No Dress Rehearsal: Arsenal Have To Battle Their Nerves To Beat Hull
This Easter weekend, Arsenal travel (a day late, cheers Sky for the short notice for fans!) to Hull City. For the media, it can nicely be billed as the dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final after both clubs' successes at Wembley last weekend. However, what happens in the league game will have no impact on what happens at Wembley on 17 May.
The fact the two teams will compete in the finale to the English domestic season should be irrelevant for Arsenal today, because this is an important league game. As a fan, I can't stop thinking about the cup final. It's exciting. It's a chance of a trophy. It'll hopefully be another great day out. However, the players can't have it in their minds. As soon as they think of this weekend's match as related to the cup final, the Gunners could be in trouble.
With ten minutes to go at Wembley, it seemed like the world was about to end. Then Per Mertesacker scored, Arsenal won the shoot-out and went on to win against West Ham on Tuesday. With the unexpected triumph for Crystal Palace at Everton on Wednesday, the last week has turned out to be a good one, but Arsenal can't relax now. The top four position is in their hands, and with Everton hosting Manchester United straight after Arsenal's game, there is a chance to apply a lot of pressure on them with a win on Humberside.
It's a massive shame that Arsenal's season has come to another top four fight, but the team do have experience in these situations that can help in the fight with Everton. Martinez's team have been on a fantastic run and played some very attractive football, but with pressure applied on them before Wednesday, they wilted against Palace. Arsenal know how to win the final matches to get in the Champions League, and that should be the focus before the cup final.
The personnel involved on Sunday could also be different to those there at Wembley in May. For Hull, the cup-tied Jelavic and Long will be likely to appear in the league, and they'll be attempting to beat a goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny who could be benched for the showpiece game. Mesut Ozil will hopefully return, a man that has been much missed by the team regardless of what is written about him not performing, and Mathieu Flamini will also be available after his suspension. Although they're back now, trying to predict who'll be available for Arsenal in a month's time is nigh on impossible given the club's injury record this season.
The only previous cup final 'dress rehearsal' I can remember Arsenal being involved in was match one of the record 49 unbeaten games, as Southampton came to Highbury and were demolished 6-1 by hat-tricks from Jermaine Pennant and Robert Pires, in a night of free-flowing attacking football. In the final a few weeks later, Arsenal won a nervy game 1-0, thanks in part to Oleg Luzhny having a good game as a make-shift centre back. With the exception of Arsenal winning, the two games couldn't have been more different.
Apart from the clubs involved, Arsenal's trip to Hull won't be a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup Final. Whatever the score-line is at the KC will have no relevance at Wembley, because come that day, Arsenal will be fighting a battle with their own minds to get over the line to win a trophy, and not just fighting a battle against the opposition in front of them. That won't be the case today. Arsenal players know this situation and know how to win these leagues games to qualify for Europe.
Deal with the league first, then we can worry about the cup final suits, cup final song and the yellow ribbons after the final four Premier League matches.