April 11, 2014
The best way to sum up last weekend's loss to Everton is this: it was an early away kickoff.
The 3-0 loss was troubling. Not just because of the performance, but also because it too fourth place out of our hands. The Toffees now sit a single point below us in the table and they have a game in hand.
Arsène Wenger conceded that his squad were not dangerous. "At the moment we lack a bit of confidence to be really dangerous and we lack penetration as well," he said is his post-match press conference. "You feel from outside that the penetration and incisiveness of our game is missing through the runs and through the passes."
The manager later added, "We have to acknowledge that we must go back to basics and come in much stronger in the challenges, much stronger in the way we win the ball back, before we start winning games."
The only good news to come out of the day was that Aaron Ramsey finally returned from injury. He came on as a second-half substitute and played about 25 minutes. While he said he was thrilled to get back on the pitch, he didn’t hide his disappointment at the loss. "We have to pick ourselves back up now. We have still got a lot of points to play for. We are in the semi-final of the FA Cup so we have got to put things right."
And he's aiming to play a big part in that."Hopefully I can show what I can do, help this team achieve Champions League football again and hopefully have a medal at the end of the year."
And almost immediately the focus shifted to looking toward Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Wigan. When the dust settled after the sixth-round of the competition ended, Arsenal's prospects for silverware looked bright. The teams standing in Arsenal's way were in the bottom half of the Premier League, the Championship and League One.
But it is an unsettlingly familiar position. We all remember the easy win we were supposed to have League Cup final against Birmingham in 2011.
Wojciech Szczesny certainly remembers it. But he says this team is much more mature and more prepared than they were three years ago. Wenger also cited his team's experience this time around, but stressed that they are no overlooking a Wigan side who are not only the holders, but are also coming off a second-straight win over Manchester City.
"We respect highly for Wigan for what they have done and the best way to go to the final is to do that … You win when you produce a quality performance. We have, in this competition, produced top quality performances so just let’s continue with that."
For their part, the players do not seem to be looking past the Latics. Even 18-year-old Serge Gnabry knows that the Championship side is dangerous and will be looking for another Premier League scalp. But he also said, "We should face it as any other normal match: don’t be scared because they are in the [Championship]. We should be favourites and if we play our normal game, there should be no doubt that we can win it."
Arsenal's other bogeyman is the site of the event: Wembley. We have lost our last two games there: that League Cup final and the 2009 FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea. Of course, as the boss pointed out, Arsenal has had some very good experiences at Wembley – albeit the old version. Still, Arsenal's overall record at the stadium (new and old) is not entirely convincing: Eight wins, one draw and eight losses.
That said, the Club's overall record in the FA Cup semi-finals is much more pleasant to the eye: 17 wins to nine draws and nine losses.
But let's be honest. The past will not matter on Saturday. Wigan has proven that they are a dangerous side and have shown that they can rise to the occasion against tough competition. They also have been able to pinpoint certain weaknesses in Arsenal's style over the last few weeks. They have the ability to clog the midfield and were excellent at keeping Yaya Toure off the ball against City. Wigan also were quick to push forward on the counter-attack which is another scary prospect.
For Arsenal, the biggest question is the line-up. The boss revealed some disconcerting team news on Thursday and laid out the possibility that Arsenal could be missing even more key personnel through some knocks and niggles. However, based on the training photos we saw on Friday, it may not be nearly as bad as it could be.
What we do know: Aaron Ramsey will almost certainly start. And Lukasz Fabianski definitely will. Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil will not be fit in time, but the timeframe for their return now looks to be measured in days rather than weeks.
Another potential positive: the players are upset with themselves after Everton. “The players were questioning themselves of course but we got a strong response in training,"said Wenger. "Now we want to put it right. The guarantee you want is to put the effort in on Saturday to have a good chance to go to the final. It's a great opportunity, a great challenge for us and we want to take it.”
Olivier Giroud says that the players feel the same way. "We really want to bounce back and concentrate on this FA Cup that we really want to win for our fans and for the Club."
Tomas Rosicky added, “It would be a big lift for everyone because you still have a lot of players here who don't know how it feels to win a trophy.” And a big lift is exactly what this team needs right now going into the final run-in of the season. There are five remaining league games – and hopefully an FA Cup Final to look forward to. And it all starts Saturday.
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