The FA Cup draw has been completed and we have been dealt the worst possible draw. Before the game I thought we would get either Manchester United or Chelsea, however I had a feeling it would be at the Emirates. It is just our luck we would draw the team playing brilliant football in their own backyard. We have had rotten draws this season with AC Milan in the Champions League and having to play Spurs at home in the first leg (I still feel that was a major disadvantage).
Man Utd have only lost once at home this season and that was against Coventry in the Carling Cup. Apart from that game they have been pretty lethal at home and having to go up there so close to the Milan game is a real disappointment. I tell you now; bringing them back to the Emirates for a replay with a draw at Old Trafford could be a fantastic result.
Many will look to March and April as our most important months of the season; however I want to point out something else to you.
First of all, here are the most important fixtures during March and April:
Tuesday, 04 March 2008
UEFA Champions League
AC Milan v Arsenal, R1, L2, 19:45
Sunday, 23 March 2008
Barclays Premier League
Chelsea v Arsenal, 16:00
Saturday, 05 April 2008
Barclays Premier League
Arsenal v Liverpool, 15:00
Saturday, 12 April 2008
Barclays Premier League
Man Utd v Arsenal, 15:00
It is clear why this will be a critical period. It will determine our future in the Champions League and also give an obvious indication whether we can challenge for the Premier League and take the title race to the wire. It is perfectly understandable then that this period sticks out like a bad smell. However I point out to you these two fixtures, within one week of each other:
They are both cup games but the bearing they may have on the season as a whole is massive.
Saturday, 16 February 2008
The FA Cup sponsored by E.ON
Man Utd v Arsenal, R5,
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
UEFA Champions League
Arsenal v AC Milan, R1, L1, 19:45
The Cup game could not have come at a worse time. Before the Milan game an easier tie would have made such a difference. Wenger would have had the opportunity to rotate his team slightly and prepare the team that was due to play in midweek. Now, Wenger will have to play his best available team for both if he is serious about winning these trophies.
The players will have a gruelling trip up North with only 3 days until the next game. I am positive both clubs will fight for a Saturday kick-off seeing as both are in action on the Wednesday. A Sunday fixture will affect preparation for these massive games.
I have not really got to my main point yet and that is if we lose both of these games. We will be out of the FA Cup and likely to be heading out of Europe as well. This would leave one sole trophy to fight for and there is no assumption we can win that. Going out of both competitions could see the season derail completely. It has happened before to many teams and one would solely hope that this team could bounce back.
They have done it before but it would knock confidence massively.
The games in March were key games but the two fixtures above play a massive part going into these. I guess you can turn the argument around and say that should we lose both of these, the focus would be on one sole piece of silverware and there would be no distractions when pursuing this trophy. Every game would be put towards winning the League and there would be no place for a lack of focus. It may not affect us as much as I fear.
Reading back over what I have just written, it does sound like I’ve admitted defeat before the games are even around the corner. That shows the enormity of these matches but also the confidence boost we could get from winning them both. If we win at Old Trafford it could prove to be a catalyst for a good run of results with confidence sky high. We would go into the Milan game fearing no team and we would go to the San Siro in March and back to Old Trafford in April with a massive psychological boost over Manchester United and Milan.
This just shows the balance Football can have. A victory here can change a season for the good, a defeat there can derail a team in their title pursuit.
We do however need to be in the running for the title come February and March. That means that every game counts from here on in and that starts tomorrow evening with the visit of Newcastle for the second game running. The 3-0 win on Saturday will no doubt give the players an advantage over Keegan’s side but it could still be a tricky tie. Newcastle showed some good moments of play in the Cup and could have taken the lead on two occasions.
We did see however that when we attack them with pace and power we can brush them aside. The more we got our fast passing game going we looked a far more threatening side. Two of our goals were brilliantly taken by Adebayor but Eduardo played a big part in two of the three and is fast settling into the side. His partnership is developing well with Adebayor and they could be crucial in the coming months. He will start the game tomorrow night as opposed to being on the bench like Saturday.
Tomas Rosicky’s injury is not serious according to Arsene Wenger. I would not rely on him being back soon as Wenger has often been wrong regarding injury lay offs. Hleb will come in for Rosicky and it depends if Theo keeps faith with Diaby or Walcott. Wenger has said he will play Theo on the wing if needed – a quick backtrack from last week’s comments. He could play him on the right with Hleb left. Personally, Hleb is better on the left for me than the right but it depends if Diaby is going to play or not. He does struggle on the left but would be even worse on the right.
He has no left foot so cuts in more centrally when on the left. To cut inside from the right he would need a left foot so if Wenger refuses to play him in the centre, the left is the only option. I think Diaby will be the man to start tomorrow with Hleb on the right. Fabregas came into the game more in the second half as he pushed into more advanced and more dangerous positions. I would like him to do this from the off tomorrow.
Mathieu Flamini was brilliant in his role. He got in some crunching tackles and refused to let Newcastle get out of their half as the game drew on. I just hope he signs his new contract soon as it could be a massive blow to lose him in the summer.
Clichy, Senderos and Gallas will keep their place but Bakary Sagna will return replacing Justin Hoyte. Duff played well in the first half on Saturday and will be a threat. Sagna is a better defender than Hoyte and will added extra security to the back. The other three just need to play the way they did in the last game and we should be ok at the back. Philippe Senderos especially impressed me. We will also see Manuel Almunia returning to the side in place of Jens Lehmann.
In other news: Robin Van Persie has returned to training. I am not that excited right now as he has done this three times already this season, only to be laid off again very soon afterwards. We will see soon if he has put his injury behind him. Right now though, he is third choice striker.
Luke Freeman made his debut for the reserves yesterday and the move has not received much media. I wonder if this is due to the media coverage when Walcott signed. Wenger will be keen to keep this on the down low so as not to over hype a move to a big club at such a young age.