The game that has the most importance for the direction of Arsenal’s closing campaign will kick off tomorrow. This is effectively the last hairpin before the home straight. A slip up at Goodison lets Everton and as much as I hate to admit it, Spurs, a look in. It effectively becomes a three horse race for fourth place, where all three teams are basically in line with each other. Everton have a harder run, but with a team in red hot form, I wouldn’t back them to drop points against a struggling United, nor drop points against the obvious dip in quality of the struggling lower table teams. Therefore we would rely on City doing us a favour, but with quite a lot of room for error, they may take the game lightly. This season is the best ever points total for Everton in their club’s history, and there’s still a few games to play. That is more than enough momentum to carry them through to fourth. We need to smash them back to where they belong.
Now I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, and I don’t want to discourage change in leaders and table positions. However, what I do mean, is we need to play one game of football that proves we deserve to be playing Champions League football, opposed to second tier UEFA Cup. Sure, some great teams have competed for the Cup, and often injects the necessary motivation to do better the next season. Unfortunately though, it’s very much a downward spiral after failing to qualify for Champions League. It starts with losing high profile signing (which you could argue there hasn’t been many), but holding pivotal players is also a concern. All decent players want to compete in the Champions League, and test themselves against the best in Europe. Look at the stink Luis Suarez kicked up at the beginning of the season, and thankfully (for them) they managed to convince the Uruguayan things were on the way up. I can’t stress the monumental importance of qualifying for Champions League enough.
Short story – this is our cup final. A friend asked me a serious question: Would I be happy if we won the FA cup, but finished fifth? My instant reaction was of course not. And I had to think why that answer came so easily, and made so much sense to me. And this is it. Champions League football has so much promise of establishing players and teams on the world stage (even though it’s only contested by Europe). Look at Portsmouth. Poor, poor Portsmouth. If you’ve ever been to a Pompey game, either home or away, you will know the chants they sing about garden sheds being bigger than Fratton Park. They won the FA Cup in 2008. And again made the final in 2010. Where are they now? They’re getting pumped in League Two, sitting in 21st place, a mere five points above relegation, with six games to play, carefully watching Liverpool’s results, clinging to hope that the Reds can win the title so they can get £1m for Glen Johnson’s contribution, as stipulated in his contract upon leaving. How desperate is that. Yes, I agree the circumstances are different, but my point is still valid. It’s a downward spiral, and I want Arsenal to be anything but humiliated. We’re better than that. I hope that the importance of this game has truly sunk in to the players and coaching staff.
As much as the trophy drought hurts, aren’t we all pretty proud that our young upcoming stalwarts are tested against quality players and tactics that they face when we field weaker sides in the domestic cups. Look at Aaron Ramsey. Look at Theo Walcott. Look at Cesc Fabregas. These players were introduced brilliantly, given time to adjust and tweak their performances at an early age, to develop, and that’s all down to Wenger. The fact that many of our players have had to have been called up to play big league matches and been exposed is mere misfortune. I agree with the criticism of Arsenal’s medical team. You’ve heard of bad years. You just don’t get a bad era. Literally. All Arsenal fans share this frustration that when the New Year hits, we are usually underperforming due to injuries. There’s got to be something going on there. I respect Wenger for demanding 100% from players, and won’t field a player if he is not 100% – but I feel the issue goes deeper.
Do we miss Ozil? Do we miss Walcott? Do we miss Ramsey and Wilshere? Of course. Can we field a team that can outplay, outwit, and unnerve Everton? Definitely. I have no doubt. The potential is there. The performance will follow. The only thing needed is focus. Win today, and we’ll win every game until the end of the season and finish on best possible total of 82 points, with the FA Cup in the cabinet. Without a doubt. Let’s go lads! COYG