No rest for wicked: We’re off to Anfield tonight, a month and five days short of the 20th anniversary of the most defining moment in Arsenal’s modern era. Frankly, I can’t believe it was 20 years ago, but I’d settle for the same scoreline again with jingling bells on.
I’d actually settle for a draw as the odds have to be stacked in Liverpool’s favour. It’s a tough ground to go to at the best of times, but this time there are several key factors that make it harder for us. There’s fatigue, there’s our weak back line, and there’s the issue of motivation. By that I mean it’s Liverpool’s only chance of silverware – the big one too, the one they have not won for 19 years – so we can expect them to be bang up for this one.
You can of course argue things the other way round: Liverpool cannot afford to even draw and that might prey upon them. On top of that, Arsenal are marooned in fourth with little chance of third and a cushion between fifth, so we can go for it without worrying too much about the wider picture.
Either way, it’s not a game I’m enormously confident about.
One of the things – and there are a good few – that need to go the club’s to-do list this summer is to look into the run of injuries that have doubtless cost us this season. We’ve not had a full squad available since August, and the only ‘regular’ players I can think of who have not had niggling or serious injuries since then are Denilson, Song and Bendtner. Others, like Eboue and Toure, have missed large tracts of the season through lost form. When you tot it up, it’s staggering.
With that in mind, we’ve gained Eduardo and Sagna for tonight’s game but lost van Persie and Adebayor again.
It’s a miracle that our first-choice front two have scored 33 goals between them. Robin van Persie, to be fair, has had a much better season from an injuries perspective, even if the last month has been stop-start. 17 goals is, I think, his best haul ever.
And Adebayor, despite a bad injury, a loss of form (some would say motivation also) and a pathological inability to grasp the offside law, has still managed 16 goals. He gets a lot of abuse for being wasteful but a striker is judged on his goals and 16 is not a bad haul under the circumstances. He got similar criticism last year and scored 30.
So anyway, I would expect Arshavin and Song to return tonight, perhaps Nasri too, giving us a much more settled and in-form midfield to the one that began the semi-final. Despite all the unsettled things – injured defenders and injured strikers – the best midfield is beginning to pick itself.
It’s Arshavin, Fabregas, Song, Walcott.
Of course, Wenger might play a midfield five tonight but either way, we need to stick our form players back in and get on with it.
Let’s hope we can bounce back.