ragged for the opening twenty minutes or so.
I can see him doing the same against Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ox is committed, will try but the FA Cup semi-final is not a time for experiments. Bellerin on the flank and Ox inside, as one of the three central midfielders? It’s a better solution in my view.
On the left, I would drop Nacho back to one of the three central defenders, with Kieran Gibbs at wing back. I’m talking myself into thinking this might work here, aren’t I?
Running On The Spot
It’s an interesting aspect of the match. Arsenal’s form has been so wretched that you wonder what impact it has on Arsène’s preparations for upcoming games. Legend has it that he concentrates on our game and not so much on the opposition. The defeats at West Brom and Crystal Palace certainly bear that out.
However, is the focus on stopping them more than getting the team ready for how he wants the game to go? Of course he can’t ignore the opposition but our style is such that we don’t tend to change particularly. Three at the back is the only major deviation since bringing back defensive midfielders.
Which was more by luck than judgement, but that’s a long forgotten story. The City match is coming into view; the butterflies are starting to flutter. It’s the FA Cup semi-final and the prospect of a tough match. If you can’t enjoy the cup runs, check your pulse; make sure it’s still there.
The younger generation of supporters may not understand that and I do think it helps to remember what the FA Cup was. A day of television devoted to football for the final with the semis on neutral ground at Villa Park, Maine Road, Hillsborough; not necessarily good games, but intense nonetheless.
Wembley robs the matches of some of that and I wonder if there is a way to resurrect that? Have the semi-finals one week before the final? A logistical nightmare but hey, we used to have replays inside three days. What changed?
Finally, a warm round of applause for Bob Wilson, who is a 2017 inductee into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame, along with Arsenal Ladies players, Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey.
Since beginning writing this, I’ve learned of the sad death of Ugo Ehiogu at 44. My condolensces to his family.