They have been the sharpest tools in the box and the Football Association continued that impressive record yesterday. Handed an open goal to assuage the annual criticism over the iniquitous ticket allocations for the FA Cup Final, they made a complete hash of it and scooped the ball over the bar. Aston Villa were up before the FA beaks and left with a £200k fine for the pitch invasion at the end of their quarter-final win over West Brom.
Had the FA thought outside of the box, expelling Villa from the cup would have freed up 25k more tickets for Arsenal supporters. OK, so no opponents might not have made for the most spectacular final to watch but they rarely are. The record books tell us Arsenal won the 1993 final but beyond Linighan’s header, for the life of me I can’t remember either match.
Before that, there are three Premier League matches to negotiate, the first of which is on Sunday at Old Trafford. For United, it’s their lifeline in avoiding the Champions League play-offs even if victory still leaves Arsenal’s fate in their own hands. The early team news was mixed; a mix of the expected and surprising. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta and Debuchy are all out whilst Danny Welbeck has an outside chance of making the trip to Old Trafford.
Arsène will be more concerned over Aaron Ramsey’s fitness with the Welshman still not training this week although Wenger expects him to return to the Colney pitches today. It’s probably the only change being contemplated following Swansea’s victory at The Emirates on Monday which is not necessarily a bad thing. Having lost their last game, the XI may have a bit more motivation to prove that it was a blip rather than a rot setting in.
And having worked hard to offer the veneer of improvement, surely the players want to continue that feelgood factor going into the season’s finale?
Even with the current injury list, the options for Arsène to make telling changes are limited. Ramsey would most likely be replaced by Wilshere with Theo kept on the bench as cover for Olivier Giroud if Welbeck is still absent. Even if the former United player is fit, you sense Walcott will be kept on the bench. It’s a handy negotiating tool in contract talks; Well, Theo, you want to be a centre forward but Olivier, he is scoring goals at the moment and I can hardly drop an in-form striker. Your time will come but you must be super patient…
Since Christmas, the players have responded to setbacks in a positive fashion. Even if performances haven’t been immediately convincing, they have carved out results and with three games left in the Premier League season, points on the board are more important than how you win them. We don’t have the luxury of feeling aesthetically soothed in defeat. Well, we probably do on Sunday because winning both remaining home games guarantees a third place finish and direct entry into next season’s Champions League.
UEFA’s tinkering to the format of the Champions League doesn’t look like it will make much difference. Yes, Arsenal might meet Barcelona or Bayern but the reality is that the groups won’t look a lot different to how they pan out now. One tough opponent and two you expect to beat complete the quartet, setting us nicely for the runners-up spot which paves the way for the inevitable Round of Sixteen exit.
It’s a financially rewarding tournament for Arsenal nonetheless. Even not appearing in the latter stages reaps rewards with Thomas Vermaelen possibly bring in the cash for the one of the June weekly payrolls. Despite not playing for his new employers, if they win against Juventus, they cough up €4m although I struggle to believe that there isn’t some sort of wording that says he’s got to be on the bench at the very least. It wouldn’t be a bad match for him to make his début in, would it?
Arsène has laid the groundwork for a quiet summer so it seems like Dick Law might have a few minutes to spare. Perhaps he could nip over to the Catalan capital and work out a deal for them to buy Abou Diaby from us; if he can get money for Vermaelen with his injury record, Diaby might be a little more work but you have to believe anything is possible.