The briefest of reportsd this morning, time has beaten me.
FA Cup Third Round weekend continues, Arsenal seeking to avoid being the highest-placed fall guys. Well, that was the planned beginning anyway. Thanks Jose, Manuel and Ronald; Louis, you wont’ be surprised, didn’t make the Cup his own and the United cover version team he put together is doing a passable impression of not wanting to take their flirtation any further.
C’mon, did you seriously think I wouldn’t laugh at the results yesterday? Yes, I know we may go the same way but frankly, today ought to serve as a warning to Arsenal. Play your best or you will be out on your Arsenal’s as well.
And with the derision heaped upon the club in recent years for their failure in big matches, let’s give a special mention to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea for wiping us out of the Bradford City’s immediate memory with a fabulous collapse. A quite special one.
It was a day Swansea’s exit slipped quietly by. Jesus, to think I questioned the romance of the cup? Not so much a bloody nose for the Premier League as a full on Michael Myers.
So to this afternoon. Sides who should know better apparently disrespected the FA Cup by changing their sides and paid the price. Will Arsenal do the same? It’s slightly different in this case. There are players who could do with a rest but the weaknesses in the squad which remain as of yet unresolved, prevent that. Reports suggest Joel Campbell will travel to Castellón as Gabriel jets into a work permit appeal hearing.
Equally, Arsenal need to build some momentum. The win at City gave Arsenal a tremendous boost, a real platform upon which to build for the remainder of the season. It needs the core of the side to remain in situ. Even so, I would expect five changes.
Most notably will surely be the return of Wojciech Szczesny as the club’s cup goalkeeper. A path to redemption for his indiscretions or faltering form, your disposition toward the Pole will dictate the reason. There’s a case for making that the only change in the back four and last week showed understandings have begun to be built.
Kieran Gibbs might come in Monreal but that depends on whether Arsène thinks more changes are warranted further up the field. It’s risky business, Walcott and Özil are ready to begin pushing on for challenging for starting line-up places in the senior competitions. They need match practice to do so and this afternoon, no matter what store we put in winning the FA Cup, is that opportunity.
Whatever your view on the German’s form for the club, having a player of that quality in the side or squad cannot do any harm. He’s proven for other clubs and his country that he has the abilities; it’s up to the manager to draw those out for Arsenal.
Özil’s return is a key moment for me. It offers the opportunity to rest Alexis. Colleagues and bosses marvel at the Chilean’s fitness levels but a rest must surely benefit him, especially with the business end of the season approaching. Having been pivotal in hauling Arsenal through an injury-riven spell, to lose him to the same is not far short of unthinkable.
It leaves the line-up as something like:
Which means that Özil for Sanchez will probably be the only change Arsène makes.
The FA Cup remains Arsenal’s best opportunity for silverware this season. Last May, the club saw the bounce that a trophy can bring around the place; repeating that cannot do any harm at all.
From The Vaults
Back to the George Graham era for an FA Cup tie at The Goldstone. Arsenal had not won a First Division game since Sheffield Wednesday succumbed to a 3 – 1 defeat at Highbury.
Millwall had been beaten in the Third Round whilst Wednesday were undone by Martin Hodge’s fumble at Hillsborough in the quarter-final of the League Cup or whatever the hell it was called then. I’ve erased it; I stood on Wembley’s crumbling terraces as Gus Caesar performed Bambi On Ice.
This sunny Winter’s afternoon sticks in the mind for the wrong reasons. Team photos outside the station, of confessions about carrots, candles in buns served on a silver tray to celebrate previously unknown birthdays. But it is memorable because the distance of time allows much laughter, probably more than at the time as the tribe descended from London and the Thames Valley, converging at Gatwick.
The train departed and as it sped toward the South Coast, tickets were dutifully doled out, most tucked into wallets and pockets for safe keeping. One didn’t, cherished as its new owner proudly stated that he couldn’t believe he’d got his prize and delivered the obligatory kiss. As his head raised from the paper, the ticket left his grasp and flew out of the small open window in the carriage.
Whether to laugh or cry tears of sympathy? Laugh, of course. Thankfully a replacement was procured at reasonably close to face value and Arsenal won. It wasn’t all bad with Tottenham providing the comedy moment of the Fourth Round by falling flat on their faces in a 2 – 1 defeat at the hands of Port Vale at Vale Park.