All posts by @JokmanAFC

An aspiring sports writer with a healthy fondness for the unconventional.

The Walcott Consensus

We’ve been blessed with strikers.

The best of the best belong not only in our Hall of Fame, but amongst the finest o have kicked a ball on these shores.

Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright. Three household names, each one conjuring up instant images for us all of the heroics they entranced us with on the pitch.

It doesn’t stop there though.

Alan Smith, Robin Van Persie – they both performed above and beyond in our colours. While the Dutchman may have sullied his reputation with his departure and the term surrounding it, his numbers and performances were exactly what we have come to expect from a player pulling on an Arsenal jersey. He pulled average players up a few notches, he was the man that the team revolved around in his last two seasons.

Arsenal have others too, that on paper, certainly warrant respect and gratitude for what they achieved during their stint. Short or extended, they banged in the goals while they were with us. Eduardo, Olivier Giroud, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have held the line for us and left us with memories of some spectacular moments.

It is obvious that some will split the fanbase. Some will have the stock of a player higher than others.

And that is very much the case for Theo Walcott.

The speedy wideman will result in some very contrasting opinions from whomever you ask.

This article is here to say though, that he undeniably deserves to be amongst the best in The Emirates era.

Skill-wise, he won’t quite register amongst the heavy hitters.

But let’s look at the facts – and let’s take his name out of the equation and look at the numbers ina  transparent way. Let’s look at the stats with a mindset of a scout, or an unknowing fan.

Or perhaps even better, let’s say this is a pub quiz – and here are the questions:

What Arsenal player has the sixth most goals for the club in the Premier League?

What Arsenal player has the 7th most assists for the club in the Premier League?

What Arsenal player averaged a goal or assist every two games?

What Arsenal player has the eighth most appearances for the club in the Premier League?

Walcott scores

These numbers scream of a player who made an impact. Who made a difference while they played for us.

We all know that Walcott at times infuriated us. We know that there was a time when the player insisted that they should play in a different position, despite his coach knowing that a wide forward position would get the most from him.

Despite all that though, for us he gave his all and was the consummate professional in the eleven years he played in the red and white.

Walcott also had a handy knack of scoring in the big games – a mark of a player who belongs in amongst the best.

His first goal for the club? A cup final (the League Cup final of 2007).

He scored in an FA Cup Final, Semi-Finals, he petrified Barcelona and scored against the Catalan giants. He scored against Liverpool, Man Utd, a hatful against Chelsea – and we can all remember his contributions against the enemy too.

When we needed him, for the majority of his time, he came up with the goods.

Goals, assists, showing up in big games, surely he deserves a little more recognition than he currently gets?

I’m not here to say he was one of the best in recent memory, because he wasn’t.

But was he better than his reputation?

I hope this might go a little way in changing at least one person’s opinion.

Who Next For An Arsenal Statue?

Tony Adams.

Thierry Henry.

Dennis Bergkamp.

Three heroes, a trio of icons, reputation forged in red and white – immortalised forever in bronze.

Found around the concourse of The Emirates, our home, these three statues are not only highlights of any fan’s trip to our ground – they are tributes to legendary feats of footballing – and all achieved in aid of Arsenal, the cannon – and for us.

What these three did outweigh pretty much every single other player who has ever pulled on the jersey – the question of if they deserve it has never needed to be asked.

One question that is pertinent though – who will be next for immortalisation?

 

Henry statue

There are plenty who could be worthy – and ask every single Gooner and they will have a different answer.

Here are five that could certainly warrant the bronzed treatment – what is your verdict?

 

Arsene Wenger

arsene-wenger-exit-arsenal

The man who dragged Arsenal to success from a period of malaise in the 90’s, to a European contender. The Frenchman won three titles, seven Cups and earned his own slice of immortality by masterminding the only unbeaten season in modern English football. Perhaps his biggest feat? Managing to keep his side at the top table of football despite having a budget that bordered on penniless at times. Defences with clowns, Midfields that had a miniscule amount of defensive presence – fighting teams that dwarved our budget. Wenger may have sullied his reputation in some circles in his last years, but can anyone overlook what he achieved? The distance he took our club? A more deserving name is hard to find.

 

David Rocastle

Rocky

The player known affectionately as Rocky to everyone was tragically taken from us far too early – but the super-talented Rocky had already left his indelible mark on our memories.

To this day, you will struggle to find another player who petrified a full-back like Rocastle. With a drop of a shoulder, or a faint touch on the outside of his boot, he had slipped his marker and was free to wreak more havoc. A scorer of extraordinary goals and beloved by teammates, we remember Rocky every year not just because we miss him – it’s because he was truly special.

 

Frank McLintock

Frank McLintock

The Scotsman is touted by a few to be on a par with Tony Adams when it comes to Skipper material – that is testament enough that McLintock is justified in this selection process. Our Captain for the epic Fairs Cup win in 1970 – our first cup in Europe – which included our famous win over an illustrious Ajax side in the semi-finals – while also leading us to our famous double win in 1971. McLintock has the respect of all and was a pretty fine defender too.

Ray Parlour

Romford Pele

The Romford Pele amassed more Premier League appearances for Arsenal than any other. Not only that, but he also adapted and played intrinsic roles in both the Graham and Wenger eras. Parlour was a fan favourite and his talent is often overlooked in favour of his loyalty. But a player who was utilised in both the central midfield and out wide under the watchful eye of Wenger couldn’t be an average player. Parlour in bronze, arms aloft after scoring his famous Cup final goal versus Chelsea? Wouldn’t that be fitting?

 

Pat Rice

Pat Rice

The Northern Ireland international was an Arsenal player for 13 years and earned nearly 400 appearances in that time. He was part of the team that won the Fairs Cup and the 1971 Double, and the unforgettable Cup win over United in 1979.

That wasn’t the end of his time with the Arsenal though. A youth team coach, Assistant Manager – even Caretaker manager for a short spell – all spanning 28 years. So 41 years in total for Rice as an Arsenal representative – and all done in a classy manner that embodied the Arsenal Way.

There could be plenty more who wouldn’t look out of place encased in bronze – who’s your shout?

Giroud – A Tainted Legacy

105 goals in 253 appearances.

Not a ratio to be sniffed at, but at the base level, this is what Olivier Giroud brought to the table for Arsenal.

Just looking at numbers renders other, valuable facets somewhat invisible however.

We overlook the way he held the line valiantly, alone, for so many seasons.

We miss out on him holding up the ball not only with his physical edge, but his nous in and around the box.

We also miss out on the fact he tarnished his Arsenal legacy with his actions in a Chelsea shirt.

Giroud came so close to cementing his reputation as a Gooner favourite. While we lamented the fact he was never a 20 goal a season man, the majority of us saw him and his talents as precious – he helped the team with his actions.

Giroud badge

 

He wasn’t just about goals, but the above ratio is not poor. Upon joining Arsenal, he had just been the talisman for Montpellier winning their first Ligue Un Championnat. He joined in the same window as Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski – we had signed attacking players that would boost our threat.

This was certainly true for the three above, but Giroud never materialised as we thought he would. He scored valuable goals and always earned a respectable number, but he was never a goal machine. Still, his biggest asset was that his touch and awareness led to him being part of some magnificent goals and moments.

In his career in our red and white, his highlights reel will live on. Some truly breathtaking goals were bagged, and his part in Aaron Ramsey’s late winner in the 2014 FA Cup Final cannot be overstated. Giroud loved the club while he was here and never wanted to leave, but squad competition meant if he wanted regular gametime, he would need to find pastures new.

His move to Chelsea was a stark reminder that professional football is still, at the bottom line, just a job to the majority of players. He made the right choice as his modus operandi in choosing a new destination was that he wanted to stay in London for family reasons.

Chelsea needed a frontman, and Giroud embarked on a trip to West London.

This was more than enough for some fans to cut the ties we had with Giroud, but his over-exuberant celebrations after one of our worst days on a football pitch – the 4-1 hammering at the hands of the Blues in the Europa League final – was the straw that broke the camels back in terms of his Arsenal legacy.

Mocking Arsenal

Olivier Giroud, if he had kept his nose clean and performed in the respectful manner that he did in his time with us, would have always had a home with the Arsenal faithful. We would always remember his efforts kindly. He stayed while we struggled. He gave his all for us and left us with some truly treasured memories.

Instead, he is now just remembered as being part of the Arsenal framework that led to our slide out of the Champions League. Even looking back at his famous, Puskas-winning scorpion goal doesn’t do it anymore. Giroud has burned the nerve endings.

Giroud

It isn’t as bad as the likes of Ashley Cole, Robin Van Persie or Adebayor – those players ended up being panto villains. But where there was real affection for the player – now there is just a vacuous space.

Oivier Giroud could have left something truly special, but in his job search and his antics thereafter – he tainted what he had left us.

 

Aubameyang – Stick or Twist?

With absolutely zero football taking place right now, our minds have a little more room for thought.

Instead of your brain juggling your teams impending fixtures, injury worries, potential changes in your fantasy team and league placements all residing in a cortex of your grey matter, there is now more room to ponder other things……

Erm…

In the absence of that leather ball bobbling around on that lush carpet we call The Emirates pitch, we have been privy to the usual mix of player rumour – especially circulating around our star striker and perennial goal machine – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabon man is in contention to win the Golden Boot again after securing it last season. What puts that into perspective is that Auba has done this while for at least half of our season, the Good Ship Arsenal has plotted a course for mid-table ignominy.

Our number 14 has acted as a one-man lifeboat, keeping our precious cargo and personnel above the plunging depths. He has continued to terrify goalkeepers no matter what mess has been going on behind him. He has performed wonders – and we have recognised this.

1963-1309-2.45503595.jpg.gallery

Our club has been attempting to lasso the striker into extending his stay with Arsenal as his contract winds down. Currently in his peak years, Auba is now approaching what will be the biggest decision of his footballing career.

Of course, the media have taken it upon themselves to write the alphabetical equivalent of smoke and mirrors surrounding Auba’s future at the club – and one story has certainly captured everyone’s currently free imagination.

The rumour surrounds Real Madrid, their unwanted striker Luka Jovic – and a large wad of money.

That’s right, the transfer rumour is that those at the Bernabeu want to lure Auba to La Liga, and will tempt Arsenal with a cash plus Jovic bid.

The question is – would you take it?

Everyone knows that the hardest thing to buy in football is goals. With Auba putting up more than his fair share of goals for the team, selling him and his numbers would almost certainly weaken our team.

We currently have Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah to make up the goals – but Lacazette aside, neither of the young strikers have proved week in, week out that they can make the difference in front of goal. How efficient will they be?

Lacazette has also changed his role somewhat since arriving at Arsenal. He still prowls centrally, but he is dropping deeper as his part in attacks is intrinsic to our moves. That has affected his goal return almost as much as poor form this season.

Then there is the Luka Jovic part of the equation. Jovic was a sensation in the Bundesliga – a competition far more similar to the rigours of the Premier League than La Liga ever has been. Rotation and reported poor discipline has seen Jovic play an ever-increasingly remote part of things at Madrid, but does his pedigree convert to success in the Premier League?

In short, can he be the man that replaces the certainty of Auba’s goals?

Maybe not, but throw in £50m and the search becomes a little easier.

There are other variables to take into consideration. Auba’s age means he has two, maybe three years maximum that we will have the PREMIUM version of the striker. Make no mistake, as he hits 33, 34, he will still bang in the goals, but he won’t be AS prolific, he won’t be able to beat as many defenders with his pace as he runs into the box, he won’t be AS lethal as the man we have now.

So, do we stick or twist?

Can we improve the team more with the money and Jovic?

Or do we stay where we are, potentially risk losing what is a huge asset on a free, but still feed off his goals while he does stay?

What a conundrum.

Good thing we have time to mull it over…

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

wright_record_0
Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Season To Finish With Zero Fans In The Stands

This season looks like ending abruptly.

The Covid-19 outbreak has led to all forms of sport grinding to a shuddering halt. Titanic tussles, championship deciders – no matter how important the fixture or race or meet was – they have all been shuffled off to the side and have had a blanket thrown over them – until sport can resume.

The problem with that is – when that will be. No one can really say. Bring mass gatherings back too soon and we face another spell of lockdown misery. Bring sport back too late? Entire seasons and titles will be consigned to the halls of limbo – undecided forevermore.

The biggest cause for concern though, is that with no games being played – that means no money.  With exorbitant sums being passed around and money becoming the lifeblood that keeps the sports ticking over – it means the very existence of some organisations could be under threat.

So plans have to be put into action – and quickly.

How do the FA, the Premier League and clubs – as well as TV companies – get the readies coming back in?

How does football survive?

There are a few methods that could mean survival and at least a few coins being thrown to the needy. None of those involve what the Eredivisie and Ligue Un have decided – to null and void the entire season and start afresh from next season.

That would lead to some very messy situations. Clubs fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation, European places – all lucrative in their own way. And not one club would simply put their hands up and consign this campaign to the history books if they had a chance of achieving anything.

And that is the problem. Everything is still very much up for grabs.

Maybe this is why the Premier League is reportedly writing up plans to finish the season behind closed doors.

The remaining fixtures of the league campaign will be played quickly, with just days between fixtures. No fans in the stands, but everything that is undecided can be decided.

It also results in opportunity to inject some money into the coffers.

With each remaining fixture already carved up by TV companies – if they aren’t to be played then that cash would have to be paid back by cash-strapped clubs

So if these games are played behind closed doors, the cameras can still be on and some form of pay-per-view can be organised. Watch the game? That’ll be a fiver. Every game televised and available through the club, to view.

It would mean we could get our fix – our club back in action. It wouldn’t mean we can watch them in the stands – a return to the matchday routine could be some time off – but at least the Arsenal would be back in our lives.

For a fan, the remaining season being played out behind closed doors is a solution none of us want. For clubs, it gives them a breath of life as opposed to looking at the coffers – which all major companies are facing right now.

d60fbc258e839a46879829540175fd3c

The reality is, money is that important and has overtaken the fan as the most important factor of football. The prospect of doing this about twenty years ago would be far less palatable to the power people than it is now.

The very real prospect of games being played without fans is on our doorstep – and it is a frightening vision of the game in the future – where the fan is simply used as a source of income.

Arsenal Kids – A Place In Our Near Future?

This season has been one filled with searching.

In amongst the plethora of disappointment and underwhelming results and performances, we have scoured the earth for positives.

The Premier League has made for unpleasant viewing for quite some time, and winning a trophy has looked like a pipe dream. So going through the campaign requires a light at the end of the tunnel.

That shining beacon of hope has been our array of Academy talent that has bolstered our squad.

Bukayo Saka, Jo Willock, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah. These kids have lifted us when we needed it most with displays that are far beyond their tender years.

When our squad has needed some urgent remedies, they have stepped up and now, our squad looks filled with talent. So much so that when considering potential transfer activity in the summer, we are now considering what new recruits would do to the future of these kids.

They are the future of the club, but are they one season wonders? Or does their talent match their work-rate?

In short, does their future lie as a bona-fide first teamer at an Arsenal that has heir heads craned upward?

 

Arsenal Kids

 

Bukayo Saka

They call a first season for a youth product – a breakthrough season. That slightly underplays what Saka has done for Arsenal.

He is our chief assist maker this season, far and away above anyone else. He covers more ground than most and has looked at home in neat interplay around the box with more esteemed players, so his talents are up to scratch.

All this glows brighter when you consider that two thirds of his starts have been at left-back and he is still a teenager.

There are still question marks about his future as this is his first campaign, but surely his figures and his tendency to influence games spell a prominent place for next season under Arteta.

 

Jo Willock / Emile Smith-Rowe

The midfielder divides opinion, and so does his permanent position. He has split his time between playing as a back up Number10 and a central midfielder – where is he best?

We have seen he has an eye for a pass and we also know that his energy is bountiful enough to play in central midfield, but it won’t be his talent that defines his immediate future.

It will be who he has in front of him. In the centre, we have Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi. They are all ahead of him in the queue. Whereas in the playmaker role, it is only Ozil that really stands in his way, aside from one of his Hale End brethren – Smith-Rowe.

Yep, the kid who is on loan at Huddersfield has made a bigger splash in terms of excitement than Willock and it is perceived that Smith-Rowe has the bigger future. So if Emile can make his loan spell a success, he will return in the summer with a great place on the squad ladder.

Willock though, don’t write him off. His pass success is comparable to not only Guendouzi, but pass master Ozil (84% compared to 88%) and his defensive merits stand up too. Willock has a future, but if he wants to avoid being a bit part – he needs to make an impact in one position.

 

Eddie Nketiah

The striker scored when he played at Leeds during his loan spell – but that wasn’t enough to further his development. He was recalled and he looked to be going on loan to another club, but when Arteta saw him in training, he realized that he was good enough to play.

That says much for the dedicated youngster. He shows a predatory instinct that comes as much with being born with it as it does with development. Nketiah is on the cusp though – he needs to make the most of the remainder of this season.

He has the faith of the boss and has already started since being recalled. He now needs to be dependable, and get some goals. Succeed and he will be our backup. Fail, and another loan or a move to an ambitious club looks to be on the horizon.

 

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

The midfielder turned right-back has an old head on young shoulders. He has made a real fist of his stint as Bellerin’s deputy and since Arteta arrived, Maitland-Niles has really stepped up. His stamina is up there with the best and his defensive work shows why he works well as a midfielder.

Trouble is, he has been so good at right-back that seeing him in the centre looks to be far off.

And now the acquisition of Cedric Soares sees him slip down the pecking order. Attributes alone mean he can forge a career at Arsenal in the centre, but AMN has a lot of obstacles in his way in either position…

 

Reiss Nelson

The winger was fantastic in Germany on loan, but injury has curtailed his seismic performances at Arsenal. He was prevalent under Emery but he is now only feeling his way back.

The difference for Nelson as opposed to the others is that he offers true width. We suffer from a lack of this and if he can get some minutes during the rest of this season, Nelson can leave Arteta feeling like he can be a worthy member of next season’s squad.

The future is bright, but this talented bunch still have plenty of work to do if they want to cement their Arsenal legacy.

 

 

Arshavin – Wasted Genius Who Made Memories

Players define eras.

Trophies make memories of course, but a player normally surmises that memory.

Sunderland in 79.

Champagne Charlie in 87.

Mickey in 89.

Smith in 94.

Bergkamp in 98, Freddie in 02, Thierry in 04. Santi when we lifted the cup in 2014. Alexis in 2015. Rambo in 2017.

It is a player who acts as anchor in your mind, ensuring that special memory doesn’t get cut adrift in amongst the plethora in your banks.

When you think of The Emirates, of course it doesn’t hold as many fond memories as Highbury, but we have had some goosebump-inducing goals and games in the 14 years we have called it home.

We may often bemoan the lack of atmosphere in the ground, but those who go often will also attest to the fact that we also create a cacophony when we want to. It often just needs a spark, something to get us off our seat – and then the wildfire of noise erupts and engulfs the stands.

Remember our 5-2 wins over the enemy? Two consecutive triumphs that served as timely reminders to our neghbours of their rightful place under the heel of our boot?

Then there was Danny Welbeck’s emotional return from injury – a late, late winner over Champions-elect Leicester City. The England striker’s 93rd minute header earned victory over the previously indomitable Foxes, and the dramatic nature of the goal coupled with the fondness for the now fit-again Welbeck created a noise that has rarely been matched since.

But when it comes to halcyon moments, can anything touch Andrei Arshavin Vs that Barcelona team?

The Russian, free from the laziness that would blight his Gunners career. His confidence to nonchalantly sidefoot home a first time finish that would vanquish a Barca team that would go on to win the competition. A Barca team that would only lose once in the entire competition – this very game?

We think of that game, we think of Andrei, we think of the commentator scream his name as he finishes the Catalan’s with aplomb.

He did a fair amount more in his time in our red and white of course. His goal vs Blackburn was pretty special – and then there was his four goal haul against Liverpool in an unhinged match at Anfield.

Arshavin

Tongue out, just enjoying the moment as he single-handedly tore Liverpool apart. Holding four fingers aloft when he smashed in his fourth goal.

Arshavin joined on the back of a virtuoso Euro’s for his country. We saw him twist defenders apart, lead from the front and give an industrial Russia divine inspiration. It led to us forking our a decent sum and he initially showed what he was capable of.

His was a career of peaks and troughs. He fizzled out nearly as quickly as he soared into our hearts, unable to wrestle his way back into the first team and gaining weight, he left Arsenal and seemingly never recaptured the magic that laced his boots when he was with us and in the first team.

Arshavin definitely didn’t make the most of what he could do. The Russian’s talent had no ceiling, yet we only saw it hit the heights in probably five or six games.

Yet it was so brilliant, so bright, that it seared its impression into our memories.

We remember Arshavin well, even if he didn’t meet the expectations that we had for him.

That shows what a player he was.

We can be thankful he played for us though, as he created some of our best moments in recent years.

Up For The Cup

If glory was easily achievable, it wouldn’t shine so brightly.

Silverware is in hot demand, and is more fiercely contested now than it ever has been.

Not so long ago, the League cup was treated as a runaround for the youth teams, to blood our club’s latest prodigies in a safe environment that carried zero risk or ramification for the season.

Even the institution of the FA Cup took a bit of a hammering at some point but now?

Every competition is an opportunity.

Our current FA Cup run is a rare bright spot in a season of beige’s and grey’s. Aside from the changes new boss Mikel Arteta is making, our season has been dragged into obscurity through poor results.

The FA Cup however, carries a promise of another special day.

fa-cup-wembley-pitch-800

We are lucky enough to be able to recall some recent Cup wins. Even discounting before 2014, we still have three FA Cups to our name, each with their own memories and day that we can recall with crystal clear clarity.

It lights up a season, and in the future when we recall a certain campaign, it doesn’t matter of our league position was underwhelming.

All we will recall is lifting the cup.

The problem with our chances this season however, is that the remaining teams in front of us is an all Premier League affair. No lower league teams to face, no plucky resistance to shatter when our Premier League class eventually tells amidst sapping energy levels.

If we want to lift the cup again and rescue this season from ignominy, we will have to do it the hard way.

That is predominantly how we normally like to do things, but with both Manchester teams and Chelsea still in the draw, we will need to overcome some rather large hurdles.

Still, that is how memories are made. No one expected us to win in 2017, but in what will forever be known as the “BFG Final” we prevailed thanks to a masterclass of defending from the retiring Mertesacker – and yet another cup-winning goal from Aaron Ramsey.

The FA Cup represents a chance to get our hands on some serious silverware again – something our neighbours can only dream of and have frantically attempted for a number of decades now. Go all the way, and we make history once again.

Our Europa League adventure ended woefully and prematurely. We only have this and our remaining Premier League fixtures left of the campaign. We cannot forget about our slim opportunity to qualify for Europe through the league, but in terms of rotation, if we have a chance to preserve the legs of our top players for the cup, then we have the squad to do so – and do so we must.

Finishing in the top four will be prioritised by the club hierarchy as the monetary gains that come from the Champions League far outweigh the purse that comes with walking up those famous Wembley steps and lifting the cup.

But from a fan perspective?

Nothing beats a cup final day.

 

Coronavirus To Wreak Long-Term Havoc?

The Covid-19 virus is sweeping across the globe. Being easily transferable, mass gatherings are being winked out as easily as a lamplight.

And the Premier League is no different.

As I write, our Head Coach has declared that he has the virus. Thus, anyone in direct contact with Arteta – the majority of the squad, the staff and those at Hale End – will also undergo self-isolation.

We are not the only club with affected players and coaching staff. Both Leicester and Chelsea have stated that the virus has reached their respective camps. As things stand, the bout of impending weekend fixtures look destined to be cancelled.

This is only the start though.

The NBA season, Pro14 Rugby season, F1 season-opening Grand Prix, golf, tennis and many more have all decided to either postpone the season or play behind closed doors.

It does give us some form of perspective for the Premier League, however. It shows us how precarious the scheduling is, how tightly packed our matches are and the slim margin for error.

If we cancel two or three match weekends, we also have to factor in the remaining FA Cup matches, the Champions League, the Europa League too. This will all have to be squeezed into a frame of time normally reserved for recuperation for players and international squads preparation for the upcoming Euro 2020 tournament – another event that looks decidedly dicey.

Playing games behind closed doors is an option no one wants to consider.

Emirates Stand

The possible domino effect could ripple outwards for quite some distance, affecting next season and beyond. At present, coaches and clubs already bemoan the sandwiching of games into miniscule timeframes. In order to clear this match clutter miasma up, this will get worse before it gets better.

From Euro2020 most likely being delayed for a month or until 2021, you then get the Premier League delaying next season. This in turn will affect all domestic and European trophies too, not to mention our European league brethren who are currently shut down until further notice.

There seems to be no alternative but to postpone these matches for a period of around 3-4 weeks. According to medical reports, the virus on these shores has still not reached its peak so a huge pool of 50-60,000 in one place is not exactly common sense.

This will get worse before it gets better and it is now time for the bureaucrats of the Premier League and the FA to start earning their corn. They should already have had crisis plans in place but they now need to ensure that damage is limited and our players are not forced to play beyond their means. That means a close watch on fixture burnout and fitness being compromised in aid of fulfilling TV schedules.

We can only watch on as we wait for the dust to settle, but right now we are watching the tornado whip its way toward us and we have no way of swerving it.