Arsenal: Forget The League, It's All About The FA Cup Now
It’s been a bizarre season for Arsenal fans. Swathes of optimism yet an equal amount of discontent, our most exciting transfer for years deemed not good enough before we’ve hit Christmas, a sustained title challenge despite embarrassing drubbings by the three other teams in the race. I sit here pawing through Saturday’s wreckage of a game, struggling to figure out how to evaluate the season so far, where we are as a team and where we’re going.
Some fans, more optimistic / cognitively dissonant than I, have stated that 3 or 4 heavy defeats is still better than 6 or 7 small defeats. While I agree to a certain extent – the table doesn’t lie, after all – I still think it misses the point, which is that right now we’re 4th, and given current form, that’s where we’ll likely end up. The only difference this season is that previously the position has come as the result of a late rally, or felt in some way like a victory over our rivals, whereas this year, given we were there or thereabouts for so long, for so many fans it will feel like a massive defeat and will further give credence to the arguments that Arsene Wenger should be moved upstairs.
So, if we are headed for yet another 4th place finish, what can be said of the team’s progress? Has there been any, have we stagnated? Or worse, retreated? On the plus side, Aaron Ramsey’s early season form was a joy to behold and showed that he has finally become the midfielder Arsene Wenger thought he could be – the manager should be given immense credit for keeping the faith when others, myself included, would have happily seen him loaned out. Tomas Rosicky too has to my mind become one of our most important and influential midfielders, offering creativity, consistency and maturity, and chipping in with some vital goals. And at the back, it’s looking like we finally have a central defensive partnership that could be the bedrock of our team for a good few seasons, plus a goalkeeper who’s excelled after a difficult few years.
The negatives? Well, let’s start with the obvious, the fact that yet again injuries have revealed how thin our squad is. Not a season goes by when important players aren’t struck down during crucial periods, it can’t be a coincidence. Something needs to change at the club to rectify this, whether that be coaching methods or man-management or not rushing players back after they’ve been out. Not only are we risking the careers of exceptional young players, we’re leaving ourselves wide open, which brings me to the next negative: our squad is still cripplingly thin. Mesut Ozil may have been a huge coup for us, and I still maintain he’ll be a key player in our team for years to come, but the brouhaha surrounding his capture covered over the fact that we are still light in several areas, which were clearly not addressed in an embarrassing January window. Reports are of a £100m transfer kitty in the summer – I’d like to see that spent on a couple of strikers to support and challenge Giroud, a right back to replace Sagna when he eventually leaves and a midfielder with the tenacity of Flamini but more dynamism and attacking nous, because for all Mikel Arteta’s penalties and completed-pass stats, we need someone better than him in that position.
There is a silver lining here, I assure you. We have been handed a glorious opportunity to win the FA Cup, a piece of silverware that still holds such a special place in the hearts of players and supporters throughout the country. To do it, and to do it with this squad, would be nothing short of monumental. The fact that the final has returned to its rightful place at the end of May makes it all the more special – the season could end with Arsenal celebrating at Wembley, and what a catalyst for change and improvement that could be. Imagine if our young players got their hands on some silverware, imagine how desperate it would make them to get some more.
That should be our main focus now. We should accept that this season, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have been better than us, and are more deserving of those top 3 places, but we have the chance to get some silverware. If we do, it could herald the dawning of a new chapter in Wenger’s Arsenal.
Follow Harry on Twitter, @CmonHarris