On Bans And Bothersome Cup Ties

5 signings

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.

’til Tomorrow.

45 thoughts on “On Bans And Bothersome Cup Ties

  1. As promised Mr C, a copy of an earlier comment. 🙂

    Mr C,

    When you get up and start blogging, I want a serious word with you re the Reus rumours.

    Didn’t the Germany manager Low say he left him out of the 2016 squad because he [Reus] had massive health problems – and that might explain why at 27 y.o. none of the ‘big’ clubs have already bought him.

    So explain yourself young man!!

    [If naughty Yogi closes this Post I will repeat it on the new one — we need to know!!] ?

  2. Morning all,

    I just don’t see AW fielding his strongest team against Southampton. There is no interest in the domestic cups at Board level and I’m guessing the prize isn’t enough to risk the top four and CL revenue. We’ve already seen a similar scenario play out regularly with cup games against Blackburn and Watford providing a clear indication of priorities. As has been stated by others, if the manager approaches domestic cup games with apathy, why would the players treat them any differently?

  3. Good Post, YW.

    Not sure about his ‘lack of visual emotion’ – as to me as the years have dragged by, he seems the epitome of a man under great strain and often looks like a human cork screw.

    Some of the best managers in Sport [Rugby/cricket/marbles] never give away emotional reactions – but that does not mean they are not feeling it – in AW’s case he shows it all – but without the gestures and mouthing demonstrated by Maureen and Klopp.

    Different folks – different strokes.

    Another reason, based on health grounds that I would like to see him become Director of Football or simply retire.

  4. Hi Wavey,

    Apathy? or priority?

    Putting out teams based on the manager’s perceived priorities is not unique to Arsenal.

  5. HenryB,

    He had an adductor injury which kept him out until late November. He has played 4 times since returning and appears to be right up to speed again.

  6. Thanks Wavey. Was that Wenger or Reus? 🙂

    I understand your emotion re perhaps another trophy less season, but Wenger clearly does care about the FA Cup, altho he does not always put out the ‘supposedly strongest’ teams.

    Just ask yourself; Of all the top managers, including Ferguson, who has won the FA Cup most times. The clue is in the question. Answer: Wenger @ 6 times.

    Of the current top 6 managers in the EPL who last won the FA Cup? And it was not Maureen! 🙂 Manyoo last year were managed by Van Gaal – who then got sacked – so the Manyoo Board did not much care for the Cup, presumably?

    Answer: Arsenal/Wenger in 2015, and oh, 2014 – so he is obviously apathetic about the FA cup.

    Sorry, Wavey – that comes across as a bit heavier than intended – but fans can forget things so quickly. 🙂

  7. HenryB,

    I haven’t claimed we are unique in that. I honestly don’t care what other teams do. I’m not campaigning for all teams to take the FA Cup seriously, I just want Arsenal to. And it does seem to be more apathy when the players turn up and just appear to go through the motions. We’ve even seen it in games we have managed to scrape through, like the Preston match. We nearly even screwed up the final against Hull because we turned up expecting to just roll them over. If Gibbs hadn’t cleared the ball off the line we might have given ourselves too much to do. I was at Wembley for that game and it was great to win it, but very frustrating that the team appeared so unprepared for a game. We’ve seen it many times before and since.

  8. HenryB,

    Morning mate!

    I read another fine post from Yogi, scroll down to make my first of probably many comments for the day and what do I find, you questioning my reporting on players! Well isn’t this a great start to the day: if I don’t report on my findings there is talk of replacing my futbol knowledge and reports, when I do report everything is questioned. Bloodie hell Arsenal or Yogi need to start paying me for this 😉

    Actually Lowe left him out because he had a groin problem at the time and while back in training it was clear that he wasn’t going to be fit for the tournament; so unlike England, Lowe did the smart thing and brought somebody else.

    With Reus its not that none of the other big clubs wanted him because they ALL chased him, but when they came calling that was part of Klopp’s revolution and he told them to fuck off he wanted to stay at Dortmund and win stuff not to mention he is a local boy from Dortmund so he is a ‘God-like’ figure there. Now he does have a history with injuries but they are generally prior to major tournaments. Personally, I would still have him because he is still one of the best wingers in all of Europe but I just don’t see it happening.

  9. Nice one Yogi

    I’m not sure Wenger or anyone for that matter knows what our best team is. Best team or not with Steve Bould at the helm I’m not expecting too much.

  10. HenryB,

    Not forgetting anything. I was at both finals and it was great to be there as a fan and see us lift the cup.
    I have said before that domestic cup runs appear to be a bonus for those running Arsenal. They aren’t huge revenue generators and are therefore something to appease the fans if they don’t impact on the main goals – top 4 and CL knock out phase. Yes, we won the cup two years running, but look how meekly we bowed out to Watford last season. We were the cup holders at the time and I would have expected more fight.

  11. I actually think that we have a shot at winning the PL but I also think that teh FA Cup should be a priority.

    With the line-ups I put out yesterday, I think that we should be able to do both and I disagree with you Yogi about Watford, Niang and Zarate will bring some life back into Watford who have been hit with quite a injury list this year. Both matches will provide their own challenges but are both winnable matches. Their is nothing wrong with rotating especially if your rotating and bringing Perez into the team.

  12. Wavey,

    No offence was intended. I was not talking specifically about you – what you said is a view held by many fans – and that was who I was addressing, and why I already said ‘sorry’ in the comment above.

    You are clearly a better fan than me, as I did not get to either FA Cup Final — so I will go and stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on my head, and remember not to open my mouth or type anything vaguely humorous.

  13. Henry

    Indeed he has won it 6 times but I’d question his approach during the period 2006 – 2013.

    His teams were frequently much-changed and disjointed. Blackburn beat us twice in this period because of this philosophy. Sunderland, Stoke, as well. Even when United have knocked us out, there’s always been a changed side involved.

    I mean the one time I’ve thought he was a complete plum was when he dropped Arshavin for the Chelsea semi-final because he wanted the team to get used to playing without the Russian who couldn’t play in the Champions League semi-final a fortnight later. As if we hadn’t had enough practice in the four games against Roma and Villarreal!! And what happened? We lost to Chelsea and Manchester United.

    Honestly, this second string team malarkey is a complete nonsense when it comes to competitions we might actually win. If he’s got a notion to play second string teams, do it in the Champions League where his tactical naivety is routinely exposed by the ‘big boys’ and we’re not good enough to win it, even with our strongest XI.

  14. Federer v Nadal and Serena v Venus;

    What a great set of Aussie Finals! I mean talk about absolute greatness on display.

  15. HenryB,

    Hi Henry,

    no offence taken and I really don’t think there is such a thing as being a better fan. I was just flagging that the FA Cup final is a fantastic experience. I have been lucky enough to go to a number of finals and semi-finals, including ones we have lost, and every experience was brilliant.

    The first 4 FA Cups we won under Arsene were part of a different time for the club when we were genuinely battling for the league title every year as well. The FA Cup was also regarded differently by clubs back then. Doing the double was something that clubs challenging for the title were really up for, whereas now the FA Cup seems to have lost its appeal for the top clubs. That’s probably part of a bigger issue that the FA may look to address one day, but I am more interested in how my club do in the cup.

    I think C has mentioned in the past that it seems to be something specific to English football, that the top teams do not regard the main domestic cup that highly. In other European leagues the domestic cup is still a big thing. It was a huge story in Spain recently when RM were knocked out by Celta Vigo.

  16. Fantastic post Matt. One of the best you have ever done. IMO.

    I agree completely with everything you said. How you approach this cup game depends on your philosophy and how highly you prioritize the game. As yogi pointed out in his comment @ 1:42, when we rotate a lot for games like this we sometimes lose to inferior opponents and we almost always lose to a decent opponent. Anything is possible and as you point out its ok to hope for the best but our chance of winning this weekend if we rotate heavily is low. That is undeniable and anyone who says something different can’t have been watching the same team as you and I have for the last 10 years.

    Southampton does not have a lot of firepower but we know they are going to play very solid defense and they will tough to break down and its likely to be a relatively low scoring game. We need to defend really well and hope we can score a goal or 2. Theo was a threat to score before his injury but he has been out for a month so it would be foolish to count on him to be match fit and back to full speed. Giroud and Alexis have been scoring all of our goals for more then a month and if we really want to win we need at least 1 and probably both in the line up. We have seen some nice things of Perez in very limited minutes but he really struggled when he lead the line against Southampton in the league cup game. I would like to see him get a game but if we really want to win we can’t build our hopes on him. Starting Perez or Walcott with Giroud and Alexis would give us the best chance to win. IMO.

  17. Wavey/Yogi,

    I am a fan like yourselves, and I do not get any pleasure out of some of the ‘odd’ team selections put out by Arsene either. The losses mentioned by Yogi against the Chavs and Manure were particularly painful to all of us.

    Wavey, you are not given to moaning for the sake of it, and I was pulling your leg about the use of the word ‘apathy’, which in retrospect misfired. [well obviously misfired]
    Losing the way we did in the Cup last season, despite the successes of the two previous Cup Finals was a bit sickening – especially as I, for one, just did not see it coming.

    Hope that clarifies my purpose in responding above — [I am always in trouble for making light of things – but I find it hard to to worry over events that have been and gone — they upset me enough at the time!] 😀

  18. Aaargh – reading Bill’s comment made me realise I should have complimented Bill, and not Yogi – I should have realised there was a reason for the change in style.

    Anyway – congrats Matt, it was a good one! 😀

  19. Our last game was a full week ago and the squad is very well rested after the exertions of the holiday period. We have been playing 1 game per week and many of our critical players were rested in the last FA cup game against Preston. Arsene rotates a lot and the squad should be very well rested going into the Southampton game. 3 games in a week is strenuous but its very very common for any big team. Additionally we have a full week off following the Chelsea game and the next game after Chelsea is Hull at home 7 days later and all of our players will have more then enough time to recover after the Chelsea.

    The point of all of that is there is absolutely no reason that we need to rest anyone in these 3 games if they are all considered high priority games.

  20. I don’t understand why starting Perez would be a liability? Lets be honest here shall we, Giroud was pants against Bournemouth and only picked up his level once Perez and Sanchez drove the team forward and Perez’s goal was pure class. Giroud was pants against Preston as well and it was again Perez who created the tap in for Giroud (who at that range couldn’t miss). Lets also not act like just because Perez didn’t play well against Southampton in the league cup we disregard all of his other performances; what if I told you that Giroud has only scored 3 goals in his Arsenal career against Southamton and all 3(2 in one match and naturally 1 in the other) happened in the 13/14 season otherwise he hasn’t recorded a goal or an assist against Southampton.

  21. Wavey,

    Now that is the height of cruelty, mentioning that hideous loss to Brum in the Carling Cup.

    I did see that on TV, and was dumbstruck at what I saw [dumbstruck and me are not normally used in the same sentence]

    That team from memory was a good/strong one, but at 1:1 – it was somehow not a surprise when Chezzer and Kos decided to play silly buggers.

    It was just too much to bear after we had come back with a van Pussy equaliser after being behind to Zigic (?) — and right at the end, a long hoof from the Brum GK, headed on by that bloody Zigic again to allow Szceney and Kozzer to play the after you Cecil and allow Martins to tap it in.

    Aaargh – Wavey, you have a lot to answer to for bringing that nightmare back to mind!! 🙁

  22. C

    We have talked about this endlessly. PEREZ DESERVES MORE MINUTES!!!!!!

    He has looked good in a couple of games against weaker opponents but he has hardly played against any stronger teams. The one time he started against a better team he was pants. How many dozens and dozens and dozens of players over the years have we over rated because of a few good performances in cup games or against weaker opponents or because of one lovely goal as a substitute. Its great to be optimistic and give him some love but if we want to give ourselves the best chance to win you can’t build our hopes on him having a good game. Again, GIVE HIM SOME MORE MINUTES, but until we are more confident of how good he really is we have to make sure we have as much firepower as possible on the pitch around him just in case he does not play as well as we hope. That seems like a complete no brainer to me?

  23. No matter how much we like someone or how optimistic we feel about him or how much potential we think he has, it does not make sense to throw a player who has hardly played into a high leverage position where you have to count on him to play well in a high leverage game.

  24. In the league cup game we threw Perez onto the pitch with Ox and Iwobe as the other 2 forwards and neither of them was a realistic threat to score against a tough defensive PL team. That meant that if Perez didn’t score we were very likely to get shut out. Perez struggled and the outcome was prospectively very easy to predict for anyone who has watched Arsenal for the last 10 years.

  25. My mistake. Perez started the league cup game with Iwobe and Jeff as the other forwards. Ox did not come on until later when he replaced Jeff. Realistically a front line of Perez, Iwobe and Jeff has almost zero chance to score against Southampton unless Perez somehow was able to nick a goal.

  26. Bill,

    I do find it a bit hypocritical to say he has scored goals against weaker opposition but then Giroud is praised for scoring a goal in 5 straight matches again West Brom, Palace, Bournemouth, Preston and Swansea; yup a real murders row of competition there.

    Just a general question not about Perez:

    How can we grow more confident about how good a player really is if we don’t play said player? Also, now we are judging players based on the opposition they are chosen to play?

    I also don’t understand why you think if he plays he has to play at CF, I even noted yesterday that Welbeck would probably play CF and Perez on the flanks anyways, which would then technically leave space for your darling Giroud.

  27. C,

    Bill,

    I think you guys are pretty much saying the same thing. Bill says Perez should play alongside rather than instead of the goal scorers.

  28. C

    Fair enough regarding Giroud and weaker opponents in the last month. However a run of 5 PL teams in very high leverage games is much much different then scoring against Ludogrets and Nottingham Forest. The number of players that we have gotten excited about after they played well in a cup game against a weaker opponent has reached several dozen in the last 10 years and yet we do the same thing again with Perez. That does not mean he won’t do well and hope springs eternal but we don’t know how good he will be when he plays regularly in high leverage games. That seems like a straight forward concept to me.

    We also have 4 years of history that definitively proves when Giroud starts on one of his hot streaks he keeps going for about 12-14 games so its totally logical to believe that he has as better chance then anyone other then possibly Alexis to score against Southampton.

    Again, Perez deserves more minutes but until we have a better idea of how good he might actually be, we need to use him in a line up that has as much firepower as possible just in case he struggles again. Welbeck can’t realistically be called “firepower” at this point when he has not scored in about a full calender year and has only played about 30 total minutes in the entire season. Walcott has not played in over a month so expecting him to be influential and score is very dodgy at best. To me all of that seems like a complete no brainer if we are being realistic about giving the team its best chance to win this game. Does that really not make sense to you?

  29. Wavey

    Until we see some evidence that Perez is more then just a good cup player we need to play him alongside other players that have a legitimate chance to score. For many reasons Welbeck does not count as a legitimate threat to score in the next game and Walcott is dodgy at best. If we consider this a high priority game then Giroud and Alexis are the realistic scoring threats on our squad for this game.

  30. Give Perez a chance but put him together with Giroud and Alexis just in case Perez struggles. If you would rather see Walcott or Welbeck play so they can start to get back to game shape then give either of them a run out with Giroud and Alexis. Its nice to have depth. However, this is going to be tough game and there is no good reason that we need to rest anyone and the objective should be to put the team on the pitch that gives us the best chance to win the game. Again that seems straight forward to me.

  31. Pssst. We could all sneak off over to Matt’s other post and leave the Bill and C show a bit of privacy. 😀

  32. C:

    “your darling Giroud”

    I almost missed that one. If you remember I have been banging on about needing someone better then Giroud long before you did and my opinion has not changed. However, right now when OG is in form, having him in the line up still gives us the best chance to win a game. My displeasure with him would have no credibility if I was not willing to give him or Arsene or anyone credit where its due.

  33. 4 match touchline ban and a fine gets a “meh’ and a large yawn. Can’t believe it will have any real effect on our ability to win any of those games.

  34. Well, it was never going to be a two match ban but it’s certainly better than the six it might have been.

    Wenger is hardly Conte on the touchline, but the reality and optics are still not good.

    The interesting aspect is whether Bould will demonstrably step up his game on the sideline as normally he seems content to sit passively in Wengers shadow. If he has any true ambition outiside of being a Wenger sidekick, this 4 game window would allow him to establish some credibility (particularly at this juncture of Wengers career). He must be aware no one sees him as a successor to Wenger.

    How does that sit with him – does he actually care?

  35. Here’s a thought, during his touchline ban Wenger should eschew the comfort of the Director’s Box and go and sit with the fans. He may then get an insight into the feelings and frustrations felt by the Arsenal faithful.

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