No rest for the wicked, as they say, and it’s Premier League action tonight against West Ham.
The big issue for the manager is how to manage his squad. Lots of them did 120 minutes against Wigan at the weekend and as such will be fatigued, no doubt about it. Midfield appears to be the most difficult area. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a groin strain at the weekend and wasn’t going to play at all, instead he did the full shift. Can you play Aaron Ramsey again so soon after he completed most of the semi-final? Mikel Arteta has looked tired recently, he’s bound to be feeling the effects.
And without Flamini (suspended), we’re looking at a first start for January’s now very prescient looking signing, Kim Kallstrom. Tomas Rosicky faces a fitness test, and although there were pictures of Mesut Ozil and Abou Diaby in training yesterday, it’s unclear how ready they might be to take up the baton if required.
At the back, Nacho Monreal faces a fitness test, Laurent Koscielny will come back into the side if he comes through a fitness test, and I would wager it’d be him and Vermaelen starting. Per Mertesacker has played 51 matches for club and country thus far, most of them as a starter, and surely he needs a rest at some point. The same goes for Bacary Sagna and we may see Carl Jenkinson (sporter of a very natty beard these days) at right back.
Up top Giroud should come back into the team, Podolski – fresh from his substitution – will likely play a role too, and even Nicklas Bendtner, back from rehab training in Denmark, should be considered tonight if he’s fit enough. Maybe it’s not ideal, but that’s the situation we’re in after those gruelling 120 minutes at Wembley. Basically, it’s nigh on impossible to choose exactly what eleven the boss is going to – or indeed can – pick from.
At his press conference yesterday, Wenger spoke about how getting to the cup final releases some of the pressure, and I think that’s undoubtedly true. Although it’s been replaced by a pressure of a different kind, this feels a little more mundane, less pervasive. There was just so much riding on Saturday. Which isn’t to say tonight is a game we should take lightly, of course it isn’t, but it still feels less end-of-the-worldy to me.
The aim is three points and to put some pressure on Everton in this scrap for the top four. Champions League football is crucial, as it has been all through these years, and having the cup final on the horizon shouldn’t take away from that. The cup is not some consolation prize if we don’t make it. Having topped the table for so long, to fall out of the top four would be disastrous, something the manager acknowledges:
I want this club to play in the top level competition. For that you want to be in the Champions League. We just want to not imagine the consequences of not doing it.
And he suggested our experience of having been in this position could be an advantage:
Experience counts of course. I believe that they have difficult games, and we have difficult games. We want to focus now on what we know we can do. We have a more complete squad and we want to win our games, no matter what Everton does. We want to finish in a strong way.
You have to think that five wins is probably going to be the requirement, unless the Everton wheels come off in a big way, and I think tonight is absolutely vital to our chances of doing that. I know that sounds obvious, but if we can take three points tonight it allows us to build on the Wembley win, and get bit of momentum going. To win, under what are going to be very testing circumstances tonight, would be a real boost to the confidence.
Lose and we’re reeling again. You don’t need me to tell you how fractious things could get, and the squad then have to go through the whole ‘Let’s pick ourselves up’ routine, which is not ideal. It’s going to be really tough against a West Ham side who have little to play for, and with Allardyce in charge they’ll be well and truly up for this one, as his teams always are when they face us.
I think we’re going to have to dig really, really deep to get the right result tonight, and anybody expecting us to burst back into life with a glorious performance is probably going to be disappointed. It could be tight, tetchy and nervy, but let’s hope we’ve got enough in the tank to take the three points.
In other news, the club’s allocation for the FA Cup final has been set at 25,000, something which has disappointed the club who released a statement about it yesterday. They complained about how many of the tickets for the final go to ‘neutrals’ and they’re right really, although this imbalance in how cup final tickets are distributed is not new.
I don’t suppose there’s any real harm in speaking out about it, but quite what will change is anybody’s guess. Unless you guess ‘nothing’, which is exactly what will change. That many of these tickets will end up in the hands of Hull and Arsenal fans, via friends of friends and, sadly, touts and scalpers at ludicrous prices, is something they’ll conveniently overlook as always.
The club are apparently going to screen the game at the Emirates, but there’s bound to be a great atmosphere in the pubs around the ground too. Anyway, no doubt the complaints will fall on deaf ears, and good luck to everyone trying to get their tickets.
Finally, don’t forget this week’s Arsecast Extra if you haven’t already filled your ears with arsey goodness. James and I chat about the semi-final, reports of fans fighting each other in the stands, Olivier Giroud, the goalkeeping situation and much more. Check it out.
As always we’ll have live blog coverage of tonight’s game for you. Tom will be here doing the business, we’ll put up a post later with all the details, but as always, you can simply bookmark the live blog page and updates will begin automatically.
Here’s to three points later, by hook or by crook. Come on Arsenal.