I’m reminded of a film scene. Which one, I can’t remember but it was in a similar vein to Virgin Soldiers or perhaps And Now For Something Completely Different. The recruits all lined up in the parade square, the sergeant-major offering up a request that required everyone to step forward if they were going home to see their mothers that weekend, at which point they all step forward. Looking at one of them, the news of the death of one unfortunate soul’s parent is broken, “No, lad, not you…”
It’s a bit like that at Arsenal right now, all those eligible for World Cup squads have formed an orderly queue and expectant players step forward when asked who’s going to Brazil. Steve Bould, I think, has the necessary gravitas to deliver the news, “Not you, Monreal…”
And Nacho will be disappointed, I am sure, not to have even made the squad of thirty named by Vincente Del Bosque, the first Lord of Spanish football. Quite literally, I believe, as he is a proper toff and make no mistake. That last bit probably works better if you say it in your best Dick van Dyke accent. It is the price paid for a season pockmarked by injury and bring able to usurp Kieran Gibbs from the starting line-up on a regular basis. That and bring of Spain’s Golden Generation, a generation which delivered in major tournaments unlike England’s self-proclaimed group who turned out to be nothing more than a Fool’s Gold Generation.
But I am not quite sure what type of voice best suits Samir Nasri’s partner/girlfriend/wife (whatever she is) outburst. Full on mental, I think. Helena Bonham Carter at her screechiest best, particular venom in the three words reserved for the manager. Deschamps reasons for excluding Nasri are interesting and reinforce his reputation as, well, a sulker. The sort person who when things are going well – as the water carrier put it, when he’s in the team – life is good, you are good but when it deviates from that, is as miserable as sin and everyone knows it. But nothing prepared me for the shrill hilarity of the six words which might just condemn his international career.
Arsène will only be concerned about Monreal’s omission in respect of the disruptive potential it has. The player will be disappointed, a feeling likely to be compounded on Saturday when he doesn’t make the starting line-up. It’s part and parcel of the man-management Arsène has to employ, on this occasion managing the disappointment although that is tempered by seven places on the branch. No-one is going to be quite as gutted as their predecessors were when just twelve trod the Wembley turf.
Therein is the fundamental problem with cup squads, loyalty comes up against pragmatism as the chances of winning silverware increase. Morally, there is a clear case for loyalty to those deemed cup players but in any season, winning a trophy takes precedence. With the club looking for its first trophy in a decade, necessity overrides everything else, the chance to remove a millstone from around the players necks. Of course that is just to make way for a different millstone, a Premier League shaped one, but that is the nature of professional football; you are never as good as your last trophy.
Epitomising this problem is the goalkeepers. Lukasz Fabianski would rightly feel aggrieved if he does not start the final but is that the right decision for Arsenal? His ‘heroics’ in the penalty shootout were the building blocks for the win and it is nothing more than idle speculation as to how Wojciech Szczesny would have performed. The simple – and for, overriding – fact is that Szczesny is the club’s first choice goalkeeper, in the opinion of the manager.
Like right back, the situation is complicated by contractual disputes and how they impact on the future. It’s a different scenario in that respect, for the Poles. This occasion sees the deputy looking elsewhere for regular first team action and in that sense, I guess it makes it easier for Wenger to drop him to the bench.
And for the future, I think it important for Szczesny to play in the final. It gives him a sense of achievement, of bring a winner rather than looking at his medal and feeling he made no contribution to the victory. All of which presumes an Arsenal victory, something almost instinctive in a supporter of any large club. It’s why we love an underdog when other teams are playing, the bloody nose issued, the crushing sense of defeat on those occasions, these are things we understand, we can relate to and frankly, we enjoy all the more when someone rose suffers in this sense.
As a by-product, it offers an opportunity at redemption, the same chance bring afforded to Laurent Koscielny. Comparing both players to this who trod the turf that afternoon in 2011 shows the journey they have undertaken. Both more assured in their play, both less error prone.
Right back poses a similar question as the goalkeeper, fielding Bacary Sagna ahead of Carl Jenkinson is the obvious answer, meshing into fielding the strongest XI. From Arsène’s point of view, much would depend on whether he intends to replace Sagna or promote the younger players into the first team squad. Talk of deals with Toulouse suggest a new right back is on his way but if not, there is merit in selecting Jenkinson on Saturday for similar reasons to Szczesny, adding in to the mix that the England youngster would have that sense of winning earlier in his career. Maybe it can develop into a habit?
The overriding perspective has to be fielding the best team but to take Deschamps thoughts, that does not always mean the best players. It means what’s best for the club now and in the future. It would be no surprise if a tactical injury emerges this week to solve a dilemma for the manager…