Morning all, a trip to Wembley and a cup final is just 90 minutes away. Or 120 minutes away. But hopefully just 90.
Ipswich will arrive at the Grove tonight with a 1-0 lead knowing that they’re more than likely to face a very different Arsenal team to the one they faced a couple of weeks ago at Natalie Portman Road. That night Arsenal were careless and sloppy and Ipwich, to their credit, took full advantage.
I can’t imagine we’ll see anything like the same approach tonight. The Carling Cup represents a great chance for us to put paid to the ‘Arsenal haven’t won a trophy in 5 years’ thing which is trotted out at almost every opportunity. And look, even if we do win it I’m well aware that the line will change to ‘Arsenal have just one Carling Cup to show for their efforts in the last 5 years’, but that’s just par for the course.
Arsene has been talking again about changing things and has been talking up the quality of all the players in squad. However, he’s also coined a phrase ‘shorter rotation’ which suggests the number of changes won’t be as dramatic as in previous games. With the next game not until Sunday, and also a home FA Cup tie against Huddersfield, he may well use that game to rotate longer, I suppose you’d say, and I don’t know that there’ll be too many changes tonight.
How do you not play an in-form Robin van Persie? You can’t leave out Nasri or Cesc. Wilshere and Song in the middle are crucial and make us tick. Perhaps the full backs might change, although I’d play Sagna while I think Gibbs can deputise more easily on the left. Then Walcott’s place up front might well be one you could change on paper but I wouldn’t. Simply because this is a game we have to win.
Knowing Arsene there’ll be a bit of rotation, how short it is I don’t know, but if it were up to me I’d go with as many of the team from Saturday as possible. He can talk all he wants about how good the squad is but this ‘first’ team is clicking and playing very well. With what’s at stake, and the chance to rest players for more or less a week until our next league game (Everton at home, btw), we’ve got to play as many of our best players as we can.
If we have the luxury of taking a few off because we’ve played well then all well and good but I’d rather give those players 70 minutes to win us a game than 20 at the end when we might possibily be getting a bit desperate. Ipswich say they’ll come and ‘park the bus’ and while I don’t expect them to be too adventurous they know first hand how the Arsenal defence can be exposed and also know that another goal means a lot in a competition in which away goals count. Not only do we have to be sharp and efficient going forward, we have to maintain a good defensive platform.
To go to the Final we need to produce a very good game tomorrow night and that is what I am focused on.
We’ll have to do to Ipswich exactly what we did so well at Elland Road – go at them, get an early goal and take it from there.
An early goal would certainly settle things down but isn’t an absolute must. What’s important is that we approach the game the way we have the last few, with real purpose and spirit. If we can produce anything like the performance we saw against Wigan then we’ll win tonight. They can’t possibly underestimate their opponents again, the way they did for the first leg.
A Wembley cup-final is at stake here. There are never, ever any guarantees in knock-out football. You need only think back to the Wigan semi at Highbury a few years back to know that. Tonight I want to see a ruthless, determined Arsenal who want this game, and want this trophy. Going out at this stage would be a huge blow and I’ll be honest, I do worry about what it would do to the confidence we’re building if that were the case. However, if we can maintain the level we’ve shown in the last few games, and not do anything silly, then I think this is a game we’ll win. Fingers crossed.
In other news Arsene has been talking about the centre-half situation again:
Nowhere near, we cannot say we are nowhere but we are nowhere near. At the moment I’m not too confident. I look every day after Squillaci and Vermaelen as well as I can because I try to get positive vibes from Vermaelen.
Just me or do you also see Arsene sitting cross-legged, having chewed some kind of rain-forest leaf, staring at Vermaelen’s aura to see if the blaaaaaaack is gone? The return of Squillaci will ease things, that’s for sure, and look, I don’t want to get too hung up on this thing. My opinion is that we should bring someone in but there’s not much I can do about it so there’s little point in despairing every time the manager says a bit more to confirm my belief that he won’t.
At the moment we only have one fit senior keeper – and that’s a 20 year old who is barely into double-figures in terms of Arsenal appearances – yet there’s no clamour for a signing there. I suppose that’s an indication that people have faith in Wojscez©® and, perhaps, that the desire for a signing in the centre-half area comes more from wanting to add quality than a lack of numbers.
The Ox’s dad says Arsenal would be the idea choice for his son but there are reports than United are trying to hijack the deal. Those reports are in The Sun. Meanwhile Gunnerblog has more from the Saints fan I linked to the other day.
And that’s about that. Today is going to be one of those days, isn’t it? A real dragger until the football later on. If you’re stuck in work or you can’t see the game for any other reason – we’ll be here with the live blog later on. Check back for another post with all the details of that.