Friday, 7 March 2014

Arsenal vs Everton: Match Preview


The deathrun begins, and it begins with the most important match of the season so far.

Needless to say, we must win. Yes, we are crippled by injuries (Wenger's fault), we lost our lead in the Premier League (Wenger's fault) and now we only have the FA Cup to salvage this season. However, with a squad so thin and a manager so deluded, we have done well to get us a fair chance to win the cup.

Everton are a tough team, mostly because they are tactically miles ahead of us. Roberto Martinez outsmarted Arsene Wenger by pressing the team into submission, dominating the first half when we faced them in December. Of course, Arsenal took over later due to Everton fading away after jading, but we cannot afford to run that risk now.

Martinez's team scared me when they last played at the Emirates. They're constant pressing on the ball reminded me of Borussia Dortmund. We all know that Arsene's Arsenal do not react well to being closed down quickly upon, so Wenger has to find a solution for that.

I can recall only one time when we won a match even though not given space - that 1-0 victory at the Westfalenstadion. Yes, the win was far from lucky, but it was the result of a rock-solid defence, one that seems to be falling apart after the Liverpool annihilation. Drastic improvement is needed if we are serious about winning this trophy.

It's hard to know the team Wenger will pick. I think that his backline, for starters, will consist of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Monreal. I would love Wenger to play more competent defenders like Sagna or Gibbs, but I have a nasty feeling that he doesn't take this game seriously, like he does to almost all FA Cup games.

Kallstrom and Ramsey will not be available, which means that in all likelihood we'll be seeing Flamini and Arteta in the middle of the park. Considering Everton's tendency to press us high up the pitch and Arteta (in particular) buckle to that pressure, I'd start Oxlade-Chamberlain there. I'm not sure that Flamini and Arteta would be a disastrous decision, but I just feel Chamberlain would be much better.

Ozil will start as central attacking midfielder, with Podolski occupying the left flank. If the Flamenta baseline does appear in midfield, then I expect Chamberlain to play on the right. If not, then Serge Gnabry is always an option. Players like Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky on the bench would only strengthen us further.

Who would I take up front? In all honesty, neither of the three options are good enough. Giroud is good but is regressing under Wenger, because Arsene is overplaying him, heaping pressure on him and demanding him to score van Persie-esque goals, something he cannot do. Yaya Sanogo seems a decent lad who certainly would put in a hardworking shift, but he is just plain rusty. As for Nicklas Bendtner, while he might put in a surprising performance if started, I don't want to pin hopes on a moody Arsenal reject.

There is a huge chance that Arsenal will be eliminated from the FA Cup in this round. I've prepared myself for it - on the contrary, I've already gathered positive thoughts if we lose. If we win, a team deserving of winning a trophy will be going one step closer to winning it. However, if we lose, Arsene Wenger will be closer to the exit door.

I find myself constantly questioning, well, myself. Which scenario would I prefer? Winning the FA Cup (which would mean a new contract for Wenger), or losing the FA Cup and Wenger getting sacked? In all honesty, I don't know the answer. All I can say is that I'd be perfectly satisfied with either scenario, and that in the long-term Wenger leaving the club would be for the best anyway.

However, losing the FA Cup does not mean that Wenger is certain to leave. Even us finishing outside the top four would not guarantee that. In the end, it all comes down to the board members to make their decisions. The board members' unpredictable nature means that keeping faith in them to do the right thing is a bit foolish. However, if I were Wenger I'd be embarrassed to sign a new contract, after so many years of abject failure.

I'll be watching the game with impassioned indifference. Putting so much emotion into such a crucial and difficult match seems a risky exercise to me, Blackburn and Bradford encounters proved that. The thing about Arsenal is that it's such an unpredictable club that I don't want to put too much emotion, for fear of feeling heartbroken if we suffer a negative result. Maybe I'm just too afraid to make myself vulnerable to disappointments.

Just... come on Arsenal. The stakes are high. Really high.

Do not disappoint.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )