I’ll admit, I’ve been rather down on the team since our defeat on Tuesday. What I fear more than anything else is the team letting the mini-slump slump along further, to the point where it’s all a bit too late. Let’s, for the sake of clarity, refer to this as ‘sleep-slumping’ to disaster.
And if I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself, it’s reasonable to assume that the team is too. These are the ‘psychological blows’ Wenger refers to. Left hook, Birmingham. Midriff, Sunderland. Right hook, Barcelona. We’re tottering on the ropes a bit.
This article in the Guardian sums up neatly why today is more than just an opportunity to freshen things up and give our war-weary troops a breather. Back in 2008, Wenger effectively conceded the FA Cup at Old Trafford to concentrate on the league, only to then win just one win from the next eight. That, as they say, was that.
So quite apart from being an FA Cup quarter final, which is reason enough to take things seriously, the added factors of a) two teams eager to put recent disappointments behind them and b) two teams challenging each other at the top of the table, makes it a huge, huge game.
We’ve lost five of our last six trips to Old Trafford, drawing the other, and United’s home form is superb. Nobody is under any illusions about the size of the task. But we urgently need to come out with a response. It’s been argued long and hard over the last week, but for my money we’ve not played well – at least not as well as we can – since Barcelona in the first leg. We’ve lost a bit of sparkle. You could argue that the league is a bigger priority, but I’m not sure I agree. It’s a bigger target, and we’d all rather win it than the cup, sure, but the FA Cup has equal priority in my books. You cannot pluck form out of the ether, or pick and mix which competitions to win. It doesn’t work that way. You go for them all.
So we’ll play as strong a team as we can, I’m sure of that, and I guess it will be something like Almunia, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy, Wilshere, Diaby, Eboue/Bendtner, Nasri, Arshavin & van Persie. Denilson might play a part but I’d be worried by that. We don’t need to add more players lacking confidence to the starting XI, we need fewer. It’s one thing Bendtner doesn’t lack, and Eboue for all his lack of end product offers a bit of pace.
What we need is a reaction. A performance. A sign that they’re rolling up their sleeves and tucking into the business end of the season with the bit between their teeth.