FA Cup time and I’ll happily admit this is a competition I have always enjoyed. My first Arsenal memory is winning it in 1979 and we’ve been lucky enough to win it a number of times since. Who could ever forget Freddie leaving John Terry on his youthful, but still utterly reprehensible arse, to curl home a decisive goal? Not me.
So, we go into today’s game knowing this is probably the final chance at a trophy. While I agree with the manager that it’s too early to talk about winning it, we should definitely be thinking, and focused, on doing exactly that and the team today should reflect that. Michael Laudrup is expecting Arsenal’s strongest team, and so am I. If I were choosing I’d probably go:
Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud
I think Giroud has to start as the centre-forward. We badly lacked an outlet against Southampton, Walcott was unable to give the attack any kind of focal point – nor was he helped by a poor team display overall, before I’m accused of heaping it all on him. I think the Frenchman offers us more traditional, and useful, qualities in a game like this and it would be disappointing if he didn’t start.
Beyond that it’s difficult to see how much rotation can take place? Coquelin for Arteta? As much as I think Coquelin is a decent player, no thanks. Rosicky for Podolski, perhaps, but beyond that our options are pretty limited. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide our only real outlet from the bench as Gervinho, as far as I know, has now departed for the African Cup of Nations. Therefore we’re banking on the players who didn’t do it against Southampton to do it today.
And it would be absolutely no surprise if they did. Our inconsistency is consistent so if they performed well today I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. We know all about Swansea and what a good team they are. We had one of those days against them at home last month and they exploited that very well. It took them until late in the game to do it but they did it nonetheless and I don’t think anyone can really argue they were decent value for the three points on the day.
What makes it worse, from our point of view anyway, is that they out-Arsenaled us. Their passing and movement was simple but hugely effective and on the day they had some end product through Michu – aided and abetted by some tired Arsenal defending. If we let them play like that again there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again. But our players know the deal now surely, they know that allowing them the time and space to pass it around will play right into their hands and I would expect an Arsenal team that is instructed to press hard when they’re in possession. It’s why I’d think carefully about including Tomas Rosicky in the starting XI if he were fit enough, and given he’s been on the bench for a while now (bar one absence through illness) I think that’s a fair assumption to make.
The bottom line is too many of the games in which we’ve dropped points or played badly have been punctuated by insipid, stand-offish performances, and the very least we should expect from Arsenal today is that they show some fight and determination. If the match doesn’t start well, as many games fail to, then work harder to get back into it rather than let the game plod on to its inevitable, and often, dreary conclusion.
Let’s see some leadership, some responsibility, and something approaching the Arsenal we know these players are capable of. If we get that there’s no reason we can’t get a result. If not, it could be another disheartening trip back from Wales.
In other news, the papers are full of transfer guff this morning. Make up your own mind regarding David Villa (preparing a bid …), James McCarthy from Wigan (preparing a bid …), or Yanga-Mbiwa from Montpellier (preparing a bid …). We’re preparing a bid before we consider a move to make a sensational swoop. As far as I’m aware there’s nothing imminent in terms of arrivals, even Arsene himself seems somewhat confused. As quoted in a good piece in the Observer by Amy Lawrence, he says:
When you score seven goals in one game and only an own-goal in the next one, it’s difficult. If you look at the Newcastle game you say: ‘Fantastic.’ If you look at the Southampton game you can come out and say we need to strengthen our offensive department. Football is like this. That’s why you need to take a distance.
It is worrying that there’s such a short-term outlook on what this squad and team needs. We went into the season with one striker worthy of the name – and that was a summer signing who would need some time to adapt to English football. Chamakh is gone now but wasn’t even considered an option when he was here, and I remain deeply unconvinced about Theo Walcott in that central role unless he’s got somebody partnering him – which would mean a 442.
So the idea that Arsene is making decisions based on what we did in our last game is a huge concern when we really need to be more proactive. A key line from Amy’s piece sums things up:
There is considerable will at board level for money to be invested in the squad but they do not dare impose it on Wenger.
And we’re stuck in a loop right here because, frankly, Arsene needs somebody to put pressure on him to spend what’s available and make his team better. Yet, as other clubs strike early in the transfer window, we’re humming and hawing and not really sure what we’re going to do. And when you look at the fixtures to come this month – Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool – it’s hard to think there’ll be much forgiveness should we fail to add to the squad and results don’t go our way.
Anyway, the only piece of concrete transfer news from yesterday is that Johan Djourou has joined Hannover on loan until the end of the season. Good luck to him out there, and I can’t help thinking that unless we’ve got something lined up in terms of a replacement (hah!) this is an unnecessary loan. Whatever you might think about Djourou, all this does is weaken our squad and move Squillaci closer to the first team. Which isn’t mean as a criticism of the Squid but come on.
Perhaps there’s a promotion in line for Ignasi Miquel but it’s hard to know on what basis we’d do that given he has played just twice this season. Anyway, no doubt there’s some rhyme or reason to it, hopefully which is to the benefit of the club and isn’t just us doing the ‘right’ thing by a player again.
Right, that’s about that for this morning. We’ll have live blog coverage of the Swansea game (KO 1.30), check back later for a post with all the details or bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically as the action starts.