By A Cultured Left Foot
The spring in the stride will last a little while longer. Reaching consecutive FA Cup finals on Saturday put a smile on the face and schadenfreude kept it there as Liverpool fluffed their lines completely.
There’s no doubt that Villa deserved the victory and whilst you wondered what sort of battering they would suffer having gone a goal behind, the impact of Tim Sherwood’s appointment was fully seen in the way they fought back to get level and then control the game to the point where their winner was a case of when not if.
Fair play to them but it doesn’t alter my view that Arsenal are still on course to maintain their grip on the FA Cup. They will have to play a lot better than they did against Reading though.
It’s back to the Premier League and at last all the humbug about a title race has been put to bed. Chelsea finally played their game in hand, won it and went ten points clear at the top. For those who were sucked in by the media’s words, the reality must bite hard.
There isn’t going to be a title this season, there never was, it was just desperation on the part of broadcasters who know that title processions don’t make for good viewing on the final Super Sunday. Even worse if the final placings are resolved as well.
Victory this coming Sunday is about securing second. The reality is that Arsenal will go into the match most likely in fourth place with United and City having games you expect them to win. The worst outcome is that defeat leaves Arsenal in the same place, two points off the runners-up spot. Whilst it might feel like they have done so, Chelsea won’t be able to celebrate winning the title at The Emirates. A small crumb of comfort in that scenario.
A win would leave them seven points clear and still likely to be crowned champions before May has got into full swing. It’s the reality; they have lost just two games this season and whilst I entirely agree with Arsène that Chelsea have bored everyone into submission to become champions, it doesn’t make it any less valid a title than one captured with flamboyance. Different strokes, etc., and an admission by Abramovich that he prefers to see his team win rather than be attractive to watch, the cornerstone of why Mourinho was dismissed in the first place. Or in first place?
Speaking after the win on Saturday, Arsène demanded consistency for the remaining half-a-dozen Premier League games. They are going to need it. Of the three teams competing for the top four places, the fixture list now favours the Mancunians with Arsenal having two testing fixtures, United one and City none. How quickly the fortunes turn in that respect.
Going into those games carrying injuries is far from ideal but with players returning to fitness and no midweek games for the best part of a month, time is on Arsène’s side. Per Mertesacker has little bit ankle-knack that has not yet been quantified in terms of ouch-factor or how many games he will miss, if any. And if he misses some, so what to be honest. That’s the attitude having more than adequate cover brings to the surface. As good a player as the German is, I have no qualms or concerns about Gabriel slotting into the back four in his absence.
The same holds true for the right back position. Arsène noted that Hector Bellerin has been carrying ankle-knack as well – it’s the new footballing black, it seems – and Mathieu Debuchy was fit,
It was a run-out that everyone knew Debuchy needed and his ring-rustiness showed. Wembley has always been famed for its’ stamina-sapping turf and this weekend was no different. Whether he did enough to usurp Bellerin from the side for the visit of Chelsea at the weekend is another matter.
Both players have weaknesses that Boring Boring Chelsea – or the BBC as they are known because each performance is a mind numbing repeat of 1970s football – will seek to exploit. For Arsène, it’s case of weighing up the cost of Bellerin’s inexperience against Debuchy’s lack of fitness. It’s a tough choice.
Which is more than can be said for left back. Arsène defended Kieran Gibbs performance – or his fitness levels – but frankly nothing I saw made me change my view that Nacho Monreal is the best left back at the club. The Spaniard’s positional reliance far outweighs the attacking benefits Gibbs brings. Quite how much support Cazorla, Sanchez or Özil needs on the left is debatable.
But these are the problems, Arsène wants to have.
It’s a damn sight easier to manage malcontents who are not playing than scratching your head wondering who is going to be fit to play. And if he takes that lesson into squad planning for next season, there’s a chance that this campaign may finally be the stepping stone we’ve been waiting for.