It’s the FA Cup, it must be Hull City. For the third consecutive season, the two sides face each other at a London venue and with home advantage, Arsène is seeking to avoid a pratfall in what is his 100th FA Cup tie. A win as comfortable as last season’s third round will be most welcome.
With half an eye on the midweek meeting with Barcelona, the lunchtime XI will be rotated as Wenger looks to confirm fitness in some whilst preserving others. Petr Cech, we know, won’t play today with Arsène confirming that Ospina is set to get a rare outing.
There biggest decisions though concern Danny Welbeck and Laurent Koscielny. Having scored the winner last weekend, there is something of a clamour for Welbeck to start yet that is almost contrary to the decisions Wenger has taken with other players who have been absent for some time. I’d be concerned that anything more than a substitute appearance is pushing Welbeck too far too soon.
Gabriel’s injury should mean Koscielny is rested today. Whilst the Brazilian is running outside according to Wenger, playing his first choice central defensive pairing is a huge risk with injury offering the potential of the inexperienced Chambers facing Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Perhaps Mathieu Flamini can get his new company to take a break from saving the planet and get them producing some replacement limbs for injured colleagues.
The prospect of changing the FA Cup is a step too far for the usually forward-thinking Wenger. His first cup final was in monochrome and even if it reduces the number of games clubs play, Arsène doesn’t want to do away with replays,
I have been vaccinated by the FA rules after such a long time here and become a very conservative Englishman. So I am nervous about changing the rules because I like them as they are now.
If we get rid of the replays it looks like we get more money and play less games and that is a bit of a contradiction. Next season we have even more money coming in so every Premier League club will have 25 top level players.
I am convinced that we can all compete with the number of games we have to play so there is no real need to change the rules.
“25 top level players”? At least he didn’t say all of them would be fit…
I’m not sure what more money from the Premier League broadcast deal has to do with restructuring the FA Cup but to find Wenger opposed to change is surprising. I can see why disposing of replays in isolation is window dressing; it has to be part of a wider, more significant package of changes. Those which genuinely benefit player health such as reducing the number of clubs in the Premier League, won’t happen; turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.
Steve Bruce has threatened wholesale changes with a derby at Elland Road on Tuesday night. When the underdogs are reducing the status of the FA Cup, you wonder what exactly it is that Wenger is protecting. The romance of the cup is a thing of the past, destroyed by apparent progress in other competitions and money. The world we remember is long gone and the joy of the likes of Hereford, Colchester, Sunderland dumping on bigger clubs is lost in the mists of time.
More important to him though, is recognition of his achievements. And consistency. Definitely the consistency. Which is either creditable or meaningless, depending on who you talk to. Wenger noted that Arsenal “are the only one club who, for such a long time, has always been at the top.”
It’s a bone of contention that a decade of that spell was without seriously challenging for trophies and stagnation or lack of ambition in the league. That Wenger regularly reduced his FA Cup sides to a reserve XI undermines his notion of love for the competition. However, let’s not confuse success with consistency. Finishing in the top four was always his target, the priority for the club and he achieved that consistently.
I don’t think anyone has doubted his claim that “it demands very hard commitment and work.” Indeed, I don’t think anyone has ever accused him of shirking his responsibilities as Arsenal manager and nor should they. Yet there is a feeling that more could have been achieved in that time and this season remains on the cusp of being another one cast as a missed opportunity.
Retaining the FA Cup would mitigate that to some extent but the Premier League is the key target and not being crowned champions this season would in my view be as disappointing as losing a cup final that we were expected to win. Watching the midweek European matches, it’s baffling how we haven’t put ourselves in a position where we are clear at the top of the table.
All of which is a pre-amble. The crucial aspect of today is winning and I expect the XI to be similar to:
Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gibbs; Flamini, Elneny; Campbell, Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide; Walcott
And win they ought to. Arsène reflected on how close the 2013 final came to slipping away from Arsenal. This time, at home and like last season, ought to be more comfortable. Mind you, I remember thinking that about Blackburn in the last cup tie we lost. Not an afternoon I care to see a repeat of.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.