It feels like some small respite in a sea of defining weeks. The match against Watford is no less important than any of the recent Premier League games – perhaps more so in light of those results – but with a meaningless trip to Barcelona in midweek, the pressure feels less.
The FA Cup remains Arsenal’s final hope of silverware this evening. I know some still believe we can be crowned champions but requiring three teams to collapse in order to do so, seems too much of a tall order if you ask me. Which, of course, you didn’t but there you go.
Team news, delivered briefly yesterday, was encouraging. As chaffing as it might be, I’m less concerned about Aaron Ramsey’s absence than the fitness of our centre backs. Koscielny’s return seems to be earmarked for Barcelona, particularly with Mertesacker and Gabriel passed fit for the weekend. I wonder if one might be rested to ensure we have at least one experienced central defender in Catalunya?
Ramsey meanwhile, quickly slipped into a sensationalist headline or two over Euro2016. Gratuitous scaremongering has never been in short supply in Fleet Street or Wapping, and they didn’t disappoint with the news that the Welshman will be out for several weeks. Yes, OK, Arsène said it was a “small alert” which will no doubt quickly escalate into a three-week absence. He seems to be talking about lunar weeks when he mentions that timescale.
Arsène’s decisions are once more being made for him – which is not necessarily a bad thing in this instance, giving Mohammed Elneny a run in the side and in fairness, alongside Francis Coquelin, we’ve looked more solid with Ramsey sating his forward desire from the flank.
It’s a more ‘traditional’ Wenger midfield in that respect, with one of the wide players, typically on the right, likely to come inside and not really being a winger in the truest sense of the word. Even Theo Walcott falls into that category to some extent. Hopefully not too hard, Theo falling invariably leads to injury.
Which begs the question whether he will be the biggest beneficiary of Ramsey’s absence. Having scored once in sixteen, he’s now got three in four games, even if two of them came on Tuesday. A hint of some form at last this season or a flash in the pan.
Walcott is the biggest enigma in that sense. Plenty would offload he and Oxlade-Chamberlain this coming summer and whilst I think either going is unlikely, it underlines how low their stock has fallen although it’s fair to say that not many of the players have covered themselves in glory over the course of this campaign.
Goals have been the fundamental problem, or scoring consistently. Giroud and Walcott’s braces at Hull offer a glimmer of hope that the famine is over but we need more than a shaft of light, even if that’s all we have at the moment. Alexis spoke of sleepless nights and I wonder if Olivier Giroud feels the same. Good preparation for the recent arrival of his son.
We’ve endured the famine, seen a season’s hopes limp forlornly into the past but with two months remaining, there is the chance of a third cup win. Focus on that and the inevitable charge to the fourth place trophy, and we remain treading water.
Seeing how low down Tottenham’s priority list the Europa League is, you understand why Thursday nights remain a home for derogatory comments. That prospect can’t entirely be ruled out for Arsenal next season so the motivation is there for the players to shape up for the remaining nine games. Let’s see if it works.