Tag Archives: silverware

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.

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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.

 

The Anti-Arsenal Agenda

The media agenda has never been clearer.

We should have seen it before, cried out at the injustice of the journalists and experts who have continuously hitched a ride on the Arsenal train to boost their flagging numbers.

Let us look at recent attempts to discolour the truth.

Never happier than during our trophy drought – repeated focus on our nine years without silverware, despite their darlings Liverpool being without a trophy since 2012, and tottenham bereft of anything to put inside their dusty cabinet since 2008 – the League Cup – writers held up our barren run as something that was not acceptable.

When we did hold aloft the FA Cup in 2014 to end the terrible run, newspapers, radio hosts et al then switched their gaze upon our lack of a Premier League since 2004. Like the FA Cup was an insignificant piece of history, as if it didn’t register in the annals of footballing history. This switch even though Liverpool and tottenham have NEVER won a Premier League trophy.

When Manchester United won the FA Cup in 2016, it was lauded as a significant step in the recovery of the Red Devils. Yet we had won it two years on the spin before United achieved their win at Wembley.

The Wenger era was faltering, there could be no doubt, but we had won silverware. It mattered little though, as our failings rather than our success that fed the media machine. When we did stumble? Manna from heaven for the journalists.

When we eventually fell out of the Champions League reckoning? It was only  a matter of time. Every year, every publication, every show, they all predicted the final positions of each coming season. For five years prior to us finishing fifth in 2016, the lions share of experts would predict that we would finish well out of the top4. When it did happen many years later, it wasn’t seen as an epic fail or egg on the face of those that are supposed to know – it was used as vindication.

Of course Arsenal finished outside of the top4 – look, we’ve been saying it for years!!!

Now we have a new man at the helm. After more than two decades at Arsenal, Wenger had left the club and we had Unai Emery who was tasked with returning the Gunners to the top table of English and European football. Change after such a long time is difficult, and the level-headed ones amongst us recognised this and were optimistic, yet guarded. It would take time to instill Emery’s values, tactics and framework. The Spaniard’s processes would differ from Wenger’s inevitably, and a period of adjustment would be needed.

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After the first two games of the season we were pointless, and the stories surrounding us all were loving every minute. Emery stuck gamely to his principles though, and even though we still have plenty to work on, Emery oversaw a fantastic run that helped us up the table and progress in the Europa League.

The blemish-free run was in the face of a squad that were adapting to new measures and ways that would hamper any attempt to hit top gear – and yet we were winning.

The focus in the news?

Our shaky defence. The amount of chances we were presenting. All genuine causes for concern but the actual main thread?

All the while, Liverpool and tottenham struggled in the Champions League.

How were their efforts described?

Unlucky. Brave. Heroic. Full of effort.

It shows that no matter what we do, unless Emery masterminds a blitz toward the title,the external opinions surrounding our club from outsiders will always be tainted. It also highlights that both the Reds and spurs enjoy a certain leeway from writers and presenters who are meant to be delivering honest assessments.

What has overtaken real news is attention. Clicks and hits.

What gets clicks and hits? Disgruntled Arsenal fans.

During my research for my book about the title-winning team of 1990/91, I found that George Graham commented on this even back then, saying that the anti-Arsenal bias existed even in the days of pre-internet.

This isn’t a new thing, yet it is getting worse.

Match Of The Day never highlight our excellent passages of play, yet always remember to showcase other clubs.

When Stewart Robson comes out with another pearl regarding how poor Arsenal are, pay him no heed.

The next time Neil Ashton or Adrian Durham spew forth some bile regarding Arsenal’s bleak future or lowering targets? Ignorance is bliss.

Courting controversy is what they are doing, and we are playing our part too, by feeling the need to vent our spleens at such idiotic content.

Let us just enjoy the Emery revolution and constantly remind ourselves that impartiality is predominantly dead, and if you do find a writer whose opinion you respect?

Those are the clicks we should be giving away. Rewarding those who present us with agenda-free content.

Arsenal Revive the FA Cup

Manchester United’s participation in the Club World Cup in the early part of this century was widely reported to be the reason for the FA Cup’s demise.

The club decided to prioritise the tournament instead of the oldest cup in the world, and the devaluation of our domestic cup was such that it was put on the back burner in terms of importance for clubs.

The influx of money has seen the tides shift yet again though, and now, with the dial of competition firmly ramped up to 11, the once-derided FA Cup has now risen, phoenix-like from the ashes.

It’s now seen as a saviour from ignominy. The Champions League is a pipe dream for most clubs, the Premier League is a trophy that requires a huge slice of luck with injuries, as well as top level consistency.

It means that clubs need to maximise every opportunity to lift silverware – and the FA Cup is a genuine chance to keep supporters on board and keep the club relevant when it comes to transfer targets.

Success breeds success, so having your name etched on the cup means that next season gets a firmer foundation to build from. It also makes the lustre of the club a little more alluring for any potential new players.

Our own relative woes have exacerbated the FA Cup’s rise to prominence once more. Winning the Cup in 2014 against Hull, and in such dramatic circumstances that really turned heads at other outfits.

Then, when we won it the next year by smashing Aston Villa, we not only regained it, we yet again saved our season with the lifting of the old cup.

Two seasons ago was perhaps the best example. We slipped out of the Champions League places for the first time since 1996/97, we also slipped below our hated neighbours for the first time in over two decades, but the fact we won the FA Cup, meant we had silverware in our trophy cabinet.

The ‘drought’ we suffered between 2005-14 may seem a long time, but as the top teams get better and the gap becomes more disparate, decades between cup wins will become commonplace for most.

It means any cup win should be embraced – just look at City and United in recent years when winning the League Cup. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are considered to be among the leading lights of world football management – and lifting this cup meant a fair amount to them.

The FA Cup is a grand old competition, and our previous wins are amongst our most glittering. The recent cup wins are among them. The 2014 final snatched from the jaws of defeat especially seems vivid upon recall. The Cup matters hugely.

Being knocked out by Nottingham Forest last season smarted a fair bit, and FA Cup fixture weekends without our club – the most successful side in FA Cup history – seemed a tad remiss.

We can glow with pride at the fact we’ve won this famous cup more than any other side – but we can also take a little satisfaction that we’ve reminded other clubs that the Cup is well worth winning indeed.

It grants you a European place, it gets you a slot in the Charity Shield – but it also gives us fans a memorable day – and those memories are what binds fans to a club.

FA Cup Final Preview 2017

Kickoff – 1730hrs GMT

So, the chance to offset Arsenal’s Premier League disappointment is upon us today, as we go to Wembley for the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.

This is Arsenal’s 20th FA Cup Final appearance, which is a record. With an unlikely win here, we would also hold the record for most FA Cup wins, with 13.

I say it is unlikely, because we have navigated through a season without an injury crisis for the first time in years, and now before the biggest game in this campaign – and the last – we are plagued with injured defenders.

Laurent Koscielny foolishly received a red card in our last PL game last weekend against Everton and so the Frenchman is suspended. In the same game, Gabriel busted ligaments in his knee and looks to be out for two months, and we may be without Shkodran Mustafi who is still struggling with concussion. 

Who does that leave for our three man defence? Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding will take two of those slots, but we may have to rely on Per Mertesacker – who has not made a single appearance this season. People who are suddenly doubting the lanky German would do well to remember his pedigree and his talent. What is concerning with the potential utilisation of Mertesacker is the lack of match sharpness he will suffer from. Against the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, that could be fatal.

Kieran Gibbs is nursing a thigh injury and may miss out, and if he is absent, then the 3-5-2 we have been using may be put on the shelf for this game. It doesn’t end there either. Petr Cech suffered injury in training, so perennial backup Davide Ospina will likely play his last game for the Gunners. If you want an omen, Lukasz Fabianski also bowed out of Arsenal on a high too after playing in our 3-2 Final win over Hull in 2014……

There are rays of optimism to hold onto though. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is fit and should come straight back into the team after his useful showings at right-back in our new formation. Alexis Sanchez is also declared fit, and this could well be the last time we see him in an Arsenal shirt.

If that is the case, then the least he could do is leave us with a breathtaking performance and a cup win!

Another dilemma for Arsene Wenger – who also may be involved in his last Arsenal game – is who gets the striker spot. Danny Welbeck has been getting the nod of late, but Olivier Giroud is far more prolific. The England striker has been pretty dire in front of goal in the last few games, but his workrate, linkup play and pace may get him the shirt ahead of the bearded Gaul. 

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has no such worries and will have a full squad at his disposal. His only headache will be who to play, and in particular, who of Pedro and Willian will get one of the flanks. Pedro had been preferred for the Premiership, where Willian has played in every round of the Cup. 
We are certainly up against it, that’s for sure. With our defence looking almost unrecognisable, our backup keeper taking the gloves and our opponent looking to complete the Double, our chances are certainly impacted. A Cup Final is certainly a leveller though, as form usually falls by the wayside.

KEY PLAYERS

Rob Holding

Much will fall on this young mans shoulders. His recent form spells out a bright future, but being bereft of Koscielny and possibly Mustafi will leave no margin for error for the inexperienced but talented Englishman. Can he step up and pull a performance out of the bag, and show what he has learned?
Granit Xhaka

The Swiss star has had a mixed bag in his first season. Much of the negativity has spawned from a mis-labelling, as the midfielder is not simply a DM. His long-range passing is probably his biggest strength, and we will need his radar to be on point to spring Alexis and Welbeck away when we are under pressure. 
Alexis

The Chile star is odds on to be at a new club in the summer. He has given nothing less than 100% so far this season though, and his talents could hold the key to unlocking a tight Chelsea defence. 
KEY STATS

Seven of the last eight FA Cup ties between these two teams have resulted in Arsenal wins.

The last time the teams played was a semi-final win for Chelsea in 2009. This is the only time Chelsea have beaten us in the Cup in 70 years.

We are unbeaten at Wembley since 2011. That includes seven games. 

Chelsea have won the last four Cup Finals they have appeared in – all by single goal margins. 

Antonio Conte as manager has had only one Cup Final. This was in 2012 as Juventus boss. He lost the game 2-0 to Napoli. 
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal!!

The Champions League – What Makes a Euro Giant?

When you think of the football clubs that would be the equivalent of a footballing superpower, there are certain clubs that spring to mind.

For good reason too. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich are the three that are top of the tree when musing upon which club has the most clout, the most illustrious history and crucially – the biggest haul of silverware.

This years European Cup has now separated the wheat from the proverbial chaff, and the rollcall for the knockout stages has the same familiar faces of previous years. The aforementioned trio of Euro behemoths will be taking part as they always do, but they won’t have everything their own way.

There are a host of clubs with liberal sprinklings of stars within their team that can hurt the conglomerate that is Real, Bayern and Barca. The odds for the potential winners of this years Cup is interesting reading, and shows that in terms of stature, the chasing pack are catching up.

What exactly sees a successful club transform into a giant? To start, the respective number of European trophies would be top of the list. Any club that can boast of European honours can show that they not only earned the right to play in Europe by beating their domestic rivals, but they also overcame the cream of the continent. So what club has the most European honours?

No surprise to see Real Madrid and Barcelona in the top 3 of the list, with 19 and 14 respectively, but Bayern Munich have amassed 10 and are 7th on the list. Above them are teams such as Ajax, AC Milan and Liverpool – teams who have failed to maintain a constant presence in Europe’s premier competition.

Do former glories count as much as the present? If so, then Liverpool would be able to claim some part of the dominion that Real, Barca and co currently hold. Ditto AC Milan, who in the 90’s – and were a pretty big deal in the noughties – alone held Europe within their tight grasp. 

These clubs though, have faltered on the domestic front. Liverpool especially have been unable to jump over the first hurdle to ensure their membership for the ‘Giant Club’ is not revoked. The Merseysiders, Milan and Manchester United more recently, have not been able to make a dent in their home countries league. Liverpool have not won a title since 1990, can they really claim to be part of the European heavyweight scene?

Some part of the equation is financial heft. Like it or not, Chelsea and Manchester City have muscled their way into the scene and now compete on a near equal footing to the Barca’s and Bayern’s of this collective. They regularly lift silverware on the domestic front and now have European delights firmly within their reticule. Do they now qualify as a giant even though their previous decades were far from glorious?

Other variables should warrant a mention too. A global fanbase generates interest around the world and more importantly, it ups the amount of income a club gets. If this is included, then Arsenal, United, Real and Barca can renew their membership cards to the Giant Club. 

The only clubs that can really tick the boxes on all of these comprising factors is the first three clubs I mentioned. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have trophies in their past, present and more than likely, their future. They contend every year at the top, they have more than enough pulling power in terms of fiscal amount and they can look upon their trophy cabinet with a smile and an empty can of polish.

This season will be no different, as will the next. If a club truly wants to elevate their standing, they need a glittering history, a well stocked trophy cabinet, a revenue stream that allows the club to duke it out in the transfer market, and a regular presence in the Champions League.

Which club will make that leap this season? The Champions League is wide open, but rest assured if any team has genuine aspirations, then they will surely have to beat one of the big three.