The FA Cup sparked into life yesterday with Newcastle United, Hull City and Manchester United all falling in shock results. Arsenal will seek to avoid joining that trio by beating Aston Villa at The Emirates this afternoon. Some of the build-up has been quite comical; Alex McLeish has short-term memory loss, preferring to remember Wembley with a different club from almost a year ago than the altogether more relevant Villa Park in December as his battlecry.
For Arsenal, this is a chance to consign a horrible January to the dustbin with a win. No Premier League points in January, the bright spot was the victory over Leeds with the goalscoring return of Thierry Henry. The euphoria of that moment lasted just one week but key games approach in the next seven days; very winnable games. Must-win games to breakout of a rut.
New faces might help. Reports this morning suggest that a bid for Lukasz Podolski was rejected; the source is not the most reliable yet hints that the quietness is not a sign of Arsène or anyone else doing nothing, simply doing business the Arsenal way. Quietly and being rejected. Burak Yilmaz would ‘accept a transfer to Arsenal‘ so that won’t happen but there is a new signing which has the potential for causing problems, not least of which will be a run of letters for shirt printing. What’s his new nickname going to be? The Ox is taken, Laub Rat sounds too experimental so The Laub will have to do…
For years, Arsène sought to actively play down the strengths of youngsters, aware of the damage that the weight of expectation might do to a career. This time in a volte face, he is building a player up, knowing that the media pander to unreasonable expectations. I understand that this is all part of a PR war, the media ask the questions, he provides the answers but knowing how fickle Arsenal supporters can be, it is a risky business. The media lap it up such is the paucity of genuine talent for the national team. It is lapped up in the stands because of the paucity of anything in recent weeks.
His performances this season have underlined the potential but they have all been at home. Arsenal’s travails have been on their travels; can Oxlade-Chamberlain provide the spark away from The Emirates? Perhaps but it seems more likely than Andrey Arshavin will be used in those games. This morning’s observations on the Russian from Amy Lawrence pinpoint his problems exactly, ones that the manager is surely aware of but has no inclination to solve simply because they do not fit tactically. And also overlook his performances which have delighted, have come from the left wing.
That was when he was in the side on a regular basis and for someone who was pivotal in his national team, hailed as a world superstar before signing for the club, there is an ignominy in being deemed no more than a regular substitute. Prior to this season, he has been involved in a goal every other game on average – either scoring or assisting – but this time it is one every four games. For all of his manager’s failings in not getting the best out of Arshavin, the player too is culpable for producing his form on a consistent enough basis. There in the problem; lack of playing time will not help his cause and it is a cause worth fighting for. Even out of sorts, he is capable of the mercurial moment that changes a game something which has not been evident this season.
Team news is better with Bacary Sagna a possible returnee from the bench, surely too short of match fitness to start? That means Johan Djourou is likely to keep his starting place although Yennaris’ perfomance in the second half suggested he might do well as a specialist right back. Villa have pace on the flanks and in attack which may sway the manager’s choice given the damage done by United last weekend. Whilst Wenger makes no secret of his targets for the season, a strong line-up today is surely required. The FA Cup, like last season’s Carling Cup, offers the chance of mentally enhancing silverware, especially with the number of big clubs exiting the tournament thus far.
My line-up for this afternoon, fitness permitting, would be:
Szczesny; Yennaris, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Ramsey, Song, Arteta; Walcott, van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Will last weekend have influenced Arsène’s thinking on substitutes? I doubt it, I hope not. The crowd should not deflect the manager from his course. By all means learn from the mistake tactically but not for the sake of keeping the peace. Were that the case, the minor view pushed by Justin Hoyte in the press this morning will be consumed in the headline fog of Winterburn and Merson.
As part of your big match build-up, pop over to Arsenal On This Day for a fine win from 1972. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.