It seems odd that a third round FA Cup replay would be a game of such significance, but there’s no doubt that tonight is hugely important for Arsenal Football Club and for Arsene Wenger.
Patchy league form sees us 21 points behind leaders Manchester United and the dream of another title was gone long before that. Eliminationfrom the League Cup by Bradford saw us on the wrong end of a rather embarrassing giant killing, and although we’re still in the Champions League the FA Cup represents the best chance to win something this season.
We ought to have won the first game. Coming back from 1-0 down to 2-1 ahead with just 6 minutes to go should have been enough, but the defensive issues we have gave Swansea a lifeline, and the visitors will arrive tonight knowing they’ve had a good time against us in recent encounters. They’ve beaten us at home, they’ve beaten us away, and there’s no reason they won’t be confident tonight.
In terms of the team we’re without the suspended Laurent Koscielny. Mikel Arteta remains out with a calf injury and the mystery of Tomas Rosicky’s absence was cleared up when Arsene revealed he too was absent with the same kind of knock. It means that rotation is less likely and while there might be one or two changes to the side that played against City on Sunday I can’t see much more than that.
If we have concerns about Jack Wilshere playing too many games they’re not shared by the manager who says he will rest him at some point, just not yet:
At the moment I don’t think he is overloaded because he just came back very recently, and you get the feeling that he gets stronger.
We have a good approach taking the physical analysis and statistical analysis between what the player feels and what the medical department thinks, and you have to come to a conclusion on that. At the moment, all these three are positives so I don’t think at the moment I will rest him immediately.
But there are others, Santi Cazorla in particular, who look a bit jaded and could do with a rest, but given the importance of this game I think the focus has to be on tonight and we can worry about Chelsea tomorrow. We could see the likes of Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos come in, maybe Aaron Ramsey too, but I think, and hope, that we’ll see as strong a team as possible tonight.
One of the key factors in that for me is playing Olivier Giroud at centre-forward. I think the team is better balanced with him there and Theo Walcott on the right, or at least Theo Walcott not at centre-forward. Walcott did himself few favours on Sunday, despite the fact the circumstances were difficult, and I think the Frenchman is our best option. I’d genuinely like to see him get a run of 10 games or so up there – making the not too outrageous assumption that we’re not going to sign another forward. It’s all been a bit stop-start with him due to small injuries etc etc, but if he can stay fit and get a run of games then I think we’ll have a much better idea of his long-term suitability for the role.
Arsene Wenger spoke about his team’s ‘timid’ start to Sunday’s game against Man City, and it has been something of a feature of the season. How many indifferent first halves have we seen only for a half-time talk or refocusing produce better effort in the second? We really have to to be in this game and switched on from the start tonight. At the very least Swansea might not be expecting it.
It’s also a chance to see how these players perform under pressure, and there’s a fair amount of that tonight. Elimination most likely adds another year to the ‘without trophy’ thing. I’m sure that’s the last thing the players want, a number have spoken recently about the desire to win something soon, but once the whistle goes for kick off it’s down to them to make it happen. Whether the squad is good enough or lacks this, that or the other is irrelevant for the 90 minutes, what we’ve got has got to win the game.
I think there was enough in the second half performance against City to take some encouragement from. It’s all about whether we click or not. If we do, we’re more than capable of winning and going through, but if not, it’s hard not to worry that Swansea are capable of taking advantage. Let’s hope it’s the former, and we’re here tomorrow talking about the next round and looking ahead to Chelsea with a bit more confidence.
Come on Arsenal.
In other news, the manager has spoken about the transfer market, and said:
First of all we want to sort out the injuries we have, and we are trying very hard to close the deal with Walcott. Once we have done that, we will certainly do something else. At the moment I cannot tell you more.
We have some improvements to make and we know exactly where. In January it is difficult to find the players that are really better and can give something special to the squad. The number is right, we have a good balance and we are working very hard to find what we want.
I have to say I’m bamboozled by the manager again. Why, if we need players and he knows we need players, are we waiting on a bloke who has left us hanging for 18 months? Surely the two things are not interdependent? We can buy without Walcott signing. Unless, of course, one of those purchases is a replacement for Walcott, in which case we should just do it anyway and let him scrap for his place like anyone else. He’s not so special that our transfer policy should be dictated to by him. And we don’t have much to contend with in the way of injuries either.
It just seems like there’s always some reason why we can’t do business but none of them make a great deal of sense. Anyway, it’s an update of sorts, whether it tells us anything we didn’t already know I’ll leave for you to decide and it’s something we’ll touch on again, for sure.
Remember, if you can’t see tonight’s game, we’ll have full live blog coverage for you (and don’t forget kick off is 7.30). Check back later for a post with all the info or you can bookmark the default live blog page.
We’ve also set up a Twitter account @arseblog_live which will provide important updates like goals, cards, substitutions, half-time and full time scores. If you follow that and enable SMS notifications via Twitter, you can get those updates sent directly to your phone. This only seems to work in certain countries. For example, it works for Tom in the UK, not for me in Ireland, but give it a bash if you like.
Right, that’s your lot, back later for the live blog. Have a good day until then.