This is it people. Cup final day.
It’s hard to effectively communicate the significance of today to anybody who isn’t a football fan, or even isn’t a fan whose team is in the final, but this is season defining. And I mean that with no sense of hyperbole at all. By 10pm tonight we will have one of two perspectives on how our season has evolved.
First, the bad: We lose to Aston Villa and are looking at a trophy less season in which the only consolation is that we have secured automatic Champions League qualification. It is but scant consolation though, as we know that having waited for so long to get a trophy, then having it delivered to us last year, we have come so near and yet stopped so agonisingly close. The media will portray Arsenal once again as the ‘big occasion bottlers’ and we will take an entire summer of grief from friends, family and randoms online as they dig the knife in even deeper.
But the alternative to this is the good: we win our second FA Cup in as many years. Arsene has delivered another trophy and the team now has a record in which you can say that we are silverware winners on a regular basis. The season is viewed as a success and we go into the summer knowing that one or two top-notch additions will set us up to try to close the gap on Chelski once again. Players who are linked with Arsenal know that they have a pretty good chance of silverware and that strengthens our hand further in negotiations. It’s a perpetual cycle of positivity.
Heck, even the Arsenal Twittersphere might just take a chill pill as a collective and enjoy whatever summer brings.
It is amazing that one game can have so much riding on it, isn’t it? If you think about the Arsenal players, they will have worked their little cottons off from August until May, but ultimately, unless they deliver by close of play today, it will all feel a little bit in vein.
But that’s the beauty of football. That’s what makes the highs so high and the lows so low. If there was another trophy to play for next week and the week after that, we’d be a heck of a lot more blasé about it, wouldn’t we? So would we change it for anything? Nope. I wouldn’t swap all of the nerves in the world today pre-game for not being in this competition and heading over to Wembley early this evening. Because if I did, it would mean my team hasn’t reached this landmark occasion, and I’d probably be out buying furniture polish or doing the Saturday shop in Sainsbury’s. Today’s blog would probably be the start of speculating on transfers and the longer I can go on without talking about that, the better, because it’s not what football is about.
Today is. Cups are. The FA Cup.
Team wise, my pick for the side would be Szczesny in goal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla Ozil, Alexis, Giroud and Walcott. It would be harsh on Rambo but I think Theo offers more of a wide threat on the counter than Aaron does and if Aston Villa sit deeper than expected (many are predicting that they will ‘have a go’ at us today), then Ramsey will inevitably drift centrally and we could see more congestion.
However, I don’t think that will be the team. I think all but Theo will be Arsene’s pick for today and, whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice, if that’s the team that I see on my phone just before kick off, then I’d be happy enough with that too. That’s because for all of the lack of width that Rambo doesn’t offer, what he will offer more than Theo will be defensive cover. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, but his engine is such that it will mean that if Villa try to overload the left hand side of their attack, Bellerin will be supported by the Welshman.
That’s what Villa tried to do against Liverpool and Sherwood might take the view that ‘if it ain’t broke, then Tim Sherwood don’t wanna fix it’ – because you just know he’s the sort of person to be talking about himself in third person, don’t you?
So how will today pan out? No idea, but what I do know – which is what I said on the Arsenal Discussion on Thursday evening on Arsenal Fan TV – is that if Aston Villa sit deep and play a pacey attacking trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and one other, then it might lead to gaps of space in the midfield as the defence and midfield sit deep and isolate those three. If there are gaps in the middle of the park it should play into Santi and Mesut’s hands, so they will need to have big games today if they get enough time and space on the ball.
It’s also time for Giroud to break his goal scoring duck. He doesn’t need to in order to have a good game, but he’s the sort of player that if he gets one in a cup final – hopefully in the first half – he’ll be a menace throughout the game. Vlaar will no doubt be tasked with keeping him company, so it will be important that both Alexis and Ramsey – assuming it’s him that starts – will be able to pick up balls from Giroud’s close controlled flicks and intricate touches when fed up to him.
Arsene is right to pick out Benteke as a threat and as I was speaking about with the guys from Arsenal Fan TV and Moh who pointed this out, the worry is if Benteke has seen what Gomis did to us for Swansea at The Emirates, that deep ball to the back post to nod beyond our keeper. I think Villa will try that a few times and so whoever goes in goal – and I think that’s why Szczesny should start (think West Ham away for why – he claimed crosses all day) – will need to be commanding. If Villa try that tactic and the ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air three or four times, they quickly stop it and we’ll have seen a major aerial challenge nullified. But if they get joy with a couple, we could see an entire evening of it, which none of us want to see, do we?
I have already experienced the pain of losing to a midlands team in a cup final in 2011. I don’t particularly want to feel that pain again. Arsenal players need to let go of any inhibitions they might have. They need to play the game we know they are capable of and they need to take that next step on to proving that they are ready to challenge the oil whoring elite of this country with another trophy in the cabinet.
It doesn’t matter if you’re at Wembley. It doesn’t matter if you’re in England. If you are a gooner, then today you and I will be channelling the same spirit of success through to the players. They need every single one of us. Those in the stadium, those shouting at the TV, those listening in on radio and those watching through a live feed. Every man, woman, boy, girl and pet needs to be there for the team in spirit body and mind.
Come on you rip roaring reds.
Up the Arsenal.