Arsène has his personal hearing at the Football Association today, desperately hoping to avoid a ban which is longer than two games or starting on Monday. The objective is to be back on the touchline for the trip to Stamford Bridge. If the FA placed any store in the lynch mob which rode out of Fleet Street on Sunday, there would be any need for bans; he’d already be strung up at a lamppost outside the Emirates, left there as a warning to other miscreants who prowl the technical areas.
Flippantly, we might jest that a ban won’t make any difference given his lack of visible emotion but a calming or inspiring – or both – word at half-time might make all the difference. Wenger is resigned to a ban – rightly so – and it’s a sign of his priorities that missing the FA Cup tie at Southampton is rated as less important than avoiding a ban at Stamford Bridge. It’s not a hard decision to understand on the one hand, with an Arsenal victory necessary to avoid the title hopes for another season going south. On the other, there are many of us who believe the FA Cup is the last realistic remaining hope of silverware this season.
Surely the manager sees it similarly?
Supporter cynicism vs. professional hope
I’m not suggesting he throw in the towel in the Premier League. Aim low, you finish lower. Believing the title to still be obtainable at eight points behind Chelsea is what you’d expect of a professional. Not for them, the luxury of cynicism afforded the supporter. Or hope, let’s be fair; some still retain faith in the title challenge. Everyone’s a winner if hope triumphs although I think reality is going to slap a few around the face in the next two league matches. I don’t see Chelsea losing at Anfield, and if we’re honest, a point at Stamford Bridge is a good result for us at the moment.
The FA Cup trip to Southampton was always tricky and reaching the fourth round, as well as Wembley at Liverpool’s expense, has turned their horrible form around. Arsène spoke about squad rotation yesterday, primarily keeping key players fit for Watford and Chelsea. While this is a ‘squad game’, I don’t hold with rotation for the sake of it. ‘Oh it’s a cup game, so-and-so must play’, takes no notice of the opposition or the replaced player’s form.
That’s harsh on some good players who aren’t getting game time but tough; that’s professional sport. For Southampton, personally, I feel there is a better case for fielding the strongest side than against Watford. At the Emirates, the lesser-used players may feel more comfortable against weak opposition. The Hornets form is so wretched that it’s almost a case of being able to field the youths to win; six points from the last thirty makes this a more winnable game with a rotated line-up than tomorrow, surely?
Champions League killed the domestic Cup star
Equally, if Wenger, as expected, picks up a stadium ban, an away match at a club which has just beaten a top four rival in their own backyard, is a compelling argument for the strongest line-up to be fielded. We’ve got such a poor record at St Mary’s that he needs players whose hands don’t need holding at half-time or during the match, rather than a line-up which has probably never played together before. Some players are inevitably in the ‘red zone’ or whatever the hell it’s called now, but that’s no excuse to make seven or eight changes.
When the League Cup became a second class competition, the FA Cup was never going to be far behind. Talk years ago of the domestic cup winners being given a berth in the Champions League underlined the damage wrought by the engorged European Cup. The suits floundered in the sand and managers fielded weakened sides without fear or shame.
Wenger was at the vanguard of that decision, by no means on his own and certainly not only culpable. We never had the chance to withdraw our side from the FA Cup, but I don’t think Arsenal would have trodden any different path from Manchester United in that respect.
Now there’s less excuse. The consecutive triumphs in 2014 and 2015 re-opened Arsène to the possibility of winning a cup being a good idea. Are we set for a repeat of the Hull victory with Wenger renewing his contract in an emotional decision? You wouldn’t rule it out.
Final dreams and Dad’s Jukebox
However, the prospect of a title win holding sway in that decision was holed at Goodison Park and Dean Court. Eight points would be three; the seemingly impossible becomes the plausible. We’re not going to win the Champions League; nothing from our recent past suggests we’ll challenge for it or even beat Bayern Munich over two legs. Which leaves the FA Cup. How I wish Arsène you would pick your best side for tomorrow; go hell for leather to win the competition.
There doesn’t have to be a trade-off between the Cup and Premier League. Fielding a weakened team suggests you believe there is.
On Dad’s Jukebox, there is a Charlatans special while a new widget in the sidebar here showing the current playlist.