Burnley 0-1 Arsenal
Yesterdayâ€™s win was a gentle reminder that itâ€™s not every week you fire off a three-goal, eight-minute salvo where all the goals were straight out ‘Dennis Bergkampâ€™s Little Book of Crackers’.
It was a more prosaic win, a festival of free kicks and half-chances broken up by Ramsey being in the right place at the right time to wrap the points up. Good job he scored, really, because it wasnâ€™t the kind of game where clear-cut chances came easy at either end. In fact, it was when Welbeck came on and the shrugging Giroud came off where the game opened up a bit more to my liking. (Our glorious Gaul has had better games, but with seven goals in six games, thatâ€™s alright with me).
If the finish itself owed itself to a string bit of lucky bounces, the build-up was marvellous, with Coquelin like a tambourine clap through pigeons and Sanchez doing his usual impression of being everywhere at once. That one moment was enough, ultimately, against a team (lest we forget) that is battling for its Premier League existence.
With a squad bursting with unseasonal fitness, I was interested to see how we might line up on the bench. None of the most recent returnees were on it, which proves how hard – when you have a settled, winning team – itâ€™s going to be to upset the applecart. I canâ€™t see Arteta or Wilshere, for example, making the starting eleven until we have a game where thereâ€™s nothing to play for. The way the seasonâ€™s panning out, whenâ€™s that going to be?
I wouldnâ€™t want to make that decision and massage those precious egos. Which is probably one of the many reasons why Wenger is paid Â£8m a year and I am on a little bit less than that.
Great win, with the stand-out players being those in the engine room: Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla. And of course Sanchez, whose diet of raw fish, Red Bull and Castrol GTX continues to give him jaw-dropping energy levels. Eight wins on the trot, the perfect hors dâ€™oeuvre for an FA Cup semi-final and the visit of Chelsea.
The Poldi effect
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I had a bit of insomnia the other night. When this happens – fortunately not too frequently – I donâ€™t count sheep, of course I donâ€™t. I think of football stats and lineups. For example, counting backwards through FA Cup winners (I always grind to a halt during the years when Chelsea won it a lot) or thinking of various Arsenal starting elevens going back through time.
So there I was at 3.30am thinking of the 1989 title-winning team, and got a bit tripped up by the fact we started three centre-backs. Onwards I moved to the 1998 Cup Final lineup, where I was promptly derailed by the inclusion of Christopher Wreh (I honestly have no recollection of that). My final one was last yearâ€™s FA Cup final team, and I blew that one too, mostly because I had completely forgotten that Podolski started it.
He feels like such a footnote now, doesnâ€™t he? At the time he left I was a little anxious about losing his goalscoring prowess, but in hindsight it feels like something of a watershed. We cannot put our upswing in form and performances on his departure, of course we canâ€™t, but itâ€™s pretty obvious that Wenger counts much more now on players who work hard. Who are the stand-out players of the second half of the season? Coquelin, Giroud and Sanchez. All work their socks off. Who also plays where Podolski once played? Welbeck, whose lack of goals doesnâ€™t matter thanks to what he gives to the team in pace, blood and sweat.
Who else seems to have married his innate technical beauty with a tougher attitude? Ozil.
Thatâ€™s the benchmark now, which might explain why Theo is finding it so hard. With him, I maintain the injury has affected him mentally more than physically. But at the same time, he cannot fail to see the way the wind is blowing.
Podolski could barely get in the team before he left. Heâ€™d get nowhere near it now.
Thatâ€™s me done.
Let the build-up to Wembley begin.
I love the FA Cup.
Bloody love it.