As all the excitement and furore of the cup draw fades into yesterdays chip paper and the giddy delight of our unexpected routing of the Saints dissipates, so normal service is resumed this evening. Arsenal in the Premier League, at home, expected to win.
The fear of a come down after a big cup victory may be founded in superstition or there could be some statistical evidence to support it. Did we lose after Ludogorets? After Slavia Prague? I can’t recall and it really doesn’t apply here anyway, given the number of expected changes it might as well be two different teams under discussion.
The ease and style with which we demolished Southampton might put a small pressure on the first teamers who will line up tonight, maybe somewhere in the back of their minds they’ll want to show that they too can turn on the style. I doubt it though. These are the kind of projections that amateur writers like me invent for players having no idea what they think on any subject. It is far more likely that being the professionals they are and given the squad based nature of modern football they do not draw the lines as clearly between first and second string.
Take, as an illustration, the form of our Gallic heartthrob. A lot of people like to pretend they know, for a fact, that Giroud responded to the pressure of an in form and free scoring Alexis and that made him play better. Competition for places is the popular mantra. I can far more readily believe that the careful management by Arsène Wenger to ensure his talismanic centre forward was fully rested after a long summer of competitive sport saw him return refreshed, reinvigorated, and simply more able to produce his best.
All this, of course, is simply speculation. None of us know a thing about what goes on in the minds of the players. Not a thing. Their press comments are pure PR and other than that we have nothing to go on. It’s why I get so riled when people tell me that players didn’t think they had to try, or assumed they could just turn up, or didn’t want it badly enough. It seems to me there are games where they’ve given their all and lost or drawn in the end and they’ve been written off in the above terms. On another day precisely the same effort and approach brings a late, late winner and they’re praised for their determination. Two identical performances but people judge only on results and make up the reasons.
So don’t tell me they’ll have a point to prove to our second string nor that Watford will be a push over. None of us can see into another man’s heart, none know his innermost thoughts so it’s best to let these blokes get out there and hoof the ball about a bit and just cheer them on.
I see some speculation that Danny Welbeck will start again tonight. This would be a huge shock. Arsène has the kind of squad he’s always wanted and has no need to risk players returning from long injuries. He has shown nothing but patience as the recently recovered feel their way back to fitness and sharpness, and I would be amazed if Welbeck’s ‘huge offensive potential’ is on display this evening.
Of those who started on Sunday there are a couple you’d expect to see again tonight and three others who made a strong case for inclusion, namely Theo, Lucas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It is ridiculous to try to rank one above the other, I’m aware of this, but it won’t stop me joining in the fun. Many people want to ignore Theo’s contribution and pretend he did nothing beyond the three touches which put the ball into the net. Likewise they want to elevate Alex’s performance in a more central role into a revelatory experience.
We all have our favourites and we all get excited by specific aspects of someone’s game, it’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with that. My pick of the three is Lucas Perez. Pure prejudice on my part and in no way do I denigrate the others. I like the intelligence with which he plays the game and I particularly like players who bring out the best in those around them. It’s a gift Giroud has, Mesut has, and it’s one the greatest of them all had in a frightening abundance.
I could watch Lucas’ sublime pass to Danny Welbeck for his opening goal a thousand times and not tire of it. Players who make me gasp and smile are the ones I prize most of all. It’s why I like Aaron and Alex Iwobi, it’s why I loved Tomáš, and it’s why we all revere Dennis Bergkamp. Lucas Perez has the potential to enter such hallowed company. Will Arsène find space for him tonight? Somehow I still doubt it. I can’t see beyond Alexis, Giroud and Theo up front. Similarly it seems unlikely that the Aaron / Coquelin axis will be disrupted, no matter how good The Ox looked at the weekend. But then what do I know?
Make sure you get the dog walked early tonight as kick off is at 7:45. I’ve been down and pre-recorded my radio show so I’ll be here to share the excitement. If you’re at the match I trust you’ll be in good voice, if not I hope you find a good quality stream without the pain of the English commentary. That’s all from me, I’m off to check on my compost bin.