February 14, 2014
There is one reality in all sports: streaks come to an end. Long or short, good or bad, at some point something gives.
Arsenal's 10-game unbeaten run came to a screeching halt against Liverpool last weekend – a 5-1 demolition. Let's not mince words: we played horribly as the 4-0 scoreline after 20 minutes would attest. Not only that, Liverpool played exceptionally well. They were ruthless, organized and completely on their game. It was like a mirror image of our first half against Napoli in October.
Just how bad was it? After the match Arsène Wenger said, "Only our fans were good for 90 minutes, that's all."
He later added, "After 10 minutes we conceded two goals on set-pieces, that just shows that the level of concentration was not there and that when nobody takes responsibility in these kind of situations it's always a bad sign."
So how about we just write that one off and move on?
Phrases we heard on Monday included "learn our lesson," "bounce back," "turn that around," and "respond quickly." So we really got the sense that the players were just as shocked by the loss as we the fans were. But the boss was quick to point out that since this came on the heels of that 10-game unbeaten run. "You cannot consider one game as the trend or the pattern of our season," he said. "It's an accident." He then added, "A successful season is decided by how you respond to that."
The chance to respond came on Wednesday against Manchester United at home. While the 0-0 draw wasn't exactly the result we were hoping for, the positives were clear as day. Arsenal dominated the game and kept a clean sheet – that's 11 out of the last 12 home games. We created four or five really solid chances to their two. And as Wenger noted, "the attitude of the players, the fighting spirit, was very reassuring." The boss felt that we could have won 1-0, and I second that. Especially based on the fact that Arsenal should have been awarded a penalty.
After the game, Wenger was asked an interesting question – how can the team rediscover their top form. As usual, his answer was brilliant in it's simplicity: "Firstly by not losing tonight, then come back to our normal level offensively."
And hopefully that will happen on Sunday against Liverpool in the FA Cup.
The old adage is "You have to get back up on the horse that threw you." If rodeo references aren’t your cup of tea, Wenger put it in less equine terms: "When you can put things right, you want an opportunity to do that and we have an opportunity."
The tricky bit, however, is that there is a huge mid-week fixture looming: Bayern in the Champions League. That means that Arsenal may have to rotate the squad a bit on Sunday. As it stands, there is at least one change that is mandated as Santi Cazorla will miss out due to illness. Fortunately, we will be able to welcome Mathieu Flamini back into the squad. It's not easy to predict who else could rotate in, but candidates include Serge Gnabry, Lukas Podolski and Nicklas Bendtner among others.
To put that little extra bit of intrigue into the game, we'll know who out potential opponents in the quarter-final will be should we win. The draw takes place shortly before kick-off – which is a bit later than usual 11 a.m. on the right side, 8 a.m. on the left. If there was ever a game to hit the pub with your fellow Gooners to sing songs, yell at the TV, and cheer on the Arsenal this is it.
It goes without saying that this is a big, big match for Arsenal. Yes there are the small matters of vengeance and confidence, and turning the draw against Man United into a the beginning of a new streak, but those aside, it’s the FA Cup and it's Liverpool. Don’t you just always want to beat them?
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