Well, here we stand, on the precipice of more cup final greatness. Arsene Wenger, the master of the domestic knockouts, heads to Wembley with his band of inconsistent men in the hope of papering over another depressingly average crack of a season.
He takes on Pep G, a man he dispatched of in last seasons FA Cup semi-final in the same ground, against a similar backdrop of doubt. This time, the task seems slightly more daunting. Manchester City are Celtic levels of dominant in the league, playing a brand of elite football we’ve not seen in the Premier League since the Invincbles era.
The vision of absolute football is being enacted in the most grotesque of ways. Arsenal needed a centre-back this January, we baulked at £20m for Jonny Evans, City had the same challenge and floated £65m down to northern Spain without batting an eyelid. Their squad is dripping in talent, and more importantly, there’s a captain onboard who is driving the ship through icebergs to make his mark.
Arsenal on the other side of the fence are the rich southern cousin sitting in a pool of their own urine cutting heart shapes into a dead guinea pig. All our wounds are self-inflicted, and most of our behaviour is inexplicable.
We spent the summer in denial about our squad bankruptcy, then the bailiffs had to be hired in October to deal with the gigantic mess the landlord has inflicted.
In January, we flogged our best player, then moved on a whole bunch of dross. The squad was reshaped, but the same problems were still there. Namely, a crazy captain who has chained himself to the good ship HMS Arsenal, and refuses to leave regardless of how much water has come aboard.
Today, Wenger knows that his chance to secure another season at the club is now. He has to turn over Pep G. He has to do it with a dogged performance. He has to buy some love from the home fans, because mutiny in the ground over the next ten games won’t help his review at the end of the season.
We know that this Arsenal team, on their day, can fight it out with the best. Wenger is capable of focusing his players when the something important is needed. The players can listen to instructions, they can press, they can hold their positions, and they can make magic happen if need be.
Cup teams live for the moment. They rally enough energy to see the project through. They sense the history, they taste the glory, they forget all that has gone before and make it happen for 90 minutes.
That’s our best hope.
Wenger is playing into the emotion of the occasion.
We know that the squad will be fresh after a week off. Aaron Ramsey might be available, we’ll need his energy, and we’ll need him to be at the top of his game from a discipline perspective. Ozil took a holiday again, so hopefully, his mind will be focused and he can channel some of that semi-final leadership vibes we enjoyed. We’ll also have to expect a big game from Auba tomorrow. His pace and movement on that pitch will be essential.
We also have to hope that Xhaka – who will absolutely start – can keep his mind on the pitch. We’ll need to have an incredible day at the back, in particular, David Ospina needs to bring his absolute a game.
It’s a total roll of the dice. We’ll either be incredible, or we’ll take a spanking so harsh, you’ll want to cry.
Over to you Mr Wenger.
P.S. Check out our cup special with Alan Smith because it’s excellent! He talks about cup final mentality, THAT CWC FINAL, Steve Bould, and Patrick Vieira. If you haven’t listened, have a quiet word with yourself, then take the plunge. It’s totally excellent.