Big matchup lacks big match feeling
It’s the battle of the broken hearts at the Emirates. At least that’s what it feels like after a week of Champions League play that saw Arsenal swept aside by United and Chelsea crash out with just seconds between them and Rome. It won’t be easy for either team to regroup, but professionals are paid great sums of money to play their best regardless of the circumstances. That’s the theory anyway. In reality, it might be too much to ask for either team to have all of their heart in this match.
For that reason, we can expect to see some unusual lineups for this one. The most interesting part of the game for Arsenal supporters is the chance to see Arshavin play. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll have even that little pleasure. Arshavin has been suffering with flu, and Wenger claims that he will probably be short for tomorrow. We’ll know for sure about Arshavin in a few hours, but we do know that he failed to train on Friday. It’s would be a real shame to miss him for this one and it’s somewhat odd that he will have missed (for the most part) both games against his national manager.
It’s HIGHLY unlikely that Emmanuel Adebayor will play today. Not only does his recent performance warrant a place on the bench, the Emirates faithful would no doubt let him know what they think of his effort against United were he to play, and I’m sure that Wenger would prefer to avoid that unpleasantness. If it’s all the same to everyone, I’d be just as happy if I never saw Ade in a Gunners kit again.
Ordinarily I’d suggest that our team would see wholesale changes for this game, but Arsene Wenger, being somewhat delusional, still believes that we can achieve third place. I assure you that it’s virtually impossible considering that we would have to win all of our remaining games, and Chelsea would have to gain only one point from their remaining fixtures. Regardless, Wenger will want to show that we can compete with the big teams and so we will probably see Theo, Cesc, Nasri, and RVP at least. The defense will probably remain unchanged from midweek considering that we have virtually no other options aside from Eboue. I expect Bendtner to start and to have his shorts properly positioned on his waist. To me, the only real questions are whether Arshavin is available and whether Denilson, Diaby or Song start in the holding midfield role.
Gus Hiddink, on the other hand, might approach this game with an eye towards resting some of his more demoralized players. We already know that Drogba is likely missing with some phantom injury (possibly to his lady bits). Considering his prodigious goal scoring record against us, that’s half the battle won. But Chelsea still have a final to play for, in large part because we didn’t think it was important enough to start our best team. For that reason, Hiddink might rest big names like Essien or Lampard. I have some concern that the combined frustration of the two teams and their thinly veiled contempt for one another could lead to a particularly nasty match. Either that, or there will simply be no emotion left to spark any conflagration. I’m not sure which I’d prefer to see.
We could use a win in this match to restore some faith and goodwill, but the result means little to the outcome of our season. More than anything, this is simply a chance to reward the Emirates faithful with the kind of display they didn’t see in midweek. My guess is that we won’t see the same atmosphere tomorrow that we saw for the first 10 minutes against United.
As we move further away from the United tie, I’ve started to achieve a more positive mindset about the team. While it’s easy to say that there’s a gulf in class between Arsenal and United, that’s not necessarily a fair conclusion. Let’s remember, we played this entire season missing key players at every stage. We went through the middle of the season without our best creative/attacking players and went through the crucial run-in without our starting defense. I’m not suggesting that we had what it takes to beat United, but it would have been a different tie with Clichy and Gallas in defense and Arshavin available in midfield.
If nothing else, this season simply showcased the lack of depth in the team, but not the lack of talent. I really believe that when all the pieces are in position, we’re not far from a top side. Realize, we played a full strength United team just as they were returning to their best form. How different might the outcome have been if we had our entire defense and they were still playing with Evans in defense rather than Ferdinand. Perhaps it might not have been different at all, but watching Barcelona play without Puyol and Henry, I saw a very different team from the one that has been the best in Europe all season. When you play the very very best teams in the world, you can’t afford to be without key personnel. That’s what we’ve had to contend with all season long.
For me, the biggest concern with this team is attitude. There’s simply no excuse for lack of effort in the least important matches. But when you perceive a lack of effort in the biggest games, then something is dreadfully wrong. It’s hard to love the club as much as I do, to feel my stomach in knots before a big game, and then watch as some of our key players walk around the pitch with only the slightest of interest. I can tell you that I actually grew to appreciate Kieran Gibbs more because of his slip. Watching him literally melt down after the mistake, there was no denying how much the moment meant to him. I wish we saw that kind of emotional investment from all of our players. We saw that commitment from the entire team last season, but for some reason, a few of them have opted to adopt a more laissez-faire attitude this season.
So this game against Chelsea is a chance for the players to show the supporters that they are committed to the cause. It would be hugely encouraging to see a focused and energetic performance that suggests that this team “gets” it. That they understand that wearing the Arsenal shirt is a privilege and comes with responsibility. Young and talented atheletes are used to things coming easily to them. When the first face adversity, some of them wilt. Hopefully we have the kind of players that grow from the experience into hardworking, seasoned professionals.
If we lose today, it will be just another cause for questions about our ability to win at the highest level. If we win, it will inspire renewed belief that we’re not as far away as people think. In reality, both conclusions are unwarranted. Given the peculiar circumstances surrounding this match and the mindset of the of two teams, it’s probably not wise to read anything into the result. The most important thing that can happen in this match is anything bad for Cashley Cole and any other Chelsea player for that matter.
I truly hope that Arshavin plays. He’s our best player at the moment and hugely entertaining to watch. Cesc has had a miserable season all around and Arshavin has really given us something to enjoy. I know it’s practically sacrilegious to criticize Fabregas, but he has set a very high standard and he simply hasn’t risen to those heights very often this season. We could argue over why that’s been the case, but let’s just assume that he’ll return to his best next season. Regardless, it’s made Arshavin’s impact all the more obvious and enjoyable.
It will be fascinating to see the attitude of the two teams today. Chelsea have the more mature team, but as Arsene pointed out, their elimination came in more devastating fashion. So it might be reasonable to assume that they will be the ones hanging their heads lowest. However, Chelsea played the better football for 180 minutes against arguably Europe’s best. Arsenal, on the other hand, were manhandled by a hated rival and meekly bowed out without much fight. I think I’d rather be in their shoes. They should at least be filled with belief in their quality. We need to find the belief that we are still a top side.
Enjoy the match wherever you are. We all must try to get behind our team once more. No matter how disappointed we are by the result in midweek and the manner in which it came about, this is our team and they need our support. Seeing Chelsea lined up on the other side of the pitch should be enough to reignite the passion of the players and supporters alike. It’s a chance for a modicum of revenge and to show the Arsenal haters that we’re still a proud club. I think we’re going to destroy the blues today.
Come On You Gunners.