All the hoo-ha which followed Man United’s defeat at the hands of a bleary eyed hungover Midtjylland who had apparently only just finished a seriously long Christmas party has caused me a little discomfort. Firstly if United’s results get any worse and the press and their own fans turn on the players and manager any more virulently there is a genuinely present danger of me feeling a pang of sympathy for them. Only a pang mind you, nothing more.
The thing is (and I know you didn’t rock up here to read about trouble on the streets of Salford, just bear with me ) it only takes a cursory glance at the injury problems, the media witch hunt and the awful fair weather supporters turning on their own for all sorts of bells to ring in the head of any Arsenal supporter. None of the responses I saw to their Thursday night defeat cut them any slack at all and before you start spitting on your monitor and yelling “But look at what they spent look at the money they’ve wasted” just remember what we have said to one another, year on year.
As our title hopes have been crushed by one insane injury blight after another, with multiple injuries in the same position, with players rushed back from injury replacing the newly injured thereby ensuring no continuity – what did we say? We said no club, no matter how rich nor how much they spend could succeed with those kind of problems and Man United are simply proving us right.
However, here is the real glowing flame of truth which flared up amidst the bonfire of United’s, and of course Chelseas’s, seasons. When we said no one could hope to sustain any sort of pressure for a top four finish, Champion’s League progression and a few decent cup runs, what we really meant was no one not managed by Arsène Wenger. If ever there was proof of the man’s abiding genius it is laid bare for all to see – super rich clubs with sought after world famous managers and top players simply cannot sustain their seat at the top table when faced with a huge drop in form or a run of bad injuries. Not in the way Arsène has done, season after season.
Honestly, we should all fall on our knees and be thankful for the great man and his enduring presence every single match day morning.
I raised my Arsenal mug to him this morning, this FA Cup Saturday morning I should say. A competition in which Arsène has, since, 16th February 2013, shown a marked reluctance to be beaten. The Beeb put this cute little video together covering all the things that have happened since last Arsenal lost an FA Cup tie – which is nice. Now all they need to do is arrange the live impaling and beheading of Danny Murphy on MOTD and they will have taken at least the first small steps towards rehabilitating themselves.
It’s an odd feeling when your team begins to enjoy a long run of success. Over the years of course we have enjoyed many such periods, some of them truly historic. On the one hand you approach matches with a certain swagger, a confident belief in the unlikelihood of defeat. On the other hand there is a feeling that the clock is ticking and just as all good things are, by popular consent, doomed to come to an end, so one can’t help wondering how far off is that inevitable day.
I start each FA Cup morning thinking, with crossed fingers clutching my lucky heather, ‘just one more day, just one more, I’ve not had enough of this yet’. I’m not dreaming of a third final (honestly, I’m not), that’s too far off in the distance, just one win at a time will suit me fine.
Hull have featured in each of our cup winning seasons and now they’re back again hoping this third time will be the charm. We shan’t be seeing Akpom or Hayden lining up against the side they hope one day to play for which is a shame for them but good for us as they’re both fine players.
The whole loan thing is interesting. Since Coquelin’s return and sensational impact on the first team the loanees no longer assume that their moves are the first step on the road out of the door. It may well prove to be just that for many players, but doesn’t have to be. What a great incentive young Francis’ fairytale must be to others languishing in one temporary placement after another.
I wonder if he’ll feature today? Something suggests maybe not as he is still coming back from injury, but honestly, the FA Cup line up is harder to predict than the standard first team so I’m not going to waste your time with that. Fringe players get a game, the odd youngster will too, and a few seeking to improve their fitness. However this is an important competition and there needs to be a core of first choice players or the lack of cohesion will cost us dearly.
I wonder if the tightness of the title race and the looming spectre of Barca might have put this lunchtime fixture into the shadows for some people. If so I heartily suggest they have a close friend squirt something noxious and cold into an orifice of their choosing. This is our FA cup people, this is as much worth fighting for this year as it was the last and the one before that. No team will roll over and make it easy for us, everyone wants to beat the holders (oh and please don’t use the word ‘champions’ in my presence. The champions are the champions the cup holders are the holders, end of story) and we have something to defend and something magical to aim for.
I can clearly recall the last time we made it to three consecutive finals and it is a wonderful achievement and one we will not repeat without everyone gets behind the team. The crowd in the Leicester City game were so important not only in hounding a referee so awful that even Andy couldn’t bear to mention him in his match review, but mainly in hauling the team over the line. I trust if you are there in person today that you can do the same again. If not, well, scream at the telly, shout at your monitor and annoy the neighbours. It might frighten the dog, the team won’t know but hey – it can’t do any harm can it?