I Didn’t Want to Win the FA Cup Anyway

Of course, that is how a child deals with disappointment. In that sense, football makes us all children again in different ways. During moments of absolute glory, we, as supporters, experience a heightened sense of joy that those who do not follow football, or other sports, as intensely as we do will likely never feel. You just don’t get feelings like that in everyday (dare I say “real”) life. And that goes for both highs and lows.Immediately ollowing the FA Cup defeat to Stoke yesterday, I once again felt that childish spiteful disappointment. If you did too, it’s okay. We’re not crazy, we’re just Arsenal supporters (the two not necessarily being mutually exclusive).

After a while to reflect, the child usually forgets his disappointment and moves on. Herein lies the difference. The child doesn’t have to read newspaper articles and blogs about his not getting a new PlayStation game for Christmas. The child doesn’t have to listen to pundits on podcasts, and lesser pundits on television, dissect why he didn’t get the game he wanted or be blamed for it. (Pundit: “I’ve been saying little Timmy was not a good boy for three years now. See, I was right all along.”) But, for us, our disappointment goes straight into the “record books.” There for all to see for eternity, if not longer.

Obviously, it was a hugely frustrating afternoon and it hurts even more to be dumped out of the Cup when a few other serious contenders had already made inauspicious exits. But, it’s over now. And it’s time to get on with the real business… the League. Ahead of the tie, I thought Arsene should rest a good number of first-team players, what with the four crucial league fixtures coming so thick and fast. And, he did. The side he put out should have been good enough to at least win a replay, especially against a Stoke City side that, let’s be honest, did not play their entire first team either, with Beattie and Tuncay on the bench.

Though still, this hardly qualifies as the “shock defeat” so many in the press are calling it. Stoke are a tough side and Arsenal have failed to get results there recently, even with a full-strength side. A shock defeat is United going out to Leeds or Liverpool going out to Reading, not this.

While I’m sure many of you now regret Arsene fielding the weakened side, I don’t. In fact, I only wish he had rested Fabregas as well. Don’t get me wrong… the FA Cup can be a glorious competition. And some of my best moments as an Arsenal supporter have been in the FA Cup (some of the worst too-did someone say 1999?). But, after suffering through another campaign last season where we had no hope of winning the league by the first frost, I can’t see risking our shot at the League for the FA Cup.

Some will say that we need to win ANY trophy at all costs. These are the same people who think Arsene should field our first XI in the Carling Cup. I respect that opinion since it is based on the correct assumption that winning breeds more winning. But I would not be satisfied in the least with a season in which we finished fourth in the league, but won the Carling Cup, or even the FA Cup. And I certainly wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice the League for a Cup competition.

But, I tend to go along with Arsene when he says that the League is always the most important thing because it takes consistency to win the League, not luck. To win a cup competition, even the Champions League, you need luck… But no one wins the league primarily due to luck. Performance in the League over 9 1/2 months and 38 fixtures is true measure of a team’s quality.

Yes, it sucks to go out of the FA Cup in the Fourth Round, but we lasted longer than United and didn’t go out to a Football League side. And, we are now freed up to focus on what really matters… four League matches that will prove more important than every domestic Cup tie we’ve played this season put together… multiplied by 20.


Yes, We Need Experience, But…

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… we also need the kind of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm that was shown by Aaron Ramsey following his equalizer at Upton Park. The 19-year old ran straight into the 500 traveling Arsenal supporters followed by Carlos Vela to celebrate his superbly taken equalizer.

Slightly older players like van Persie and Eduardo enthusiastically celebrate goals but not like Ramsey today or, for that matter, Cesc. Now, that’s NOT a criticism… young players that have been at the club for a while have been forced to grow-up quickly under Arsene Wenger. And that is necessary. But it’s also nice to see goals celebrated in the manner of Freddie Ljungberg in his first few seasons at the club.

Now, on to the match… By the hour-mark, it certainly looked to be one of those days when Arsenal just fail to find a final ball to break down a 10-man defense. Arsene obviously set out to win the match having selected both Gallas and Vermaelen and saying after the match that “the FA Cup matters.”

However, the two youngsters, Wilshere and Merida, both had disappointing matches overall. Obviously, the substitutions of Nasri and Diaby in their place changed the match. They began to take control of the match like they hadn’t since the 20-minute mark.

Ramsey and Eduardo goals made the difference-both assisted by Carlos Vela, the latter two switching positions at half-time. For the first 15 minutes of the second-half, Vela failed to make anything happen when he had possession out wide on the left, and Eduardo continued to look largely ineffective.

But, thanks to the substitutions, the increased pressure from the middle allowed Vela more space and more options when he got the ball out wide and he took advantage of it, both by putting in a touchline cross and coming inside.

We all want to see Eduardo get some goals and get his confidence back and, after seeing the header live, I thought, “What a fantastic header!” But the more I see the replays from the reverse angle, the more it seems that Eduardo headed but it deflected a bit off Upson’s head as well.

That’s not to take anything away from a great goal. He did beat Upson to the ball and get a good head on it. I just hope he doesn’t realize there was even the slightest deflection so he can take the confidence he deserves from the goal. But, as Arsene said after the match, “In every game, he gets better.”

Alexandre Song did his usual job and, after the match, Arsene complemented the midfielder by saying, “In the system we play, he is just the ideal player to play in front of the defense.” But he also acknowledged that Arsenal “will have to find a new balance” when he leaves this coming week for the African Cup of Nations.

With the replacement of experience for youth, Song had more confidence to get forward and get an equalizer. He was at the heart of Arsenal’s best pre-goal move only being kept out in the end by the second of Green’s great double-save.

Recently, we’ve seen Arsene make some key, game-changing substitutions. I, generally, consider Wenger to be a bit conservative and slow with substitutions. To me, he has seemed to make substitutions far too late in a match to have any real consequence. It’s nice to see him being more proactive when it comes to making changes and it’s even nicer to reap the benefits.

Following the dropped points in our last visit to Upton Park, the result was especially satisfying. Arsenal are the kind of side that needs to exorcise their demons for confidence to be at its fullest and they did that by getting through at the ground where they had conceded a late 2-goal lead just over two months ago. The fourth-round draw has provided us with a trip to Stoke City in three weeks’ time.

In other team news looking forward to Wednesday’s match with Bolton, Wenger said that Arshavin “should be available on Wednesday night,” and

Denilson would face fitness tests on Monday and Tuesday. However, when asked about Walcott’s return from another rib injury, he just said, “I don’t know.” He went on to say that he hopes it will be less than a month.

Activity during this window seems likely, for when asked about the transfer window, Wenger said, “I have the money, I have the desire, but I have not the player.” Wenger has acknowledged that we are “short” in options up top and he looks relatively eager to bring someone in… if he can find the right player at the right price, of course.

Well, that’s it… I could talk about the boot to Diaby’s shoulder or the overall cunt-ness of Diamanti, but this piece is already long enough. On to Wednesday!!!

What is Success for Arsenal?

Now to do it With the Arsenal

Now to do it with the Arsenal.

The new season has begun and yet there has been much talk about the “glory years” of the first half of the decade.  Many fans have eagerly waited for four years now for Arsenal to grab another league title but despite coming close last term, titles still elude our young squad.  With so much talk about the success of past teams and the apparent lack thereof with the current side, it begs a question worth asking: What is success for a club like Arsenal?  Will any trophy do?  Must we win the Premier League or the Champions League to consider the season a success?

I think success for Arsenal this term can be defined in broader terms than solely winning a trophy, because as Spurs showed us last season there is more to football then just grabbing any piece of silverware.  For Arsenal to be considered successful this term the team must simply show improvement.  By that I mean we do not need to necessarily win the league or the Champions League but we need to progress in both competitions.  Reaching the Champion’s league Semi Finals and securing second in the league would certainly be an improvement from last season.  The FA and Carling Cups are also important competitions, in their own way, in which we need to show improvement as well.

Winning either of the trophies would be a huge step forward insofar as breeding a winning mentality within such a young squad.  For such a young side, there are stepping-stones toward success.  Small victories must be won and heartbreaking defeats must be felt before the biggest goals can be conquered.  Last season was a very big leap forward along that path and if one is to be realistic, patience and progress will and should be the name of the game again this season.

With such a young and relatively inexperienced squad we need to redefine what it means for this team to be considered successful.  The current batch of players are not the Invincibles or either of the double-winning sides.  They are their own team with their own identity who will, if given time and space, mature into winners of numerous trophies.  Until that time comes though the squad needs to be given room to grow. and mature as a unit  Could Arsenal win the title this season?  Theoretically, yes, but in reality things would have to fall together perfectly because of the minute margin of error that will likely be allowed.

Would not winning the league this season make Arsenal unsuccessful? Not necessarily. Success for Arsenal should not only be defined in terms of two competitions.  We must remember the youthfulness of the squad which made great gains in the last campaign and now has added experience and maturity.  Progress is the key.  Should Arsenal make progress in both major competitions and not win, it would be the last year this would be possible as they would be as close as you could to winning without actually doing it.  As Wenger himself said over the summer… winning the Carling Cup and finishing eleventh is hardly what many would consider a successful campaign; even those who hold that “trophies are all that matter.”