Watford Preview: Wembley Beckons

PFA Cup quarter-final day. Arsenal’s last chance at glory and a strong XI is required with Watford likely to field the same. Arsène has been keen to stress that everyone is focussed on today, and that’s how it should be. We aren’t going to win the Champions League – we won’t even win in the Camp Nou – nor will we be crowned Premier League champions come May.

We can however win the FA Cup and looking at the likely semi-finalists – as well as those who’ve made it so far – there is no-one to be scared of, nor any particular bogey side. The future is there to be grasped.

An about-face from Arsène when you think back to half a decade or more, ago. Similar circumstances would have seen a rag-tag crew of reserves and assembled ne’er-do-wells take the field in the hope of sneaking into the latter stages, by which time the Champions League would be over for the current season and safely tucked up in next season’s bed, waiting to be told when it could get up and play again.

It didn’t work out that way but the last two years have seen the FA Cup provide respite from the burdens of the past and the travails of the present. This year is no different. No, Arsène, it is not always easy to win the FA Cup but you didn’t half make it harder for yourself by giving it a low priority, even when reaching the semi-finals offered you a glimpse of the release it could bring.

That’s the past, and we’re in the here and now. Watford, seemingly safe from the relegation battle, pose the strongest test this season so far which underlines how kind the draws have been. We’ve made hard work of it at times though but the object of the exercise is to get through to the next round and that’s been achieved. Today’s team ought to be as strong a line-up as Arsène can field with that objective in mind:

Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gibbs; Coquelin, Elneny; Walcott, Özil, Campbell; Giroud

It’s not going to be so clear-cut, I think. There’s praise for Alex Iwobi from the manager in today’s programme notes which makes me wonder if Özil might join Alexis on the bench and I would be surprised if Gabriel plays, even if he is fit. Injury to him or Per Mertesacker would leave Wenger short of options for the Camp Nou, if Laurent Koscielny isn’t going to make it. The answer to that one is likely to be found in today’s teamsheet.

Aaron Ramsey’s injury at Hull may well colour Wenger’s thinking about today’s match. Does he risk his ‘stars’, his key players, just when some are recovering their goalscoring form or does he rest them in a vain attempt at glory in Barcelona. It’s win or bust today with little room for sentiment.

Wenger bemoaned the pressure he finds himself under. No trophies, he recalled, brought criticism that “You don’t even win the FA Cup”, which once landed led to calls for bigger prizes. Those prizes remain as elusive as they ever did when the financial straitjacket was tied. It’s a high pressure job but one which is not under threat from above as Stan Kroenke’s admiration for Wenger made clear at a sports business symposium last week.

Whether the manager feels the same isn’t entirely clear and the weariness of the pressure seemed more pronounced in tone during the interview, as you might expect in a profession where a simple cough can lead to claims of a strain which will keep you out for a few weeks.

“I can only make sure of one thing – I am completely committed to perform and I do my best to make sure this club does well”: no-one has ever doubted his commitment to that cause, simply the manner in which he goes about it. Does he make best use of the available resources? Stan thought so, I think differently and hindsight, moments of reflection, probably leave Wenger himself thinking he might have done things another way at a particular moment in time.

But for today’s match, that is all a sideshow, a distraction. Wenger knows, as do the players, that victory is all. Losers are not remembered beyond a fleeting thought and a feeble argument years later, about what might have been. We don’t recall FA Cup exits with any fondness and this season’s competition has so far, stopped the air turning sour. Or more so, perhaps I should say.

City’s draw at Norwich yesterday helped Arsenal in the quest for a top four place at the end of the season; it’s always nice to have a buffer of at least one team between yourselves and the Europa League. That’s a thought for another day: today is FA Cup Sunday and winning is the bee-all and end-all.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

341 thoughts on “Watford Preview: Wembley Beckons

  1. The Wenger Era is now officially over. He needs to leave asap if Arsenal has any chance of becoming a top football club again.

  2. There are plenty of farces in the Arsenal universe right now.

    Almost all of them revolve around a clueless individual being allowed total control at a major club and being allowed to serially underperform in several aspects of his job season after season without any consequence.

    Wenger, you are a walking, talking farce, it’s time to fuck off.

  3. Strangely, like quite a few others (and contrary to what some wenger apologists claim), I’m not even angry, I’ve just had enough of the lies and the arrogance.

    My best mate for over 45 years and his son (my godson), stayed wenger fans even after I started realizing he was a busted flush after the RvP sale.

    Both of them have stopped watching Arsenal games since the Manu one and stated they will not watch another Arsenal game until he’s gone.

    It’s only going to get worse. Someone needs to help,him understand that when you’re in a hole you need to stop digging.

  4. For me my opinion of Arsene is not and should not be consistent whatever happens. If he wins, hoorah carry on in your job, you are doing well.

    If he is not performing then he needs to go,. I don’t understand how this is so tough for people to understand, if i do well in my job i get to keep it and maybe a promotion. If i don’t do well then i get fired and they find someone better.

    It’s really simple.

  5. Bill

    Fuck me, you are so literal. I already said it wasn’t easy. I know it it bloody difficult to break down a team who pack their defence. I’m not expecting miracles from Arsenal, those rarely happen (apart from 89). We don’t go into those games with a full set of tools, it’s like forgetting to have the set of Allen keys that you don’t use very often. It doesn’t mean we can break every defence, but we will always do a piss poor job if we only have a limit to the options we offer.

  6. Thanks Wavey 🙂

    Before anyone conveniently suggests I blame everything on AW I would like to add that there is far more wrong with the club than simply the manager, although he is a major part of the problem. I’ve seen Kroenke’s comments and if he ever shows his face at the Ems again it will be too soon. He needs to be left in no doubt about the contempt in which a large portion of the fan base hold him. He and his ilk are parasites pure and simple.

    The players don’t get off scot free either. Another reason for a new manager is that he will have no favourites and is more likely to take the necessary action to move on those that are not good enough or do not have the right attitude. We need someone who has no emotional investment in any individual and who will be prepared to view the squad dispassionately and build a team rather than try to forge one based on some ideological view of ‘how the game should be played’.

  7. @consolsbob. thanks for your friendly vision and yes I overintellectuate too much, one or two kind of membranes us people can stumble into. Been Arsenal since 1979 though, from a distance.

  8. In my opinion, it is the atmosphere that has been created at Arsenal where there is no accountability for manager or players.

    And the whole nice, amicable calm atmosphere. That works when things are going well but when things are going to pot, someone needs to be shouting, someone needs to grab the players and say “You are playing for you future”.

    But the thing is, they are not, they know they are safe.

    And the cycle continues.

  9. @Moe

    Thats the main reason all of this really bothers me. Why does it have to be that way, we should all support Arsenal and its like the people that are doing the questioning of how people support the club are more questioning people’s support of Arsene. I have said it before and will say it again, AFC doesn’t stand for Arsene FC and if it does then thats a shame and I question how will they support Arsenal once Arsene leaves.

  10. Well on to the performance.

    Ozil was top class. Campbell again showed why he deserves a starting spot both now and in the future. While Elneny forgot his shooting boots, I thought he played well and is starting to show more and more of his talents. Welbeck made an immediate impact as did Iwobi.

    Giroud and Sanchez were both poor. Giroud’s falling and arms raised is really starting to grow old. Not sure Theo even had a touch. Gibbs and Chambers, it was clear both attacking and defending, why they aren’t first choice. Chambers is not a RB, there I said it. Mert played well in the first half and then he and Gabriel struggled in the 2nd half. Le Coq, he needa to really remember what made him vital to the team.

  11. Wavey.

    If what you say about the players is true and they were willing to engineer a truly major tactical switch as dropping deep and playing on the break against Man City then don’t you think they would be willing to try some subtle in game switches if there was something they could do differently to help us break down a parked bus. Wouldn’t Ozil walk up to Sanchez and Giroud or Campbell during a match and decide to try something a bit different.

  12. @ C – My concern is that they will jump on any perceived failing by the new manager to prove that “we should have never let Arsene go”, or “see, we said that it was only because of Arsene that we were a ‘top’ club”. If they cannot get behind the new manager and are only interested in their own agenda then I’d be quite happy for them to leave with their idol when he finally quits.

  13. Bill

    That suggests that they have to run their own tactics on the hoof. Shouldn’t that be fed to them by the coaching staff? That’s the fundamental problem. If the players instigated a change (and the perceived wisdom is that they did) did they lay down the tactics, or ask the coaching staff to change it? From the subsequent use of the same tactics I assume the latter. So either the players have to keep requesting the manager changes things, or the manager works it out for himself. Given that the general comments suggest the players can play their own game on the pitch, the likelihood is that we don’t know how to change things.

  14. Andy

    And that is one of the reasons that I will give up my season ticket. Apathy is not the answer, but Silent Stan is now proving that he has little regard for the fans and I cannot see how any paying fan can keep paying that parasite. Unfortunately the blind will keep paying. Whilst that continues I personally cannot keep paying that scum.

  15. Pep, Mourinho,Conte and Klopp with a chance to build his own team.

    That’s the competition next season.

    This year was our best chance in a long time to win the league and i’m not sure when we will win it next.

  16. Good for you Wavey, although it’s a sad day when it comes to that. Stan can’t live forever, but I suspect that son of Stan will be little different. I’d be quite happy if the game loses it’s appeal to the prawn sandwich brigade and the TV companies, the greedy lazy players can climb off the gravy train and take the parasitical owners with them.

    And perhaps football will be a sport again not just another part of the entertainment business.

  17. @andy

    Its okay if they do jump on those wagons, so be it, but if a couple weeks or months of that starts to reap its benefits then so be it, small price to play for the greater good of the club which is all I care about.

  18. Thought half way through the first half when we didn’t take a couple of half chances, this is the sort of game we lose. Spot on

    Thought at the final whistle that there will be fans out there who will say, “great, now we can focus on the league. It’s been the mental block of a home game against Watford that’s been holding us back there”. Again, spot on

    I’m so bored of it all. It’s so predictable that Im numb to it

  19. When Stan says things like “brand loyalty” he really does expose himself

    That translates as “I buy sports franchises (yup, that’s what we are now) because I can serve up as much shit as I like, the mugs just keep coming back and buying it because it says Arsenal on it

    He can fuck right off with that

    TV subscription being binned tomorrow and I won’t be giving the club another penny for the foreseeable. When the culture of mediocrity goes (I don’t mean if we start winning, I mean when the club as a whole strives to be the best it can. You can do that and still lose games. It’s a risk Stan would rather not take though), I’ll consider coming back

    Ta ta

  20. Wenger: ‘Judge us at the end of the season’

    From where I’m sitting, it looks like the End of the season to me Arsene?

  21. Mid field authority?

    Coquelin and Elneny?

    Just saying Coquelin has shipped 7 goals in the last 4 games.
    Elneny when he had to help hold following Coquelin’s sending off let slip 2 goals in as many minutes.

    Yet many think they are better than Flamini-Ramsey?

    Last game with Flamini and Elneny we kept a clean sheet to Hull.

    Flamini Ramsey has also kept clean sheets against Soton, Stoke, Bournemouth amongst others.

    But somehow Flamini is never good enough.

    Coquelin minus Santi is not the same.

    People got carried away with over praising Coquelin much the same as Elneny recently.

    I’m not saying they are poor but people make too much of them and have the reverse bias against Flamini unfairly.

    Its the same with Per and ‘pace’ argument.

    Again everyone was harping on about how Gabriel would be way better than Per in partnership with Koscielny. They did poorly together.

    I’m not saying they are to blame for today’s defeat.

    Our attack has also somehow lost its cohesion and belief. This was suppose to have improved with the re-introduction of Coquelin since Ramini apparently lacked balance.

    It has not.

  22. This is indeed a massive blow.

    The FA cup is suppose to be the insurance to at least a MINIMUM standard. It is a high level of minimum standard but if Wenger cannot achieve it, the knives will be out in force.

    8 Points in the league is a big ask considering how erratic the team is.

    Overturing the CL tie against Barca looks like a farce.

    Finishing beneath Spurs is a real possibility.

    I think the following needs to be done :

    1) Get rid of Walcott. He is far too erratic. His advantage of pace will also start to wear out with age. Sell him for a good price and get another striker who can add a bit of invention AND finish. We will still have Welbeck developing but this will be a hedge against any Welbeck wrong turn. Giroud is OK since his pace will not be an issue anyway with age. He is another method in breakig down the opponents. We just can’t rely on him to be the only method if Walcott cannot contribute.

    2)Elneny is OK but in truth we needed a Diaby or Pogba type player in midfield. NO schneiderlin. We need to find this player and not take chances with up and coming players in this position.

    3) Gabriel may improve. If we remember Koscielny, he had a very difficult first season with plenty of reds and own goals. BUT we need someone better in the squad. Calum can continue to play in his natural position as Rback but we cannot take risk in centre of defense. Per is still excellent but he will need to take a retiring role in the squad. Meanwhile someone like Hummels may be perfect.

    As far as the gaffer is concern. I don’t think he is going anywhere unless he wants to TBH.

    A lot will depend on how he sees his own replacements. Perhaps a Blanc or Deschamp, someone who shares similar ethos maybe.

    Meanwhile, if he doesn’t take the concrete (minimal) steps above, we will have similar issues again next season.

    Its a shame really because we were even closer this season to competing. I think the main issue was he did not sign someone like a Kongdogbia last summer in addition to Cech.

    I’ve mentioned before that Wenger flatters to deceive because he is good in market. He doesn’t need to spend astronomical but he needs to realise this and spend a bit more if necessary for slightly better players.

    OTOH again, no amount of spending is going to help if the likes of Leicester can do what they are doing for 17m spend on entire squ

  23. Really?

    He didn’t even play yesterday and you still manage to post about your little love child?

    Grow up from trying to use every game to prove you were right. You’re not

    You won’t accept that the common theme is Wenger. It doesn’t matter whose playing. Look man, just look at what’s happening

  24. G4E

    Not sure if you know the late, great, Bill Hicks? He once said…

    “You’re right! You’re right! Not those fuckers who want to tell you how to think! You’re fucking right!”

  25. The next home game is April 2nd. When we host…. Watford!!

    I’ll be interested to see what the mood is like at The Emirates that afternoon. Particularly if the next two games pan out how I think they will

  26. Morning Damon.

    You asked me if my tipping point was the Swansea game. Actually it was the MU match. The result was so predictable and then, of course, we were bound to lose to Swansea.

    I admire your courage. I can’t dump the subscription to TV, I’d miss the cricket!

  27. Morning Bob

    With the benefit of hindsight, I think it might have been for me too. However, my circumstance at the time meant that I was rather happy and carefree. It kind of washed over me but didn’t take hold. I think I also convinced myself it didn’t matter and there was time to turn it around

    Either way, it doesn’t really make any difference now

    I can’t remember who it was, Orson maybe, but I was directed to an android app that makes games available. I didn’t pick that one, but one similar that made all world sports channels available. Lots of cricket there!

  28. Ahhh, what to make of all this eh?

    We played as we have for large periods of the season. Decent enough; nice football. But no penetration. We are a good footballing side, but we are not a clinical one. And we don’t have the players to be clinical; until that changes, we will remain the same.

    I have never been one to call for AW to leave, but I really am starting to come around to that way of thinking now. His decision to not bolster the squad in summer bordered on negligence, and now, in a season where we really could have romped home with the lge, it is now yet another farce (to use AW’s words). It is horrible to see him falter like this, but I think it is time for a fresh approach.

    As ever, we are only a few players away from a winning formula, but, as ever, we failed to get these players (did we even attempt to?) despite massive resources.

    I am not even angry, just sad.

  29. F365’s evisceration…

    “As long as you don’t win everything it’s never enough. When we didn’t win anything they said you didn’t even win the FA Cup. People always want more” – Arsene Wenger, March 12.
    Wenger was right; the FA Cup wouldn’t have been enough. Such were the cash reserves available to improve his squad and such was Wenger’s insistence that he had sufficient strength at his disposal, this failure was all on him. Victory at Wembley in May would have been enjoyable, but unsatisfactory. It would have been something.

    Now, Arsenal are relying on making up eight points in nine league games to avoid a ninth trophyless season in their last 11. A campaign that promised so much is ending in disarray, just as Wenger promised it wouldn’t. Just as we all knew it would.

    In previous matches it was Arsenal’s central midfield that has looked most suspect, with Francis Coquelin’s ill-discipline and Mathieu Flamini’s spectacularly obvious flaws both exposed. Against Watford it was the turn of central defence to put on the slapstick show. Gabriel continues to look prone to lapses in concentration, positioning and intelligent thought. The Brazilian’s two-footed lunge on Troy Deeney was matched only for incompetence by Andre Marriner’s refusal to even award a free-kick. Gabriel took advantage of his reprieve by playing Goldilocks, first getting too close to Odion Ighalo (and thus allowing him to turn and score the first goal) and then not close enough. Neither Gabriel and Per Mertesacker ever got it just right.

    Again, Arsenal have fallen flat on their faces at the precise time when it matters most. They are a fair weather club, capable of majestic football when the sun is shining and the pressure is off, but liable to disappear like candy floss in a rainstorm when the pressure is on. Wenger’s own protestations to the contrary look increasingly like wilful naivety.

    Since the FA Cup third round victory over Sunderland in January, their record reads: Won 4, Drew 5, Lost 5. The only teams beaten are Championship Hull, Championship Burnley, Bournemouth and ten-man Leicester. Arsenal have lost three straight home games for the first time since November 2002.

    It’s a line we have used plenty of times before, but the basic task of a manager is to make a team perform equivalent to the sum of its parts. Good managers makes the whole perform greater the component sum, while the greatest do so for an extended period of time, creating not just one but several of these teams. For a while, that was Wenger.

    Not any longer. Arsenal’s manager has impressive individuals at his disposal, but all are under-performing. The exception is Mesut Ozil, and you wonder just how long the German will hang around under a smog of ineptitude. There were times when players were lucky to play for Arsenal, but the opposite is now true. Supporters are told that they should be thankful for previous successes enjoyed under Wenger, but gratitude for the past is not mutually exclusive to major concerns about the here and now.

    So entrenched is Arsenal’s behaviour patterns that the short-term future is easy to predict. Arsenal will lose to Barcelona but rally in the league, providing a meaningful but ultimately unsuccessful title challenge. If Leicester win the league, Arsenal players and manager will remark that many big clubs have missed an opportunity. This will be a collective failure.

    Throw in the odd compliment from Wenger over the club’s mental strength to overcome the adversity of February and March, and you have the ingredients for the perfect cake to celebrate Champions League qualification. As if that is a reasonable ceiling for ambition.

    “We want to make the impossible possible in Barcelona,” Wenger said in his post-match press conference, to the groans of a million supporters. You’re treating them like idiots, Arsene.

    Therein lies the manager’s problem; he’s entirely missing the point. Wenger’s remit is no longer to make the impossible possible, just stop the possible becoming so damn improbable every year. He’s failed on that front again.

  30. In the cold hard light of day, I feel no different.
    This club is screwed with Kroenke and his toxic ideas owning the club.
    Wenger is like the last guest who refuses to leave the party, even when everybody knows it’s over.

  31. Santori.

    Le Coq and Elneny are young, that is part of the problem, but they look ok considering. If I was to point a finger it would be at our formation which plays four attackers and only 2 in midfield when we need 3. Remember too that we have weakened the squad by stuffing it with 7 CMs currently who are mostly bit part players – one played Sunday as a 10. On Sunday the DMs were young guys, but usually it is the Flaming retard who also likes to throw himself forward leaving the gate wide open rather than just ajar as yesterday, it shows the tactics are wonk.
    We pretend that we play 4,5,1 when we are playing 4,2,1,3 the 1 (Ozil) does not do much defending. When you mix this with Flamini or whoever zooming forward with the wide defensive pair it leaves us completely open to the counter that did for us yesterday…and so often before. Not the DMs fault, they can’t shut the door.
    But worst of all, opposing teams would not have that luxury if we had any competent forwards who took their chances and put pressure on teams by scoring goals. Losing a goal is what forces a team to push men forward and attack, which is why Hull lost by 4 after defending well at 0 -0.
    Don’t take your chances and you can’t win. No amount of pressure yesterday made us look like we would score whereas they just needed a squeak.

Comments are closed.