Saturday morning and the bloated FA Cup weekend’s continue. It’s reaching a point where the fourth round will struggle to be completed when the Quarter-Final draw is made. “One. Arsenal, Manchester City, Brighton and Hove Albion or Middlesbrough will play Number 6.That’s Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Southampton or Bolton Wanderers…”
In the meantime, you can enjoy this morning’s playlist, Dancing Shoes, which can be found in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox or in your browser here.
Arsène spoke to the media yesterday, hinting at the usual changes to the team for the cup competitions. Wojciech Szczesny will strut his funky stuff in goal whilst Gabriel is set to make his awaited début. It’s not quite long-awaited, he’s only been at Arsenal three weeks or so.
Anticipated? I think so, £11m is not a small fee so the promise of a good player is there, emphasized by the reports of his time at Villarreal which were wholly positive. Laurent Koscielny’s shoulder is the doubt ahead of tomorrow’s match, with the general consensus being that the French international is the one earmarked to partner Gabriel in the centre of defence.
To some extent, I’m surprised by that. Mertesacker offers the calmness, the experience that you would expect to bring some calm and help the new boy settle in. Not the case it seems. I wonder if Arsène thinks Koscielny’s pace offers the prospect of cover if Gabriel’s nerves take over?
Language, it seems, is also a problem. His grasp of English is minimal according to the manager, a problem that Wenger related to as he recalled his time in Japan and the struggles with a new language. He highlighted the fundamental issue for the Brazilian,
“The disadvantages are the scope for costly communication breakdowns. It is a problem. When you don’t speak English and you don’t understand: ‘Come out, come back, right, left,’ it is a problem for a defender. You need to know the key words: ‘Referee. Offside. Foul’.“
I don’t know why Arsène is worried, his defence have played like they don’t understand each other for most of the season so Gabriel should fit right in.
Wenger has been a successful cup manager and is rightly proud of his record forged in the first half of his reign. Winning the cup was part of the momentum, especially leading into The Invincibles, with the final in 2003 just keeping the trophy winning mentality ticking over.
Revisionism was in the air though. Arsenal, the manager claimed, had suffered in the Champions League due to fielding strong sides in the cup in matches preceding European ties. I seem to recall the opposite holding true more often than not in recent seasons as Blackburn will attest.
There’s no doubt Arsène has fielded teams that he thinks can win the domestic cup ties and to be fair, only when it goes wrong does anyone complain. Others followed his lead and now it’s considered the norm to have distinct XI’s for the senior competitions with cups seeing a number of changes.
It’s taken Arsène a while to find the balance and there’s no doubt that the stronger squad helps. When you think back to some of the sides fielded, it seems surprising that just United and Stoke handed us our Arsenal’s on a plate.
By his own admission, the FA Cup was third on his list of priorities behind a top four finish and the Champions League. That’s fair enough, the Premier League and Europe is where modern football is focussed. As he noted though, winning a trophy is important, especially at a club like Arsenal. When seasons pan out as this one has, a cup run brings welcome relief from the inconsistencies which besiege the league campaign. With a favourable draw in the Champions League, the next four weeks offer the prospect of a spring in our step.
It’s all relative of course, and retaining the FA Cup won’t disguise the fact that this season hasn’t been the stride forward that was hoped for or expected. Why win it all in one go? There’s always next season…
From The Vaults
The early 1980s were proving to be a graveyard for Arsenal dreams but 1982-83 hinted at a return to former cup glories. Tottenham had taken over as cup kings of north London with consecutive FA Cup wins following Arsenal’s three-in-a-row final appearances from 1978 to 1980 but hints of a recovery were on show.
Either side of these meetings with Middlesbrough, Arsenal faced Manchester United in the League Cup semi-final; it didn’t end well, United winning 4-2 at Highbury and 2-1 at Old Trafford but with the League a distant dream, any success was welcome.
The FA Cup provided hope albeit with a tighter affair than many expected. Malcolm Allison may have ditched the fedora but his penchant for big cup days hadn’t diminished. ‘Boro had made hard work of reaching the fifth round, scraping past Bishop’s Stortford in a third round replay before overcoming Notts County – then a top-flight club – before this meeting with Arsenal.
He probably fancied their chances; Arsenal were twelfth in the First Division as Terry Neill struggled to take what was on paper a talented squad back to the heady heights of yesteryear. In truth, his reign was coming to an end; by the end of the year, defeat at home to Walsall would all but signal his departure.
But for a brief moment, the flame flickered as Arsenal offered hope of brighter times ahead.