Morning all, it’s finally here; FA Cup semi-final Saturday has begun. Is it Groundhog Day or is the cycle finally broken? Ahead of that, this morning’s playlist has arrived, catch The A-Team here or in the right sidebar. I did toy with the idea of including Telly Savalas’ version of If but in the end, you’re just not ready for it, are you? Are you…?
For two letters, the word ‘if’ is awfully big word. ‘But’ is another. Put them together and depending on their order in a sentence, they spell trouble. Or get us out of it, depending on your viewpoint. At the point, any Wigan supporters who have ventured onto these pages will be aghast to find out that your blood pressure is about to rise beyond belief as patronising terms such as ‘plucky’ are applied to your team. And a record of 15 wins out of 20 meetings will definitely be referred to at some point. Even Arsène might be inclined to agree with the ‘favourites tag’ were he a betting man. That’s the way it goes, it’s Arsenal versus Wigan Athletic, after all. You see, I didn’t even get to the end of the paragraph without being patronising. I’m allowed, I’m a supporter, it’s part of the natural arrogance that comes with supporting a big club. And despite our failings in recent weeks, Arsenal is a big club, a full division above Wigan.
As Lukas Podolski noted:
If we play with spirit and fight and play our game, then they have no chance to win against us
I’d say that’s a bloody big IF. We all want the players to show their quality, spirit and fight, indeed I would say we are desperate for them to so after this season’s big games, or perhaps more accurately, the big games away from The Emirates, even if 49,000 or so Arsenal supporters will make it seem like a home game. Anything which turns the advantage to our favour is welcome. And that was the German’s parting shot, everything prior to that was about focus, preparing properly and how footballers go from hero to zero is the blink of an eye. If Podolski thinks its been hard beforehand, the reaction to defeat today doesn’t bear thinking about.
So we won’t. Where’s a good, old-fashioned piece of chest-thumping. Cue Lukas,
You don’t fight always for one person – you fight for the club and every player that plays on the pitch gives 100 per cent every time
Works for me.
And then prospect of silverware is all that the players need to drive them on. Whilst league form has been indifferent, the cup run has been the toughest in recent seasons which has gone well. Tottenham were made to look even more ordinary than they really are, Coventry were swatted aside. Liverpool was a tough match, not just the opposition but also the fact it came so soon after the drubbing at Anfield; the response from the players was everything Arsène could have wanted, it’s a shame it never spilled into the Premier League. Everton might have taken revenge on Merseyside last weekend but at The Emirates, they were deservedly shuffled toward the exit door of the FA Cup. The matches might have all been at home and an advantage is accrued from that but nothing should undermine the fact that three of the top seven have been faced and conquered.
Which brings us to now. The FA Cup semi-final, a chance for Arsène to erase the memory of a dubious team selection against Chelsea. A chance for the memory of Birmingham to be extinguished from our memories for a while longer. There are so few of the squad who were at the club then, they shouldn’t be hamstrung by the moment of madness. It’s a point Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made that seems suitably biased for the occasion, showing an interesting perspective that the players are not as weighed down by the barren years as supporters and the manager.
Echoes of the past for Arsène. His defeats at this stage of the competition have been limited to teams higher in the Premier League table, namely Manchester United (twice) and Chelsea. Everyone else has been lower in the league ladder. Some of them have been tighter than they ought to have been – Sheffield United and Middlesbrough – but let’s be honest, the others have been more comfortable, even to the extent of trying to give Tottenham a chance by playing a portion of the game with ten men. Oh, come on, if that isn’t enough, the last three times Sheffield United have reached the FA Cup semi-finals, Arsenal have won the competition.
To me, today feels like the same as 1978, in that a squad was being assembled that could go onto win silverware to end a barren spell. That the FA Cup a year later was all they delivered was a missed opportunity but that spell, 1978 – 80, was the most successful for the best part of the decade. Can this squad improve on that? There is every opportunity, there is enough talent there; what the catalyst for that would be has yet to be revealed. Certainly Oxlade-Chamberlain was in agreement with Santi Cazorla’s view that a winning mentality needs to be forged.
So what of today’s team. Assuming that not much has changed from last weekend is good starting point. Gibbs, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain had a 50/50 chance according to the manager on Thursday; I hope they recover, it at least gives the manager options. To me though, the biggest choice is whether Olivier Giroud starts and I am not convinced he will, even though the alternative of Yaya Sanogo is not inspiring at the moment. The youngster was more effective at Everton than Giroud but by the time of his arrival onto the pitch, the outcome was already settled. He has been lively in the cup-ties he played in so far, it’s just the first goal has yet to arrive and is today the moment to put that record on the line. Whilst I understand Arsène’s loyalty to Lukasz Fabianski in goal, if Olivier Giroud does not start, I think that’s a fairly damning indictment of his form; this is a big match when the best XI should surely be fielded?
The issue is whether Oxlade-Chamberlain or Rosicky starts. The latter is Wenger’s big-game player; when Arsène needs a player to make the difference on these occasions, he turns to the Czech international. Despite blistering performances in the cup, I will be surprised if AOC gets the nod ahead of Rosicky. Even though he and Ramsey in tandem would pose more of a threat running from deep, it is still going to be Rosicky, even if that deprives Arsenal of natural width which was a valid criticism of last weekend’s performance.
The side I expect Arsène to go with is:
Fabianski; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Monreal); Arteta, Ramsey; Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
And that is an XI, irrespective of any lingering doubts they have, which is good enough to win this afternoon.
The players have to take the match seriously, be aware that Manchester City went into the previous round with a supporter’s arrogance and were deservedly beaten. Actually, players are probably as susceptible to arrogance as we are, Arsenal are odds on favourites and whilst new Wembley has seen few shocks at this stage of the competition, Arsenal have yet to win there. Hold on a minute, I’m not supposed to puncture my own arrogance. What I need right now is some righteous self-belief, where’s the smiling assassin when you need him…?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.