The football family may be in the middle another interminable row but it’s Cup Final Saturday and frankly there’s nothing like a Shindig! to soothe troubled minds. Yours is here or in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox.
Last year’s cup final preview was easy; a bit lazy if you ask me, feeding off 2013’s “The ‘Cup Final Saturday and we’re not in it’ Post“, basically just polishing it up and adding some enthusiasm. Having lamented the diminished status of Cup Final Saturday, nostalgia is making a comeback and the BBC is trying to recreate yesteryear with all-day fiesta of football. The only thing missing is the Wembley Lounge, filled with guests and a chummy host from the 70’s to crack a few jokes. Yew Tree and its’ satellite investigations have well and truly put the kibosh on that notion; every time the Lounge door opened, the apprehension filling the air would be accompanied by severe palpitations with the expectation of a collar about to be felt.
The FA Cup held – and still does to some extent – an affection in the nation’s heart. Times have moved on and live coverage of every Premier League game through fair means or foul, has reduced the novelty in the scant pickings of live club football during the year. Indeed, it marked the beginning of a small party of football with the British Home Championship matches following shortly after.
But it was the FA Cup Final that was the centre of attention, although to be fair Mel Gibson was an avid fan of Scotland taking on the Auld Enemy, using that match as an inspiration for trundling down the hill, bellowing “For freedom!” in the shoddiest accent imaginable. His face wasn’t daubed blue, that was the ill-effects of one too many beers the night before.
Then the “old men“, as Dyke labelled them, traded reputation for the pound coins lobbed at them from sidelines as they slid down the slide in their Cup Final It’s A Knockout, probably being knocked off their course by Stuart Hall’s rope ladder from the Scrubs window as they slid by.
Talking to friends about the match, you sense there’s a latent envy about Arsenal being in the final, especially one in consecutive years. Local clubs count the decades between appearances – and the plural is apposite – with the reality that a similar time will elapse before the next one, if not longer. Arsène meanwhile is looking to become the most successful manager in the modern era by winning his sixth FA Cup Final.
It’s a horrible phrase, ‘modern era’; it reeks of the expunging of all football before Murdoch’s intervention in the sport. Why not just point out that Wenger will be as successful as the Aston Villa manager whose name escapes me, who won six cups between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’m guilty too, before you ask; I wasn’t paying attention when I read his name or the exact years quoted, more fixated on the fact that Arsène could equal his record by beating Aston Villa.
And Wenger will be looking to be the first Arsenal manager to retain the trophy since he last did it. Not that he is bothered by such things; don’t look back, move forward is his motto. It’s one for the team as well. Much of the talk this week has been around how the pressure is off compared to last year’s final. The millstone of a barren decade has gone but the pressure of expectation remains. Arsenal are expected to win today and for the most part, quite comfortably. We’re allowed to think that way, supporters aren’t the professionals. Hearts, draped in yellow ribbons, are being worn firmly on sleeves.
Coming close to being three goals down inside twenty minutes was something of a wake-up call for the players and Arsène hasn’t forgotten either. Had Kieran Gibbs not cleared off the line, Hull would have found themselves in the company of Cardiff, Swindon, Birmingham, Ipswich and West Ham; domestic finals Arsenal were expected to win and failed, on occasion, abysmally. Concentration and professionalism against a team who have been twice very comfortably, has to be the order of the day. Their own form has been worse than Arsenal’s recently; they have won two out of five since beating Liverpool in the semi-final. That victory has fuelled much of the optimism in neutrals but beating the Merseysiders has since been proven to be nothing that special. The romance of the cup though, has a habit of finding its own heroes.
Last weekend’s win over West Bromwich Albion threw a couple of cats among the Arsenal pigeons. Theo Walcott’s hat-trick caused pause for thought whilst Szczesny’s absence raised eyebrows; how could your cup goalkeeper just come in from the cold to play today? He’s had enough to take his mind off things thanks to Papa Szczesny with Junior venting yesterday. Bob Wilson believes Arsène will play the Pole; I’m not sure but Ospina’s problems with height last week have edged me toward Szczesny starting.
Flying under the radar is the choice for left back. Kieran Gibbs has managed a couple of games recently but Nacho Monreal’s consistency has been vastly under-rated, not just this season but pretty much since he joined. Although Gibbs will offer something more going forward, Monreal is a better defender which is at the root of that role in the side.
But it’s the forward line which vexes most. Danny Welbeck’s injury means there is a straight choice between Giroud and Walcott for the starting line-up place. Arsène can’t accommodate both as there would no experienced cover on the bench. Wenger has been effusive in his praise of Theo, the timing convenient not just for today but contract negotiations. Speaking this week he said,
“He can play on the flank, but if you ask me where do I see him in the future, it is through the middle. If you ask him, he will tell you as well through the middle. Why? Because he is a good enough finisher, he has electric pace and he has top, top quality in the timing of his runs. If you analyse that, it is the quality of his receptions, the space where he gets the ball basically, that is above average compared to many players.”
It seems as if he is trying to justify Walcott’s inclusion at kick-off with those words. Before last weekend, his adaptability made him favourite for a place on the bench but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return offers a right-sided option and for that reason, I would start with Walcott. It would ask different questions of Villa than the more straightforward qualities of Giroud. And a hat-trick does a player’s confidence no harm whatsoever.
Which leaves my starting line-up as:
Szczesny; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Ramsey, Özil, Sanchez; Walcott
As much as I don’t like Ramsey on the right, I think that’s where he will start today. The temptation to shift him centrally doesn’t exist for Arsène as the Welsh international has a tendency to drift infield anyway. It leaves Arsenal light on the right, playing to one of Walcott’s strengths; his mobility.
Not that such thoughts matter as Arsène will probably start Gibbs and Giroud. The manager has made a great play of the importance of the whole squad today, noting,
“The whole squad has to focus on doing it as most of the time the heroes are the guys who come on. I remember last year in extra-time I brought on [Tomas] Rosicky and Wilshere. After, I spoke with the Hull guys and they told me: ‘When we saw them coming on, we knew that we didn’t have a chance any more.’ Most of the time it is a squad achievement, a cup final.”
If this afternoon could be a little less stressful, please…
I’m sure that the engraver would prefer the easier task of appending Arsenal’s name to the cup using last season as his marker and to be honest, the FA Cup looks so much better drapped in yellow ribbons that claret. Time to deliver gentlemen and to keep that winning habit going; it’s much more enjoyable than a losing one.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.