I’m pretty sure that Stonehenge was built in a quicker time than Hengist Pod ran this morning’s Microsoft update. Well, it killed a few minutes more before the ritual sacrifice of Arsenal on the Stamford Bridge altar.
Overshadowing that are reports of a £20m bid from Manchester City for Alexis. Speculation or fact, it shouldn’t be allowed to impact on tonight’s XI. Instead, it should be a motivational tool: “Alexis, it’s time to say goodbye with a performance to remember. Go get ’em, tiger!”
That won’t happen; he’ll be left to skulk away amid social media bravado and jeers. We’re at a point where we’ve got to make a decision as a club: do we keep Alexis and lose £20m + wages, or sell knowing we’ll lose prize money but be financially better off.
Let’s be honest, the squad we have will not win any trophies this year without either the Chilean or a mercurial replacement. You may mock and claim he’s below par but he’s below par by his standards yet overperforming compared to others in the squad.
But tonight could provide some light relief. While Arsène worries about running into Groundskeeper Willie at Stamford Bridge, we are underdogs tonight to such an extent that Chelsea may be lured into a false sense of security. Last week’s 2 – 2 draw has little bearing on tonight beyond motivating Alvaro Morata to wear his shooting boots. We can draw inspiration from a good performance overall and know we can go toe-to-toe with the home side.
However, repeating the defensive naivety which allowed Morata three clear scoring chances or that which saw us lose at Forest, pushes us toward the exit door. We’ve got to be inspired by Bristol City’s hard work last night and take it up a notch.
There’s No Pride in Losing
Wenger acknowledged we were too lax last week but pointed out this is a two-legged affair so the approach to the game is different:
“You want to go there, be solid and try to take advantage of every mistake, of every weakness, to win the game. We also know there is another game after that, and we need to be solid defensively too.”
Two bites at the cherry.
Arsène declared none of the walking wounded is returning for today or Sunday’s game against Bournemouth. What kind of team will he field? The poverty of Sunday’s performance quashed that line-up playing tonight, thankfully. Ultimately, the Premier League is our bread and butter, with the cups a nice distraction when you do well. But this is the semi-final and more important than normal.
Assuming Francis Coquelin won’t feature – which Wenger hinted at yesterday – the midfield is Jack and either Xhaka or Elneny. The Egyptian suits Bournemouth more than this one; Xhaka’s lack of discipline is an issue, but his feistiness is an attribute you need in a derby.
Observing that he wants to win the trophy now we’re in the last four is good PR-speak. With the League Cup, you’re always of the view that it is an inconvenience for the manager and he’d prefer a full week preparing for the next Premier League game.
Overall, I expect a strong line-up. Ospina will continue in goal; if Arsène doesn’t change for a cup final, he’s not going to for tonight’s game either. Chambers rested on Sunday, will accompany Mustafi and Holding. The German plays even at 70% fit; Mertesacker unfortunately, is too vulnerable to pace these days and while Holding proved he’s no Cannavaro, I think he’s preferable to the BFG.
Pick Me! Pick Me!
The rest of the side picks itself. It’s got to be a strong line-up; Chelsea will go for it, looking to end the tie tonight. Iwobi is too divisive to use, despite a strong performance in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. Beyond that, we just don’t have the options.
Akpom or Lacazette? Walcott or Sanchez? Welbeck or Özil? Injuries mean the gulf between the first-team and the squad players is a chasm. Although Welbeck’s work-rate may see him start ahead of the German or Alexis; that’s one thing he couldn’t be criticised for on Sunday – Danny didn’t stop working hard even when others gave up.
In fact, I’ve just talked myself into including him in tonight’s XI:
Ospina; Chambers, Mustafi, Holding; Bellerin, Wilshere, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Alexis, Lacazette, Welbeck
It’s a more direct side but workmanlike is good away from home, particularly in these games. Tonight needs a pride-restoring performance after Sunday. Three of them started and need redemption, even if that is harsh on Ospina who did little wrong at Forest. It feels like Hengist Pod was the last Arsenal goalkeeper to save a penalty.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.