Today could be pivotal in the race to finish in the top four. We face a trip to Hull while Everton have to bounce back from their midweek disappointment against Manchester United.
We know only too well that the end of a great run can take some time to recover from, and with David Moyes returning to his old stomping ground on the back of a dismal season at Old Trafford, it’s all set up for him to be the bad guy today.
Which makes our job all the more important. Before Everton play, we take on Hull at the KC Stadium knowing a win would heap even more pressure on them. Not that we can take anything for granted, of course. Our recent form hasn’t exactly been wonderful – although two wins in a week will have restored some confidence – while the home side have enjoyed a very good season and have beaten Liverpool at their place.
Some say it’s a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup final, but I think the Hull we face today are more dangerous than the one that will turn out at Wembley. Their two January signings, Long and Jelavic, are cup tied and can’t play in the final but both will be available today. Long, in particular, is a player that has caused us problems in the past and, frankly, he’s a nightmare to play against at times. He’s quick, strong, likes a foul (and a dive), so we need to be switched on.
From our point of view the good news is that we have options again. It’s no longer a case of trying to cobble together a midfield. Arsene can choose from Arteta, Flamini, Kallstrom, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla. Not too shabby. Quite how quickly he’ll throw Ozil back into action is anybody’s guess, but I suspect he might be cautious.
The old ‘If he’s fit enough to be on the bench then he’s fit enough start’ thing is rarely true. If one of your best players is on the bench it’s probably because he’s not 100%. Look at Kieran Gibbs, he was a substitute at Wembley for a reason and wouldn’t have been used if Monreal hadn’t got injured. He came on, made a big difference, but also aggravated the knock which kept him on the bench in the first place and now misses out.
All the same, if Ozil’s hamstring strain is fully better, then it must be hugely tempting to bring him back, simply because of what he brings to the team. With Ramsey in there too, there’s a dynamism that’s been missing for too long, and to make this a game we control, rather than one we have to try and salvage, you have to think the German would be ideal for that.
Up front it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Arsene has spoken about Olivier Giroud’s renewed confidence after his goal against West Ham, so it’d be good to see a tangible measure of that today, but what of Lukas Podolski? On the one hand, he responded to being hauled off at Wembley with two crucial goals on Tuesday night; on the other, there’s still that nagging doubt about him as a starter away from home.
Still, it’s good that these are the kind of problems we have rather than trying to figure out who’s fit enough to hobble onto the pitch. The team against West Ham was one of the oldest (in terms of average age), the manager has ever fielded and he’s looking at experience as key in the run-in:
Experience helps you to deal better with pressure because you know what is expected and you can focus in a more efficient way to express your potential. We kept our nerve when we were 1-0 down against West Ham. I believe that there was a strong, silent resilience.
In a way it’s like things have come full circle. A few years back we were so caught up with trying to build a young team that would grow together that we eschewed experience far too quickly. Those with too many miles on their legs were jettisoned, and the young players thrust into sink or swim action. For some it worked out, for others not so much.
Now, we’ve certainly got more of a blend of both and hopefully that’ll be enough to see off Hull today. Like Tuesday I think this is going to be hard work again. I’m sure we have been boosted by the FA Cup and West Ham wins, but I’m still not convinced we’re going to just switch on and be all flowing, all conquering again that quickly. Our character and nerve will be tested again today, let’s hope we’re up to the task.
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Until later, come on you reds.