Monday, 10 March 2014

FA Cup joy, more Everton thoughts and updated season expectations

What a day to be an Arsenal fan - sadness turned to sheer jubilation within 2 hours as Wigan Athletic somehow defeated Manchester City and provided every one of us with genuine optimism. In doing so, they haven't just produced a massive upset in the cup, but they also seem to have got us inch-close to ending our infamous trophyless streak.

There truly can be no excuses now. I'm not saying that the FA Cup is now a given, but it's certainly a task made much, much simpler after Wigan have knocked out City. I wouldn't spare the team any excuse even if fourteen refereeing decisions go against us and we're forced to concede seven own goals because Roberto Martinez has a gun to Arsene Wenger's head.

Such an opportunity is vastly reminiscent of the 2011 Carling Cup competition. Some might argue that we had an even easier task then - it was only Ipswich and Birmingham to beat and ecstasy would undoubtedly follow. Yet Wenger fucked it up.

However, equating 2011 to today's squad is an insult to this Arsenal. Few would disagree that today's Arsenal is vastly more experienced, determined, capable and eager to win than the past. However, the most important trait of these players that distinguish them from past Arsenal sides is that they understand how Arsenal supporters feel, and they're willing as hell to give us what we want: a trophy.

I found some of the reactions to our draw a bit weird. People constantly reminded everyone that Wigan are a side capable of producing massive upsets, and that we shouldn't underestimate them. To them, I say, aren't Manchester City ten times of Wigan Athletic? After all, the last encounter against Manchester City resulted in a 6-3 loss, while the last encounter against Wigan (a game which was arguably as important as the semi final coming up) was a 4-1 victory for us.

I'm not saying that we can allow ourselves to underestimate Wigan. I'm just saying that our team is more than capable of blowing Wigan away and that we should have a little more belief in our team. The game against Everton showcased some qualities that were sorely lacking in previous Arsenal matches, we should learn from them.

1. We should start all games with a sense of urgency: Vital, absolutely vital for victory. It's a long known fact that Arsenal begin all games slowly and struggle to find our feet. However, now as we're entering the season run-in, we must treat every match as a cup final.

I've noticed that we begin home matches quite brilliantly, which is great. However, seen that only 4 out of our 9 Premier League remaining matches are at home, we must replicate our home form on the away turf as well.

2. Oxlade-Chamberlain is indispensable: Without Chamberlain, we're completely flat in attack. The Ox is one of those players who has what the present Arsenal needs (and the Invincibles had) - power and pace. I am firmly of the opinion that in every match Ozil starts, Oxlade-Chamberlain should partner him. With Chambo making dangerous runs off the ball and Ozil finding them, they could form a superb duo in no time.

3. The Flamenta axis can work because of Arteta: I was surprised when I found people surprised at Arteta's performance the day before yesterday. After Wenger wrongly attempted to play him deeper since he came to Arsenal, many Arsenal supporters have deemed him to be a defensive midfielder, which is a bit unfair. Arteta was always a central attacking midfielder, and yesterday proved that. Like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, Arteta can be a box-to-box midfielder.

That means that the only true defensive midfielders in our team are Mathieu Flamini and Kim Kallstrom. Arsenal cannot afford to overplay Flamini, he's an absolute necessity and needs to be rotated from time to time. Maybe loaning in Kallstrom wasn't a bad idea after all.

4. Mesut Ozil in form is an absolute necessity: Let's face it, Ozil is our best player. Normally, I won't say that a team needs to revolve around one player, but I am now. If Mesut Ozil doesn't play like Mesut Ozil for 2 months, it's going to be really difficult for us to cope without his form. It's good that he seemingly has his confidence back, because we badly need Ozil in form for a successful season.

Speaking of a successful season, I think it's time to define what we should realistically hope for in this campaign. We're approaching the run-in now, the crunch part of the season that will undoubtedly define it. We have a great chance to end our trophy drought and can restore pride in the Barclays Premier League.

What do I feel this team is realistically capable of achieving in these two months? Here we go.

1. Beat Bayern Munich: I know I said before that we should cut our losses in the Champions League, but I have a different thought settling in now. I strongly feel that if we beat Bayern Munich (it's possible) and then thump the Tottshit Spuds (which is almost definite), not to mention Aaron Ramsey returning from injury, our season will take a massive boost for the better.

In addition, Bayern Munich are on a 49 match unbeaten run, and it's almost karma that Arsenal are the only team that can stop them from bettering their own record. I'm not saying that Arsenal should try to qualify for the quarters, I'm saying that we should try to defeat Bayern; even a 0-1 scoreline would be simply fantastic. Let's make it happen tomorrow.

2. Finish 2nd: Winning the Premier League was always impossible with such a thin squad and an incompetent manager. However, I'm starting to believe that we can overtake Manchester City and finish second in the league, at least. Since the beginning of the season I have always felt that Chelsea were going to win the league, and now it seems almost probable.

However, Manchester City's season seems to be falling apart a bit. They look a bit dependent on Aguero, and their freescoring style of winning has dramatically halted. If, IF we beat them at our own fortress, I think we can snatch 2nd from them.

Personally, I'm not worried about Liverpool. Yes, they have only one competition to play in and they're above us in the table, but I firmly believe that they'll slip to fourth as the season progresses. Arsenal seem set for third in the league, but I'll still urge my team to do better because we have the potential to do so. It will take a lot of work, but it can happen.

Let's get behind the team. God knows they need our support.

3. Win the cup: Period. No excuses, no slip-ups. I don't care if we win the Premier League and the Champions League, but if we fail to win the FA Cup, it would be nothing else but disaster. Disaster, I tell you.

We will never get a better chance to make amends for bottling our league lead than this. I don't want to advertise Nike, but I just want to say to Arsenal: Just do it.

Everyone listen up. The end of the season has arrived, and with it comes a lot of promise. The team needs to deliver, but we need to get behind them as well. It's time to shout your lungs out for your beloved Arsenal.

Come on you Gunners. And Gooners.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )