So Steve Bould steps into the hot seat this afternoon. He must be chuffed. Imagine managing the greatest team in the history of the FA Cup as they step out for their fourth round tie. No one has played more finals than us. No one has won the thing more often. Mr Bould has a lot of history to weigh him down but he has a great and proud tradition to buoy him up.
The disaffected fans who have for years been calling for a change in the Arsenal dugout have finally got their way. With Arsène facing an inconsistently harsh punishment for his instinctive actions of self defence against an out of control fourth official, we have lost his guiding and talismanic presence during this and the following three games.
I shall say no more on the subject because I don’t want to upset those who think he deserves this ban. Or that Taylor acted appropriately in provoking the response which led to the unfortunate incident. I won’t convince you and you won’t in a million years convince me so let’s just draw a veil over the whole sorry business.
Southampton are a good side. They will provide us with a proper contest today as they always do. The Saint’s heroics against Liverpool were either symptoms of an ongoing Mersyside malaise or a signal that the south coast club is coming into some decent form. Perhaps a little from column A and a little from column B.
That we will rest players was never in doubt and therefore hardly a talking point. That Southampton will also be at less than full strength is down to a formidable injury list. One fan tweeted yesterday that they’ll be without ten players including Ward-Prowse , Rodriguez, Van Dijk, Hesketh, Austin. So neither side will be at full strength and the big debate among Arsenal fans is whether we’ll see our skipper back in the starting line up or not.
I am a big fan of our big German and would be delighted to see him alongside Gabriel but then I like the look of young Noddy Holding too. With four highly experienced centre backs in front of him, these matches represent the youngster’s only realistic chance for first team football, so it’ll be tough for him to miss out. When you join a huge club that is the chance you take, he need only look to Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin to see that the gap can be bridged and so he ought to remain positive.
One imagines Alex will resume his understudy role if Mesut is rested and that either Theo or Lucas will start – and possibly both of them. Another player knocking on the door and wondering if an abysmal run of untimely injuries has robbed him of his chance is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
I may be a drooling, ageing imbecile but I seem to recall Arsène suggesting, some years ago, that AOC could end up playing in central midfield. In fact I’m certain of it so we mustn’t discount the possibility especially with Santi, Xhaka and Elneny all missing, Aaron still finding his way back after a long lay off and Coquelin recently injured.
The permutations are manifold and we can all have fun speculating or we can wait for the club to publish the team sheet, whatever floats your boat. One thing is certain the venerable competition still holds a very special place in the hearts of the fans. I was talking to a Man United supporting acquaintance yesterday. He and I agreed, with one notable exception, on absolutely nothing when football inevitably rose to the top of the agenda.
We both agreed that in spite of the greater rewards and prestige associated with the Champions and Premier League titles, there is something particular about the FA Cup. Something nostalgic and thrilling which trick the League Cup has never managed to master. Something which gets the heart beating faster in a way that the long haul of a league competition cannot match. I like the way we climb from the trenches of the attritional war that is our usual fixture schedule and face off in a straight forward, winner takes all bare knuckle scrap.
Of course I don’t need to tell you how important the FA Cup is. We all have our special memories both heart warming and heart breaking. For me, the first huge Arsenal moment in my supporting career was Charlie George’s goal in the final in 1971. I have since then endured Wrexham, Watford and Blackburn, suffered Liverpool’s horrible victory in the 2001 final, and don’t even mention Roger Osborne or Trevor Brooking. Each has burned a scar into the confused, emotional area of my psyche which processes my obsession with football.
However much those and other cup exits have hurt they pale when I recall Santi’s free kick, Ray Parlour’s sublime strike versus Chelsea, Anelka’s cushioned take down and consummate finish against Newcastle, the fireworks at the end of the ’79 final and of course Aaron’s moment of magic to bring the cup back after such a long absence.
So today can we perhaps forget our battles with each other, with officials, bureaucrats and other fans? Instead why don’t we just revel in the countless memories the cup has brought us down through the years? What springs to mind when you first hear the words FA Cup? Why not share your thoughts. Or not. It’s a free country after all.
I’m off to check the water levels in my pond, I’ll see you here for five thirty.