Winning this could be huge
It’s past midnight and I’m not long in from work. However, I wanted to get something on the site after the crucial win at Crystal Palace, and before the visit of Mourinho’s oil barons in the League Cup.
Obviously it turned out to be a hard-fought three points at Selhurst Park on Saturday. Anyone following me on Twitter (@ARSENALDvbrisG) will have known that I was concerned about the outcome right from when they had been hammered 4-1 by Fulham on the preceding Monday. In a logical World the team at the top of the Premier League should have no problems against a side who can’t buy a win. But football is not logical, especially in this country, and that’s part of the attraction of Premier League football around the globe.
The problem we had, for me, and it’s been a problem since the storming display against Napoli, is that we started slowly. I don’t know whether it’s because Wenger is insisting on pairing Flamini and Arteta when they’re both available but the moving or Ramsey out wide to accommodate an extra defensive player in midfield does us no favours. Serge Gnabry should have been starting the game on Saturday with either Flamini or Arteta on the bench. The fact that Flamini picked up an injury, and could now miss the next three or four massive games, is bad news indeed. However, his withdrawal early on did get Gnabry on to the pitch. We didn’t much get going after that slow start, even with the introduction of the young German, but when we did put our foot down shortly before half-time it was Gnabry who was the catalyst – just as he was at Swansea.
We should have had a penalty before the break for a foul on Gnabry. We did get one just after it for a foul on Gnabry. His willingness to commit a defender by running at them puts him in a fairly exclusive club (alongside Wilshere and Chamberlain) in the Arsenal squad. Gnabry is also willing to put in the hard yards defensively and he was there helping out Bacary Sagna (back to his best on Saturday, and putting in some excellent crosses for a change too) on more than one occasion. When Arteta was ridiculously red carded I was astonished to see Gnabry removed from the fray, while Cazorla and Ozil stayed out there (thought Cazorla was taken off shortly after). The physicality of the youngster could well have been missed had we been up against better opponents in that situation. As it was we got away with it and could have had more than Olivier Giroud’s goal late on to show for our efforts. Having said that, had it not been for an imperious display from Wojciech Szczesny we would have been pegged back to 1-1.
In the end it was a big three points. You have to take maximum points against the dross if you’re to win the Premier League. It doesn’t matter how you get them. Idiots like Hansen can sit there on Match Of The Day, or Owen on BT Sport (no new subscriptions will have been sold after people sat through his nonsense for free on Saturday) and find ways to criticise. Ultimately we played not at our best, but came out with the win. I’ll take that every week, thanks very much.
So tomorrow it’s the League Cup and the chance to take on Chelsea Reserves. Of course, Chelsea Reserves would be most Premier League clubs first-team. Arsene will obviously change a lot of players, but having got one or two back from injuries we should be stronger than we were at West Brom.
The problem, for me, lies with our bench tomorrow night. Le Boss is understandably keen for the likes of Ramsey and Giroud to get a breather. However, we are not in a position to go throwing away the chance to win silverware. We simply must have a bench with some players on it that are capable of coming on and making a difference should we go behind. As far as I’m concerned there is a need for the first-choice players who don’t start to be on the bench.
Given that we are top of the Premier League there may be a feeling with some that the League Cup is less important again. As I’ve said, we need a trophy so the importance of it is clear to me. Aside from this is the fact that Chelsea are the opposition and Wenger’s record against Mourinho is poor. If we could beat them it would lay a ghost to rest. If we get beaten the press will love to trot out how Mourinho is some sort of genius with a hex on Wenger and Arsenal.
Going back to 1988-89 the players went to Anfield in the League Cup around this time of year (possibly slightly earlier, but it’s late at night and I can’t be bothered to look it up). They’d already had a win over Liverpool at home in the Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy, but the League Cup game was more important in many ways. That night Arsenal outplayed Liverpool in their own stadium for the first time in years. We drew 1-1 with Rocky Rocastle scoring a screamer. We were also cheated out of a late winner from Alan Smith by a dodgy referee. Arsenal would go on to lose that tie in a second replay at Villa Park, but the seed had been sewn for what would follow the next May. I’ve always felt that the players in that squad gained the belief they could compete with Liverpool at the top level that night at Anfield. The fans also knew that we were now on that level where we could beat Liverpool. Tomorrow could be just as important for this current squad, and the supporters, in believing that they are ready to challenge once more. I hope Arsene Wenger can recognise that and selects a team that can do it.