Right then, it all boils down to this.
Participation in next season’s Champions League hinges on our league finish which hinges on today’s game against West Brom at the Hawthorns. Win and it’s ours. Anything else and we’re looking for others to do us favours and, frankly, we can’t rely on that at all.
It’s all down us, what we do and how we do it. The players know what’s at stake. None more than Robin van Persie who has likened it to a cup final.
It might not be a day out at Wembley but I tell you it will feel like it at three o’clock this afternoon. Our biggest game of the season in our final match of the season.
And we all know what needs to be done.
There is nothing at all complicated by the task at hand and it’s how we cope with the pressure that will determine the outcome. I’m sure the manager will have drilled his players all week in the wake of the Norwich game. While you can give credit to them for the way they played last Saturday, all three goals were completely avoidable from our point of view.
Between individual errors and players not working hard enough for the team we were punished and any repeat of that today will end up the same way. They must be switched on from the first whistle to the last and anything else is, given the nature of this match, just unacceptable.
In terms of the team I don’t think there’s much that the manager can tinker with. I suspect Coquelin will start at right back and while I’m 99% sure he’ll stick with Gibbs at left back I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Santos get a start. The midfield picks itself. Song, Ramsey and Rosicky are the only real options and need to gel today. He could, if he was feeling brave, throw Jenkinson in at right back and move Coquelin into midfield to replace the out of form Ramsey but I think that’s unlikely.
The make-up of the front three will depend entirely on the fitness test Theo Walcott will have on his hamstring. If he comes through that then I’d expect him to play on the right hand side. He’s got a connection with van Persie which has been fruitful this season and we need all the outlets we can get today. In the middle, the skipper needs one more goal to break Thierry Henry’s Premier League record, but his focus is not on that:
All the goals I have scored this season, all the awards I have won — I would trade them all in an instant for us to win today. Football is a team game and if my team fails then I have failed.
And that should be the mantra for today. It’s all about the team and today’s performance and result could have such a huge effect on how this team progresses, or doesn’t, in the next campaign. There are no individual points to be proved today, everything has to be done with the team in mind. That means if we need to just do the simple thing, then do the simple thing. It means that if a team-mate needs you to cover, you cover and don’t make a fuss about it.
We know what this team is capable of both from a positive and negative point of view and our unpredictability is what has me so nervous today. We could see the Arsenal that played soon to be champions Man City off the park, or we could see the Arsenal that contrives to shoot itself in the foot time and time again. The best way to avoid the latter is to work hard and do the basics properly. Our problems really aren’t difficult to identify or fix.
And our best performances have come when we have been a cohesive, communicative unit from front to back. The high pressure pressing game is tough going but why should it be easy? The prize at the end of today’s game isn’t tangible, it’s not silverware, but it’s more than worth 90 minutes of effort. People will point to the fact that we can beat City, beat Sp*rs from 2-0 down, beat Liverpool away, stick 3 past Milan etc. My worry is that these performances have come from a slightly under-doggish position. Today we’re expected to win, the same way we were expected to beat QPR, Norwich, Wigan etc.
However, as I said, the problems we had in those games are not a mystery. We weren’t played off the park but rather made it easy for our opponents. Today the manager will demand the maximum from his players, physically and mentally, and if he gets that then I think this is a game we can take three points from. Three monstrously important points.
As Robin said, it’s like a cup final, but a cup final that will have a direct effect on next season’s Premier League. It doesn’t matter how we do it, once we do it. I’ll take a fluke in the last minute if that’s what it takes, although you’d like to hope that just once this season Arsenal might make it easy for themselves and for the fans. Anyway, apologies if it’s all a bit rambly this morning but the stakes are so high it’s just not an easy game to preview. Come 5pm we’ll know what’s what.
No regrets Arsenal. Come on you reds.
For some bonus reading to help fill the time between now and kick off, Amy Lawrence talks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain about his first season at the club. It’s striking how down to earth he seems, especially in comparison with some others around the team who have achieved far less, and that levelheadedness and intelligence is what I think can make him a great player. Fingers crossed.
Right, that’s just about that. Remember that if you want to keep up with the game this afternoon, we’ll have live blog coverage as with every game this season. It’ll work on all your devices (phones, tablets etc), so check back later for a post with all the details or bookmark the default live blog page.