Cup final Sunday. I must admit to you that I do prefer it when it lands on a Saturday and is in May, because it’s a much more pleasurable experience than having to be layered up in February.
But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, eh? After all, at least we’re once again being treated to another Wembley showdown, which is more than most fans can ever dream of and even some of those teams towards the top of the Premier League rarely get to take part in.
So whilst I’m absolutely dreading the probable outcome of today’s game, I’m thankful that we at least have the opportunity, as well as the fact that I get to go and (literally) drink it all in today.
But let’s not kid ourselves here; this will be the hardest cup final we’ve been in since Man United in 2005. Since then we’ve had Birmingham City, Hull, Villa and Chelski in the final and whilst the last team in that list were the champions, they were a much more beatable team than this City side this season.
Last season I didn’t really give us much hope of beating Chelski but that was mainly because of defensive issues and not really ever watching them towards the end of the season. I’ve got a mate who is a Chelski season ticket holder and he had been telling be that they’d been taking their foot off the gas for months. Whilst it’s easy to look with the benefit of hindsight now, one thing I would say is that Chelski were much more ‘there for the taking’ than I see City are today.
City are – the Wigan game aside in which they had to play a whole half with ten men – in a rich vein of form as they have been all season. We are patchy and sporadic. Last season we had a few wins in the run up to the FA Cup final so momentum and confidence were built. This season we go into this cup final having been beaten twice in our last three games and one of those was to a lower level of opposition from Sweden.
So I guess all this preamble I’ve just rattled off is in place to say quite simply:
We are MASSIVE underdogs today and I can’t see how we are going to win.
Sorry folks. I don’t want to be too negative on cup final day, but it’s difficult to make a case for victory today.
Having said that, the rest of this blog is written firmly with the intention of a hopeful disposition. And that is how I shall be approaching the pre-match build up with the gentlemen in the pub after lunchtime today.
In a competition of just two teams and played on just one day for a shiny silver trinket, the possibility is there for these Arsenal players and as Birmingham City showed us in 2011, anybody can lift a trophy like that. So I’m hoping that we can do to City what Birmingham City did to us.
But how do we do it? What should Wenger do today with his team to give us the best possible chance of winning the League Cup?
Here’s my two penneth worth.
Play with a back three
He’s got to go with a more defensive outlook today. When our full backs push forward in a back four and the ball turns over, City will have players like De Bruyne and Silva who can move the ball back to front quickly and find pockets of space out wide with which to attack us from. If there is just two centre halves in place when that happens, we’ll be overloaded in defence and the rapid pace in which Sane, Sterling (assuming he’s fit) and Aguero all break means that we’ll be in trouble. You can just see Sane getting in behind Bellerin and having either a ball across the box for Sterling to tap in at the far post, or Aguero for the cut back just on the penalty spot. And given that it’ll be Xhaka and one other in the team you know there will be no tracking back so he’ll have the freedom of Wembley to have a pop.
Three at the back has worked in big games today and it needs to happen this afternoon.
Play Welbeck instead of Iwobi
Yes Welbeck hasn’t looked great, but Iwobi has looked worse, but more than that it is the high press from the front that I would like Welbeck for. We can all bemoan his lack of composure in front of goal but if he’s playing behind the central striker it’s not his ultimate responsibility to be the main goal scoring threat. That would fall to Auba and so Welbeck can be left to focus on driving at the City defence when we don’t have the ball and try to put them under pressure to make errors higher up the pitch.
Welbeck was great in the cup final and semi last year and I think he could do a good job today if given the chance operating just behind the striker.
I rarely agree with Paul Merson’s views but when I read what he had to say about Aubameyang I thought he was spot on this last week. If City press is high then the Gabon international will have space to run into and that could be a big threat to us. The challenge is making sure we play the right ball and that’s where the majesty of Mesut Özil comes in.
City will have more possession than us. They will probably spend more time in our half. So when the ball does turn over we need to see a similar situation to when we played Everton a few weeks ago. There was one pass Özil played in behind the Everton defence from deep in our half and it set Auba in. That is the kind of ball we’re going to need to have it we want to beat City today.
That’s just a few variables that I think need to be sorted out today and I hope the manager does get it right. Lots of people are talking about our great run at Wembley but good things always come to an end eventually and whilst I suspect that might be today, that doesn’t stop me from getting very excited, very wound up, but full of hope that this dogs dinner of a season can still end with success.
Up the Arsenal. Cross everything.
Catch you all tomorrow.