It’s a Carabao Cup quarter-final this evening as we take on Man City at the Emirates.
I think Mikel Arteta will take this one more seriously than I would, given it’s against his former club, it’s a step closer to a final, and his team need anything that will provide a boost ahead of our next league game. He says:
It’s a competition we want to try to win. We have two difficult opponents before in Leicester and Liverpool, we managed to beat them both and now we are playing at home and we are one step closer to Wembley. So it is a really nice game to play.
I stand by some of what I said yesterday, in terms of giving young players a chance, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see some of them. It’s impossible to look at this game without seeing the bright lights of Chelsea on Saturday come over the horizon. My guess at tonight’s line-up is:
Leno, Bellerin, Chambers, Mari, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Elneny, Willock, Nelson, Smith Rowe, Lacazette.
I could be way off the mark here, but with Xhaka returning for the weekend (argh) he can risk the two more experienced players. City have got Newcastle on Saturday, and this is a competition Pep takes seriously, having won it three times in a row. One of them was even against us, remember that one? The thing when Aguero used his body strength and then Mustafi stood there, arms in the air waiting for the referee to give him a free kick? Yeah, me too.
Which is why I expect Man City to win tonight, and unless something unspeakably awful happens and it’s an absolute hammering, I’m struggling to care either way. I can’t look beyond our Premier League form and the difficulties we face there to be bothered about this game. Taking something from the Chelsea game is far more important than a cup tie, and while I understand all the reasons why this one matters to Arteta and to other people I can’t sit here and get up for this one at all.
It might provide a welcome boost, some encouragement via performances from young players who are hungry and ready to take a chance. That would be nice to see, a change from some of the ODB (Old Disappointing Bastards) who are sleepwalking their way through the season, so it’s not impossible that it could be a good night, or at least one from which we can take some positives. If it is, great. If not, so what? Focus on Chelsea, then the four game run which I really think will play a significant role in the manager’s future.
There was lots of talk at his press conference yesterday about his use of stats to explain the fine margins in the games we’ve failed to win. I’ll be kind and say it didn’t resonate with me. I’ve got a 69% chance of explaining it badly and there a 3% chance that it makes 0% sense, but if I were trying to see it from his perspective, perhaps it’s his way of trying to maintain a positive outlook during what is the most difficult run this team has endured in years.
As for his comments about what you need when the chips are down, again it sounds like someone trying to gee up his troops, urging them to show character:
‘I want to see fighters. Normally when that happens you have two types of people: fighters and victims. You just need fighters, you don’t want any victims.
“Victims bring excuses, victims bring negativity, and they start to blame everything that is happening around them, or that is not going for them.
“What you need is just people who fight, people who contribute, and people who are willing to give everything to the cause in these moments.”
I mean, I get it, but it sounds like something from a self-help book written in the 1970s by a guy who started life in the post-room of a huge corporation and worked his way to the top. Of course there is an element of character needed, to show resolve, determination and all that. You do learn a lot about people when you’re going through hard times, and you absolutely need to have the right mindset to help you get out of it.
More importantly though, and very specifically in a football context, you need to make chances and score goals. Whatever else you can say about Arsenal, 2020, the impact of Covid-19, financial struggles, key decisions, culture change and all the rest, the root cause of our problems is that we don’t create enough chances and we don’t score enough goals.
Those are the only stats that really matter, and unless we address that via the football we play then there’s a 100% certainty that things will not get better. Arteta can do a little about the way mentality his players approach the games with. A good team talk, motivation etc can have an impact, but ultimately it comes down to what you do with the football when they cross that white line. That is the thing he can really master because this is his team, his instructions, his tactics and all the rest.
Football at this level has ALWAYS been about fine margins, this isn’t a new thing that we’re having to deal with. Right now we’re the wrong side of them for myriad reasons, and how we get on top of them again has much more to do with what we do with the ball on the pitch than chest thumping in the dressing room and being up for it.
Right, I’ll leave you with the new Arsecast Extra, recorded yesterday, and you can join us for the live blog and all the rest later on. Until then, take it easy.