Villa preview – all hands on deck

A week is a long time in football. Seven days ago we were preparing for a league game against Manchester United, a game from which we hoped to get points, primarily, and restore some confidence after a couple of miserable results previously. Clearly that worked out well.

We’ve spent the last week poring over that game, the incidents, the manager’s decision making and everything else. And little has been really said about today. The FA Cup fourth round clash with Aston Villa is hardly what you’d call a glamour fixture but it still feels like this is a massive game. Even if people no longer rate the cup as highly as they used to, the importance of it goes beyond that for Arsenal today.

Our only win in January thus far came against Leeds in this competition. It provided a fantastic moment as Thierry Henry came off the bench to score the winning goal. I might have indulged in it a little more if I’d known that was as good as January was going to get. So today isn’t just about getting through to the next round of the cup, it’s about restoring some pride, building a bit of confidence and gearing ourselves up for the games that lie ahead.

However, first and foremost it’s about getting through to the next round of the cup. Realistically this competition provides our best chance of silverware this season. Maybe the priority is to finish in the top four but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take this competition seriously. The two things are not mutually exclusive. There’s no reason why we can’t put everything into clawing back points in the league and still try and win the cup.

I know some will say that with the Bolton game on Wednesday the manager might be inclined to have half an eye on that when it comes to selecting his team today, but I’d be hugely disappointed if he let that influence him. After the run of results we’ve had he’s got to play his best team, concentrate on beating Villa, then he can start to worry about the midweek trip to Bolton.

What kind of team he selects will depend entirely on who’s fit and how fit they are. If everyone he’s hoping to be back is back, it’s not inconceivable that we could line up something like: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Walcott – van Persie

Walcott and Ramsey are in italics because if I were Arsene Wenger I’d be thinking seriously about leaving them both out. For different reasons. Ramsey because he looks tired and it’s clearly affecting his performances, he’s trying to do too much and needs to be told to keep it simple because that will improve his game and our game. Walcott because he needs a reminder that he’s not the superstar he thinks he is. The moment last week when he passed the ball straight out into touch then turned around to berate Oxlade-Chamberlain was the act of a player utterly blind to his own failings and unwilling to take responsibility for them. A kick up the arse is required. And quick.

The issue, of course, is replacements. Wenger could start Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and play a fit again Thierry Henry on the left, but that seems unlikely. He could try Benayoun there. It genuinely wouldn’t even surprise me if he started Arshavin there but then I think if he did that he’d play Walcott ahead of The Ox. When it comes to Ramsey there is only Rosicky or Benayoun to slot into that space, but perhaps, as I said yesterday, he might play Coquelin in the middle and push Arteta forward.

Whatever team he picks though we need to a see response from them. We’ve had a number of players give their backing to the manager this week, which is absolutely fine and quite normal, but it’s money where your mouth is time. And the other thing to bear in mind is that these guys don’t just play for Arsene Wenger, they play for Arsenal Football Club. And that’s the institution they need to show a response to, more than any one individual.

Every player wants to win things. Not just a game here and there. An unbeaten run is nice and confidence building, for sure, but few people remember such runs if there’s nothing tangible to show at the end of it. The FA Cup is Arsenal’s chance of winning something this season. Let’s hope that this bad patch we’re going through is at an end, that the team are up for the cup, and that we see a performance and result worthy of the shirt today. Anything else just doesn’t bear thinking about, to be honest.

In other news The People is reporting that we had an £8m bid for Lukasz Podolski turned down earlier in the month because they didn’t want to let him go in January. How much truth there is in that I can’t say but it does illustrate the difficulty of doing business at this time of the year. Turn it around – if a club came in for one of our players that we didn’t want to sell, we’d tell them where to go.

What it also illustrates is the need to do good business during the summer. I’m not building up Podolski to be the answer to all our problems but if he’s a player we really wanted, why didn’t we go for him during the summer when a deal would have been easier to do? When the shopping list was made (central defender, left back, coupla midfielder and a striker, please. And don’t forget the teabags!) if we’d bought a striker who was good enough to play in the Premier League straight away this wouldn’t even be an issue now.

Again, I don’t want to be critical of Park, and I’d like nothing more than for him to score some goals between now and the end of the season, but our summer business was poorly managed and poorly planned, which is why there’s almost a desperation for the manager to do something in the transfer market now.

Meanwhile, Amy Lawrence writes about Andrei Arshavin in the Observer. ‘Owlish’, heh.

If you can’t see the game later on you can follow it on the live blog. Check back later for the blog post on that or bookmark the default live blog page.

Updates are posted automatically for you to follow on your computer, tablet, phone etc. Also, if you fancy a flutter on the game, Paddy Power is your man, giving you up to £50 in a free bet. I’ve got a sneaky fiver on The Ox to score first at 13/2.  Click here to register with Paddy Power.

Right, that’s yer lot. Until later and come on Arsenal!


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