I think it’s all time we started coming to terms with the fact that tonight’s game against Hull City has taken on a far greater significance since we played them at The Emirates a few weeks ago. When we were frustrated to a 0-0 draw against a rotated Hull side, we still harboured dreams of a possible title assault and whilst Arsène still maintains the league isn’t done yet, we all need to start preparing ourselves mentally for the fact that effectively it is. Ironically, victory and progression against Hull this evening, will probably make the task even more unlikely in terms of winning the league. It will mean a postponement of the Wedt Brom game, which will result in Leicester going 11 points clear of us when they roll over a terrible Newcastle United team who are doomed for relegation. By the team we play Everton in the round of league matches after that, it could be 14 points and game over for the players, which means we have to go deep in to the FA Cup to stand a chance of winning anything this season.
Normally, I’d greet the news that Steve Bruce will rotate his team with joy, because you’d expect Arsenal to be able to turn over a rotated Championship side, but as Swansea showed last week nothing is sure with Arsenal and we could just as easily fold if the opposition is supposedly that inferior.
But whilst we are still in the competition hope remains and it does so with a trip to Wembley in sight. We are an away win at Hull and a home victory against Watford away from another semi final and if that isn’t enough of an incentive for the players, then Lord help us all, because nobody else can.
Arsène has already spoken of rotation and I can understand that after a gruelling game against the Spuddies. There’ll be no Coquelin after his own stupidity at the weekend, nor will we see Cech, Rosicky, Wilshere, Koscielny or Cazorla, but we should have enough requisite quality in the team to beat a similar looking Hull side to the one that played a couple of weekends ago.
I think Arsène will keep Gibbs in the side, as well as Bellerin (who else is there?), whilst I’d expect Chambers to come in for one of Big Per or Gabriel. Chambers has actually looked good when he’s been asked to do a job, so a couple of games (assuming we can navigate past Hull) in the next few days will be helpful to him. In midfield there will be somewhat of a decision to make for Arsène. What the Elneny/Coquelin partnership showed against that lot is that Ramsey in the centre doesn’t work. He doesn’t have the natural discipline to his game and that’s why he was pushed out wide right. I suspect we might even see Flamini and Elneny start tonight, as Arsène tests out the Egyptian once more. If he comes through this test against Hull this evening, I think Arsène should recognise that he might have stumbled across his Cazorla understudy until the master comes back in to the team. That would preferable to the Ramsey/A.N.Other partnership in the middle.
That would leave the front four to be wholly rotated, which I think is what will happen tonight, with Iwobi, Campbell, Walcott and Giroud coming in. The latter two – it could be argued – possibly don’t deserve a chance just yet given their poor performance in front of goal (or in Theo’s case poor performance in anything at the moment), but with Welbeck still needing to be nursed into full fitness, I can’t see him being risked. The same has to be said for Özil and Alexis.
Of course I could be completely wrong. It’s happened on many occasions. Remember Coventry at home last season? Özil played. So perhaps Arsène would have it in his mind to play him and Alexis tonight, resting them at the weekend if we go through. Of course if we lose to Hull, he’ll be forced to play them again against West Brom, so it’s a gamble one way or another.
What we all want to see tonight is more of the fight that we saw on Saturday lunchtime. We saw little of it for the previous two games, so as a fan you hope that a good display against your rivals is the sign of things to come, not just a ‘one off’ because the players were playing in a derby game. If we don’t see the same fight again tonight, I suspect the pitchforks will once again be sharpened. I don’t want to see that. You don’t want to see that. So let’s hope there’s a reaction from the team with a win to set us up for a game this weekend in the cup.
Come on Arsenal. Send us a step closer to Wembley.