What a different Arsenal team this is from the one which faced Sunderland all those weeks ago. Months ago in fact. I don’t know if your memory stretches all the way back to October when we last played the Black Cats but I had to go and look up the game to remember it – possibly the result of so many hours of footy consumed in the intervening period, possibly the simple degenerative effects of great age, who knows? What I discovered was this starting line up
and it made me realise that I have an idea of the Arsenal first team now, an idea I didn’t have for much of the last season or the one before that. Just look at that list. I only count four players who we now consider as first choice and one of those started out of position. What does this tell us? Well not a whole lot to be fair. Just that when Arsène has most of his players fit he isn’t the kind of manager to tinker and rotate for the hell of it. If you get a place in the starting line up then as long as you keep doing the right things you will keep it. In truth the comparisons between the side to which we’ve become accustomed and the one that travelled to the Stadium of Light last year tells us the story of our season.
Back then we were ravaged by injury. Players were on and off the physio’s table, swapping positions, never getting a chance to build partnerships and understandings. There were new faces trying to fit into a disrupted squad and some older faces struggling to find their best form, players were in and out like a dog in a butcher’s doorway. Once things settled down and people began to return from the knackers yard and actually remained fit for more than two games the season took on an entirely different aspect. The embattled, struggling, disparate ensemble of 2014 became the slick, mean winning machine of 2015.
Granted we’ve stumbled in the last couple of games and it would be absolutely peachy if we could get back into the swing and win our final three, that would set up next season just beautifully. As you know I missed the live match on Sunday but I managed to get to the highlights without hearing the score. Sadly some chump did announce that Man U were leading and a glance at the old Timex told me the game was well into the second half so it was pretty much ruined for me as a spectacle. Never mind, it was good to see Theo score albeit through a deflection. Would I have swapped that lucky break for one against Swansea at home? Probably not. If we had to lose against one of those two I’d rather it wasn’t the red Mancs.
By the way if you were listening to the incoherent rambling with which I fill the space in between the music during my radio show you’ll have heard the precise moment at which I remembered that we have a game tonight and I had a blog to write today. Please accept my apologies therefore if things come across a little rushed and sleep deprived but as I get older I find it harder to function properly on anything less than twelve hours kip per day. How could I have forgotten we were playing? Well I have started to ease away from social media now that all people want to do is fantasise about breaking up our wonderful team and buying everyone else’s players. It’s boring. I can do without reading it and of course I avoid the radio and the papers for the sake of my sanity.
As far as tonight goes my exhaustive research indicates that Laurent Koscielny’s fitness is in doubt. All I can say is I hope he gets better in time for Wembley. Such an unsung hero deserves the reward of a final, as does young Hector and judging by Arsène’s comments Debuchy’s frustrating first season looks like continuing. He definitely won’t feature tonight and so must be uncertain of playing again before the summer break. Talking of which I am for the first time in a long time looking forward to a bit of time away from the footy. Foreverheady pointed out recently that with the World Cup filling last summer this has been a marathon of football virtually unbroken since August 2013. If Santi looked a little jaded in the first half on Sunday it’s no surprise. I only have to watch him and I’m starting to feel the strain a little. Thank goodness we have the Ashes this summer, it’s just a shame the tour doesn’t start a little earlier.
This is a strange time of year isn’t it? A sort of post pre season period where odd results can and do get thrown up. Aston Villa got tonked the other day as, so I’m told, did Chelsea. There is a sense of players performing with one eye on the deck chair. Blogs are moving over to summer transfer insanity leaving actual football behind them until the autumn and the ribbons are being ironed in preparation for Wembley and the descent of the final curtain. The generously proportioned lady may be gargling the warm honey but our boys still have a job of work to do.
Sunderland certainly won’t come and lie down, they need a point from their last two games to be safe and if they don’t get it against us they have to get it at Stamford Bridge. Of course Hull may do them a favour and lose at Old Trafford but our visitors cannot be certain and so will fight every bit as hard as Swansea did. We will need to be on our game tonight and I’m confident that we will be. Surely we will have better fortune in front of goal than we did last Monday. As much as I love an exciting game I don’t want to go through another night of hammering at the door and fumbling for the key. A first half goal will suit me just fine and of course the over riding prayer is no injuries, please.
Although Sunderland find themselves in danger of going down, they have been in reasonably good nick lately. Of their last six games they’ve lost only one and are unbeaten in their previous four. The league positions can be deceptive, that’s all I’m saying, sides at the bottom can be tough to play against in the final fixtures. Which is why I don’t think we’ll see wholesale rotation tonight. Enforced changes of course but don’t expect to see a Carling Cup line up when we still need a point and are facing a determined, motivated side.
I’m sorry but there really isn’t much more to say. I could guess the starting line up (Theo and Gabriel in, Santi and Kos out) advise Arsène on tactics (score more than the opposition) and tell you next weeks winning lottery numbers (08, 14, 15, 22, 31, 33, 40 bonus ball 19) but you know and I know that all the other Arsenal blogs do that sort of thing so much better than I ever could so what would be the point?
Truth be told I expect a similar experience to that which we enjoyed last Monday evening, and if we can cap the great football with some goals then it’ll be a lot more relaxing to watch. Win tonight and we can all look forward to the visit of Pulis in our pre cup final last game jamboree on Sunday. Actually that scares me more than the thought of losing tonight. The idea of that man sending his troops out to kick our lads before such a massive game is so horrific that I really, really want the job done and dusted tonight. Perhaps then we can encase certain players in bubble wrap and leave them on the shelf on Sunday and let their understudies face West Brom. You never know I might get to see my beloved Tomáš start just one more time. That would be a treat all in itself. Anyhoo, I’m off to put the coffee on and begin the long countdown to the match. Hmm, ten hours to go. Maybe I can get in a little power nap between now and kick off – give me a shove if you haven’t heard from me by eight o’ clock would you?