Aston Villa vs. Arsenal Preview

It was just over 13 months ago that Arsenal were beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa, and Chris Hudson’s post-match promo on Ivan Gazidis, Arsene Wenger, Tim Payton and John Cross effectively paid off Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV’s mortgage. It was a truly spectacular day, all things considered – Arsenal pretty much went about devising the most Arsenal-like home defeat ever recorded. It was a full-house on the Arsenal-loss bingo card. Squandered an early lead: check. Penalty conceded: check (x2). Laurent Koscielny mishap: check. Player(s) subbed due to injury: check. Late goal conceded on the counter-attack: check. “Spendsomefackingmoney” chants: Check.

The Gunners are going to have to really pull something special out of the bag to top that performance, but after their midweek display away to Dortmund, Wenger’s side are definitely in good shape for it.

Fans have been pondering the reason why their side have been so bad, and now seem to have placed the blame squarely on the subtle formation change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3. It is funny how Arsene Wenger turned down the chance to Cesc Fabregas in the summer because he wouldn’t fit into Arsenal’s system, before changing to a formation that would only actually benefit Cesc Fabregas.

Let’s not pretend, however, that a tactical re-jig is the only reason that Arsenal – excluding Community Shield matches that their opponents obviously didn’t care about – have been rubbish in every game they’ve played this season. A more likely theory would be the dip in form of Aaron Ramsey directly affecting that of the team. Arsenal’s performances last season can basically be split into two categories: Games when Ramsey played (good) and games when Ramsey was injured (bad). Him playing and playing badly is rather uncharted territory for this post-Gervinho Arsenal, but it seems as though the dependency on Ramsey is already mirroring that of Henry, Fabregas and van Persie in years gone by. In other words, Arsenal could probably do with Aaron Ramsey playing well.

Anyway, Arsenal’s record at Villa Park is actually pretty good. They haven’t been beaten there in the league since 1998 when – in not-very-Arsenal-like fashion then, but very-Arsenal-like fashion now – they threw away a 2-goal lead to lose 3-2. Since then, it’s generally been a mixture of 0-0s and narrow Arsenal victories. At the risk of venturing a serious prediction here, one of these two outcomes is probably quite likely to happen again.

It is quite easy to overlook the fact that Aston Villa are actually second in the table. This is mainly because after ten straight weeks of occupying that position during the off-season, they’ve managed to camouflage themselves from the select few who actually study the league table after four rounds of matches.

However, with a fourth-annual result at Anfield under their collective belt (which was actually a clause inserted in the Stuart Downing deal), Aston Villa may feel pretty confident about their chances of picking up a win against a deflated Arsenal side. Either that, or they’ll try to play for a nil-nil, then look around in a rather bewildered manner, mouthing “what do we do now?” to each other when Alexis Sanchez finally breaks the deadlock in the 76th minute.

Best World Cup games since 1998 – Netherlands 5-1 Spain

The Spain-being-boring stuff has already been touched upon in this series, but it’s probably worth covering properly here, seeing as this was the game that ended that era.

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona (that’s them between 2008 and 2012) were, without a doubt, one of the most attractive football teams of all time. They’d play creative, short-passing football; press teams high up the pitch, attack constantly, and had Lionel Messi. Some of the most enjoyable games of the last five years were ones in which Barca schooled sides like Real Madrid and Manchester United, who, in theory, should have been in their weight-class. Not only was their style better than everyone else’s, but their substance was too.

Del Bosque’s Spain side contained many of the same players – Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Pedro, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and David Villa, so used a similar, short-passing, possession-hogging game.

However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Spain’s idea of possession football was less about pulling teams apart, and more about boring them into submission. Loads of pundits argued that Spain’s style still made them attractive, despite it being blatantly obvious that they were just passing the ball from side to side and beating every team 1-0. They were essentially one of the blokes from Geordie Shore (hear me out); just because they have some characteristics that you’d associate with attractiveness – quiffed hair, muscles, tattoos, etc – doesn’t change the fact that they’re short and ugly.

To an extent, it was probably an Emperor’s New Clothes-type case too; people were told so frequently that Spain played good football that they actually believed it. It wasn’t until midway through Euro 2012 that anyone actually piped up and argued otherwise.

After a series of underwhelming (or, more simply put, boring) World Cups, someone had to set a precedent, and, despite having a defence full of football manager regens, Holland did the good deed.

The first 40-ish minutes went pretty much as you’d have expected. Busquets and Xavi passed the ball to each other a lot, Spain created a couple of chances, and scored a penalty. Xabi Alonso rolling the ball into the corner of the net, past Jasper Cillessen (nah, me neither), seemed to be a strong indication of things to come. Having got their goal, the world champions were sure to spend the remaining hour passing the ball prudently around the centre-circle with little desire to build on their lead, or do anything remotely interesting.

Then Robin van Persie equalised, and it was a work of art. The fact that it came out of nowhere, both in terms of the move and in terms of the match as a whole, made the goal so much better. Sometimes it’s enjoyable to see a team pushing for a goal, and building up suspense before finally making a breakthrough – but this was the complete opposite. Think Leo Di Caprio’s death at the end of The Departed. One unexpected bullet connecting with a lead character’s head, and suddenly the story isn’t petering out the way you expected it to.

Daley Blind could, can and will try that 70-yard diagonal pass from left-back another thousand times, and most of the time will send it flying out for a goal-kick or throw. However, part of van Persie’s brilliance is his ability to cash-in the one outrageously speculative long-ball that does actually find him –with one touch. He soared through the air (slightly) to score the best World Cup headed-goal since Jared Borgetti’s 180-degree neck-twist for Mexico against Italy in 2002. It was only let down by the tame, half-missed high-five with Louis van Gaal during the celebration. Come on Robin, mate, keep your eyes on his elbow.

From then on, it was a thrashing. And not just your standard ‘the other team just gave up/left themselves too open to a counter attack’ thrashing, but a combination of excellence from the Dutch and comedy goalkeeping from Iker Casillas. While Arjen Robben can be frustrating, greedy, lazy and dislikeable, he was devastating in this match. Being given a free role in the Dutch forward line, Robben’s pace and directness cut Spain’s rear-guard to ribbons, scoring two fantastic goals, and nearly creating another for van Persie, whose right-footed volley hit the crossbar. To add to this, Casillas made two embarrassing errors; first he missed a Wesley Sneijder set-piece ,which was turned into the unguarded goal by Stefan de Vrij (again, no idea), then he mis-controlled a back-pass, allowing van Persie to gratefully steer to ball into the net.

Seeing a team who have been at the top of the pile for so long get toppled is an enjoyable watch in its own right; Spain had won three major tournaments on the bounce, so probably had it coming. However, there is something frustrating about the fact that a side containing that many gifted footballers didn’t play in a more exhilarating manner, especially considering the amount of them did so at club level. Yes the boring stuff worked, but when you have eight or nine world class players in your first eleven, and another three on the bench, any half-decent, coherent system would probably result in success. For this reason alone, Spain probably deserved a proper humiliation, something to really tarnish their legacy.

In truth, this Netherlands side aren’t always as amazingly exciting as this performance suggested, nor are they as good as Spain circa 2010, but by beating the world champions, they set down a marker. They eradicated a side who had previously dominated the game with their dull brand of football. And did so by doing the two things Spain didn’t: playing fast, attacking football, and scoring lots of goals.

Best World Cup games since 1998 – Germany 4-1 England

Obviously it’s really sad when your team gets knocked out of the World Cup, so sorry in advance for this one, but come on, this game was incredible. It would have been the most England-esque defeat of all time, if only they had been allowed to lose again on penalties after the 90 minutes were up.

After failing to reach Euro 2008, England sacked Steve McClaren. The FA, having probably thought long and hard on the issue, decided that hiring a better manager was the most effective way of avoiding embarrassment every two years. Of course, England trying to avoid embarrassment is like trying to avoid islamophobia on Facebook – the inevitability of it really doesn’t detract from the pain of watching someone you like/used to like out themselves as a complete moron in front of the entire world.

Yet Fabio Capello was hired to try anyway. General belief seemed to be that Capello was a man who would get results, but fans may have to put up with his unattractive style of football. And what a tragedy it was to see the high-aesthetics of England’s traditional long-ball game compromised – by pretty much the same rubbish.

You know the story; after an outrageously encouraging qualifying campaign, England struggled to negotiate a group containing the USA, Algeria, and Slovenia, scoring two goals in three matches.

Despite being so outrageously boring on the pitch during their first three matches (Rob Green howlers aside), the England team’s antics off it were fantastic entertainment. Capello bullying Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce on the bench was a work of art – spotting the ‘hard man’ prowling the technical area, ordering him to sit down, then pushing him back up again; much like the way a year eleven would humiliate a year seven at the back of a school bus.

While Wayne Rooney’s footballing ability was at an all-time low, he displayed an even bigger talent – breaking the fourth wall whilst on the pitch. “Nice to see yer home fans booin’ yer” after the 0-0 draw with Algeria was the single greatest thing Wayne Rooney has ever said on TV*, demonstrating laughable ignorance towards fans who had travelled halfway across the globe to watch him do nothing but look a bit angry for 90 minutes.

John Terry, meanwhile, tried to initiate a coup d’état after the humiliating Algeria match, turning his press-conference the following day into a declaration of war. Of course, in true John Terry fashion, it fell apart. No one else in the team was willing to back him up, and, if reports are correct, Capello made Terry sit back down as quickly as he did Psycho Pearce.

The BBC’s entire build-up to the Germany-England game itself was fantastically hubristic. Between Lee Dixon, Alan Shearer and Alan Hansen, there was not even a shred of doubt that England would defeat the finalists of the previous European Championships – a tournament Our Brave Boys had failed to even qualify for. After all, England had just laboured to a 1-0 win against the least populous side in the World Cup, how could they not beat the three-time world champions, Germany?

Even the most jingoistic England fans would admit that the silver lining to their team being beaten is the bad things that happen to bad people. Terry was at fault for two goals in the first 35 minutes; he first fled from the landing site of Manuel Neuer goal-kick, leaving Miroslav Klose to slide the ball home, then he abandoned Thomas Muller, who fed Lukas Podolski. Embarrassing himself on the pitch soon after embarrassing himself off it is a signature JT move. His ostentatious ‘Lionheart’ gimmick is hilarious as a stand-alone device, but the inevitable defensive errors that follow are even better. One of the few things that could have truly improved this game would have been if Terry had saved his diving-header-block for it, rather than using it in the previous game against Slovenia.

Lampard’s ‘goal’ was obviously the peak of both the match, and the entire tournament (although Luis Suarez’s handball & celebration runs it very, very close). Considering how badly England had played in the first half, they had absolutely no right to bring the scores back to 2-1, let alone equalise.

The injustice was essentially one of the most just parts of the game, and no one does hard-done-by quite like the English national football team. Despite being pretty rubbish, England have managed to paint themselves as the victims of rough justice after the majority of tournament exits. Maradonna’s handball, Ronaldo winking to get Rooney sent off (nothing to do with Rooney stamping on Carvalho’s crotch, of course), Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal (x2); it gets to the point where, regardless of whether they have actually been beaten by fair means or foul, any potential miscarriage of justice against England is just really funny.

The international swansong of Joe Cole also came full-circle. Despite spending every waking hour, post-2006, being injured and/or falling over his own feet attempting a trick he saw Ronaldinho pull off in a Nike advert, Cole managed to find himself on Capello’s long-list for the World Cup squad.

While initially a surprise inclusion, there was a mid-tournament push from pundits, players and fans for Chelsea’s chubby step-over addict to be included in the first team. “Listen, Joe is one of the best players in our country,” claimed John Terry in his big press conference. “He and Wayne are the only two who can open up defences.” This was proven to be true when Joe Cole came on as a substitute on the right wing, and subsequently opened up England’s defence by failing to offer his full-back any kind of cover. Germany sent two quick counter-attacks down the England right upon Cole’s arrival, and scored from both.

Of course, there was some fantastic football played by the German side too. Putting the schadenfreude-fest to one side, it was brilliant to watch a team full of players no one had heard of (at the time) tearing a more reputable one apart. Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Neuer, and Muller were all brilliant, with the latter three each involved in at least one of the four goals. After Gareth Barry had been earmarked to keep Ozil out of the game, the German playmaker went about proving him utterly unworthy of the challenge. Ozil sprinting away from England’s makeshift holding player in the build-up to the match’s fifth goal became a gestus for the match as a whole – the young and talented racing away from the dull and overrated.

 

*he proved this was no one-off several months later with his follow-up piece to camera “Fucking what, what?”

Best World Cup games since 1998 – Australia 2-2 Croatia

Recently, there’s been a problem with World Cups – they haven’t actually been that good. FIFA bumping up the amount of qualifying nations may give more small nations the chance to experience losing 4-0 to Brazil in a competitive match, but it means everyone else has to wait longer for decent games. Having said, that, though, there has been some brilliantly entertaining contests over the last four World Cups; over the next few weeks, this blog will feature pieces about a few of them.

There often seems to be a misunderstanding as to what good football is in the 21st century. This debate mainly revolves around Spain’s passing-patterns paired with lots of 1-0 wins. The only thing more boring than watching Xavi and Busquets play piggy-in-the-middle for an hour and a half is having to listen to people argue about it. Yes, watching good footballers play good football is a large part of the World Cup, but when they let you down and/or lose your attention, you need someone to stand up, take control and entertain. In the case of Croatia in the 2006 World Cup, it was Graham Poll; with Zeljko Kalac as his warm-up act.

Croatia had failed to score in their first two games of the tournament, losing 1-0 to Brazil and drawing 0-0 with Japan. Their coach, Zlatko Krancjar (yes, Niko’s dad) had essentially set his side up to play with five defenders and two defensive midfielders – so think Roberto Mancini without the bad hair and novelty knitwear. Krancjar wasn’t just going to take Croatia out of the World Cup, he was on the verge of making people forget they were ever even in it. Which isn’t a bad tactic, if you think about it.

However, Australia manager Guus Hiddink made the rather strange decision to drop his first-choice goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, in favour of the giant Kalac. After failing to get his giant six-foot-eight frame across quickly enough to stop Dario Srna’s free-kick, Kalac managed to fumble a Niko Kovac daisy-cutter into his own net, giving the Croatians a 2-1 lead. If playing Kalac to deal with balls in the air was Hiddink’s plan, he’d overlooked his keeper’s inability to competently deal with anything on the ground.

Many people who watch a band play live for the first time can be underwhelmed. If the band aren’t going to perform to the best of their abilities, the least they can do is show you something worth watching – worth paying for. If you aren’t going to get a strong performance, it might as well be an absolute train-wreck. How many people get the chance to see, say, the lead singer turn up coked out of his face, smash his guitar, forget his own lyrics and punch the bassist? That’d be just as much value as actually seeing a good set. The main reason why this game makes it onto this blog is because Graham Poll did the refereeing equivalent of this. Minus the drugs, though – as far as this blog as aware.

Referees don’t often lose track of how many times they’ve booked a player in a single match. This is largely due to the fact that most of them are able to count to two. However, to the world’s amusement, Poll struggled with this rather simple task, showing Croatian defender Josip Simunic three yellow cards before dismissing him. In fairness to Poll he had already managed it twice, sending off Brett Emerton and Dario Simic, but for extremely petty offenses.

There was definitely a beauty in the way that Simunic strolled back into a defensive position after Poll had shown a second yellow, surprisingly confident that the Englishman would forget to produce the corresponding red. Such had been the hilariousness of both the game (now 2-2) and the refereeing display, the Croatian probably expected it.

But Graham wasn’t finished. In the final moments, an Australian long throw into the Croatian box caught Simunic out, and he wrestled Mark Viduka to the floor, only to see John Aloisi slot the ball into the net. All logic would dictate that the advantage should be played and the goal should be given, or, at the very least, a penalty. Instead, Poll disallowed the goal, gave Simunic a third yellow (this time with a red) and blew the full-time whistle. An outstanding end to a match that should have been about Australia getting beyond the World Cup First round for the first time in their history, but instead became all about one hilarious entertainer, with his own failures as the punch-line.

Meanwhile, on BBC One, Ronaldo helped Brazil to a 4-0 win over Japan, equalling Gerd Muller’s World Cup goal-scoring record in the process; but no one cared. They’d already switched over to the other game on BBC Three which, for once, was showing some decent comedy.

Rafa Benitez and Tottenham would be a great match

Rafael Benitez sometimes finds it hard to be loved. Aside from Liverpool, where he won the Champions League and FA Cup, he has struggled to endear himself to the fans of both the clubs he is at, and fans of more neutral leanings. Ranting Rafa, Crazy Rafa, Control-Freak Rafa, Fat Spanish Waiter Rafa – his two spells in England have left him mocked by pretty much anyone without an affinity with him. Yet he does offer some fantastic entertainment and comedy moments (overlooking some of the awful jokes about him – waiter stuff for example; for fuck sake) and also, trophies.

For all his faults, of which there are many, Rafa Benitez’s CV is actually pretty impressive considering his reputation. Two Champions League finals (one won, one lost), two Europa Leagues/UEFA Cups, two FA Cups, two La Liga titles with a team who weren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, one Copa Italia, and one World Club Cup Thing That He Can’t Really Take Much Credit For Because Mourinho Won The Champions League To Get Inter There But He Still Had To Win It So Fair Play To The Lad Really.

So actually, he probably wouldn’t be the worst manager for a large team looking to recruit this summer. Like Tottenham.

When Daniel Levy decided to relieve Tim Sherwood of his duties this week, he took from us one of the Premier League’s great comedy characters. A man who believed he was a straight-talking, says-what-everyone’s-thinking man of the people, when in fact he – like anyone who believes he is a straight-talking, says-what-everyone’s-thinking man of the people – was just a bit of a weapon. His hubristic, cringe-worthy actions made Sherwood great entertainment value for everyone other than Spurs fans, with his self-delusions second only to Big Stevie Kean. After the over-intellectualism of the dossier-wielding Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood’s anti-tactics, anti-intelligence approach to management was hilarious viewing. Sherwood’s decision to offer his seat (and gillet, oddly) on the touchline to a supporter last weekend was poetically ironic, considering Tim himself spent his 5 months in charge behaving like a fan who had been given the opportunity to manage his beloved club.

Sadly for him though, Sherwood was clearly taking the North London side nowhere fast. Comedy and success don’t often come hand-in-hand in football, unless, of course, you are Rafa Benitez.

How many managers would buy David N’Gog, Andrea Dossena and Albert Riera in one summer, then spend circa £20million on Robbie Keane, only to sell him back to his old club 6 months later, and still finish second? Only Rafa. How many managers, post-Keegan, would allocate an amount of time in a pre-match press conference to rant about Sir Alex Ferguson in an unsure, socially awkward manner? Only Rafa. How many managers lack both the shame and self-awareness to start players like Jermaine Pennant and Djimi Traore in Champions League finals? THE MAN IS A BLOODY HERO.

The arrangement of Benitez going to Tottenham would, essentially, be perfect. He would inherit a talented group of players and probably take them to a cup final (be it domestic or continental), yet would still offer all the day-to-day slap-stick humour that you’d expect from a Rafa Benitez league campaign. And, let’s face it, Tottenham would probably be happy with that. Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United, a regular Champions League place is not sewn so heavily into Spurs’ identity, so finishing somewhere between 6th and 8th would hardly be a disaster – and coupled winning a cup or two would make for a pretty successful season. Maybe even an enjoyable one.

Benitez would also have the chance to form a hilarious partnership with Franco Baldini. Previously Fabio Capello’s side-kick, Baldini was the man who oversaw the re-investment of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer fee, recruiting hapless jokers like Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli, as well as a seemingly abstract representation of Roma’s Erik Lamela. Fused with Rafa’s record of overspending on players who would quite obviously be useless (Ryan Babel, Robbie Keane Alberto Aquilani, Mark Gonzalez, even Glen Johnson), Tottenham could continue their recent form of spending hefty sums on players who don’t actually improve their squad in any way.

Let’s not ignore the main point here, mind, Benitez would be successful at Tottenham. Along with the madness, he brought plenty of impressive wins in big games whilst at Liverpool, winning away at Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barcelona. His obsession with trophies may well bring more silverware to Tottenham than their one League Cup since the turn of the century. But Rafa’s erratic nature would combine that success with hilarity, pleasing both Tottenham fans and non-Tottenham fans alike.

Arsenal Could Do With Not Crumbling

Over the past six or seven years, Arsenal have been a club striving to achieve one thing – and no, it’s not a trophy. Well, okay, winning some silverware would probably help, but if the Wengerian attitude had ever been ‘just win a trophy, any trophy’ there would have been some won by now, but a few less top-four finishes too – and that’s Rafa Benitiez’s gimmick. There would also have been more painful and – let’s face it – hilarious incidents like the 2011 Carling Cup Final. So no, not simply trophies; above all else, Arsenal desire one thing: to be taken seriously. Seriously.

Since Patrick Vieira ran away celebrating his winning penalty in the 2005 FA Cup Final (and kept on running until he reached Turin), Arsenal have challenged for the title, in the broadest sense of the term, on three occasions. Each time the venture has started promisingly, and each time football pundits have been asked the same question: “is it time we started taking Arsenal seriously?” Of course, the answer is irrelevant. The question itself implies the main problem – Arsenal aren’t taken seriously. Anyone or thing who is considered to be prominent or important doesn’t need a bi-annual vote of confidence to reaffirm their position. They are, or they aren’t.

In the grander scheme of things Arsenal are, obviously, a pretty good football team, but because of the outrageous nature of each of their seasons, it’s very hard to take them seriously – they’re hilarious. Arsenal fans are often accused of being fickle and hysterical, which is pretty fair if you consult the very decent body of evidence they themselves document on social media, but then not many teams are quite as bipolar as Arsenal are. Maybe Liverpool – but their fans are often tarred with the same (or at least a similar) brush.

Arsenal’s 4-4 draw at Newcastle was a perfect example of this. No Premier League side had ever thrown away a four goal lead before, yet no side combined sheer brilliance with slapstick awfulness the way Arsenal circa 2011 did. Which other teams in recent memory would be good enough to take a 4-0 away lead at half-time, yet also bad enough to completely bugger it up in the second half?

This also works on a larger scale, as the conclusions to of each of Arsenal’s three most recent title campaigns have shown.  In the 2007/08 season, Arsenal travelled to Birmingham City five points clear at the top of the league, having lost just once in 26 games. In 2009/10, Wenger’s side found themselves top on 27 games in, and were considered in some corners as ‘dark horses’ in a three-way race with Chelsea and Manchester United. The following season (that’s 2010/11), they were second after 27 matches, but just a point behind Manchester United, who were still to visit The Emirates.

Of course, at around each of these respective points Arsenal went from saturation and into decline, resulting in them effectively conceding the title by mid-April. Rather than following through with the potential they showed by winning 6-1 at Goodison Park, 3-1, against then-title holders Chelsea, or 2-1 against Guardiola’s Barcelona, Wenger’s team collapsed in comical fashion, making said victories seem more like build-up to a springtime punch-line than serious demonstrations of ability.

Arsenal should win the FA Cup this season, considering they are the only Premier League side left in the tournament who aren’t Hull City, yet it still feels like another opportunity for everyone to laugh at them if/when it goes Pete Tong. Even if they do avoid embarrassment by winning the competition – which would unquestionably be good – finishing fourth would still raise questions about how much they have actually improved. Since finishing second to Chelsea in 2005, fourth is where Arsenal have placed in five of the last eight seasons, reaching only third in the other three.

Indeed, their late-season collapses could just be viewed as simply as regression to the mean. In the same way as they conspire to actually finish strongly when their Champions League spot comes under threat, Arsenal fade away every time they attempt to perform above themselves over 38 games. In fact, even the few times Arsenal have finished third in recent years is when a team who traditionally perform better than they do in the league have a far more significant collapse – e.g. Liverpool’s demise in 2010 and Chelsea’s prioritising of their Champions League campaign in 2012. Manchester United’s post-Ferguson decline could also fall into this bracket, should Arsenal fend off Liverpool’s assault on the automatic Champions League positions.

Obviously the FA Cup is nice, but would serve as more of a pain-killer than antidote for Arsenal. It would obviously quell the trophy cabinet/empty/dust jokes recycled by Footy Humour accounts, but the truth remains that Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri didn’t leave to win domestic cup competitions; they left to win league titles.  There is a train of thought that Arsenal’s side need to learn how to become “winners”, and winning one cup would be the catalyst for more; this theory is often partnered with the example of Jose Mourinho winning the League Cup before going on to triumph in bigger competitions at Stamford Bridge. But let’s not kid ourselves – Mourinho’s Chelsea were the strongest team in the country, and won back-to-back titles because of that. Anyone who thinks they’d have done anything other than win those two Premier Leagues had they lost to Liverpool in the 2005 Carling Cup final is, er, wrong.

If Arsenal do indeed suffer from vertigo, and need a cup-win to remedy that, then the FA Cup needs to be won. However, being able to keep pace with Manchester City and Chelsea until the end of the season could be far more useful for Arsenal. This would, at the very least, prove to everyone (themselves included) that this current project of Wenger’s has more potential than any of those from the previous eight years.