Will Arsenal have their opportunity to sing “Redemption Songs” this weekend? Here are my two keys to success for this hugely important FA cup tie this weekend.
As we approach the 5th round FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Liverpool, I find my mind wandering to one of my favorite movies, Dumb and Dumber. After abandoning his friend Lloyd for driving “almost a 6th of the way across the country, IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!”, Harry finds himself alone walking down a lonely highway. Out of the dry sizzling heat coming off of the road, Lloyd comes into the screen riding valiantly and confidently on his mini bike. After a brief explanation from Lloyd on how he acquired the vehicle (“some kid back in town, traded the van for it straight up”) Harry delivers one of my favorite lines of all time. “You know Lloyd, just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this…AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!”
Who will be our “Van” that we trade in? Who will be our “mini bike”? Will it be Wenger, who after the game can say “You know boys, just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this…AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!”? After last week’s drudging at the hands of Liverpool, I certainly hope so. Sunday’s game provides an opportunity for redemption as well as another chance to move one step closer to finally bringing home some silverware. Let me remind you, even though it pulls at my heart strings to do so, that Arsenal have failed to bring home a single trophy in over 8 years. Luckily for me (oozing with sarcasm here) I decided I was a Gooner at heart in 2005, right about the time their trophy cabinet started collecting dust. Maybe it’s me who is bringing the bad luck, or maybe Arsenal need to remind themselves that they are a club full of world class players and need to start acting like it in the games that count.
To answer my earlier question, Santi Cazorla will unfortunately be our “Van” we trade in. ESPNFC & Arsenal.com have reported that he is ill and will miss the FA Cup tie. He has arguably been our most consistent and influential performer all season long. The “mini bike” that he will most likely be traded for is Lukas Podolski.
The first key to success is Podolski’s potential impact on this game. While most would consider Podolski for Cazorla a change for the worse, I think that tactically, it will help us where we failed the last two games. Much of Arsenals game is played through the center of the pitch. Wielding a small army of incredibly talented central midfielders at Wenger’s call, you can understand why. But this approach allows teams to put themselves in good central defensive positions with numbers behind the ball and stop our attack (Think games vs Chelsea and Man United).
With Walcott out through injury and Oxlade-Chamberlin being deployed lately in a central position, we have been missing a natural winger in the line-up. Without someone who will create chances from the wide areas, we become very one dimensional. Santi Cazorla has been our go to man to play on the left wing, but he looks to cut inside and create from the middle of the park. Podolski will give us much needed width. He is capable of beating players off the dribble, playing in powerful and accurate crosses, and cutting inside to link up with the stiker. Not to mention, if he is on the end of a goal scoring opportunity in the box, you can pretty much guarantee he will put it in the back of the old onion bag. He may have been very hit and miss so far this season, but when he’s played, he has scored 5 goals from 6 shots on target this season (stats via espnfc.com). Very efficient by anyone’s standards. He has the potential to have a big impact on the final result.
The last key change I hope to see is in defense. Our defense was miserable when we faced Liverpool last week, but the two goals in the first 10 minutes completely took us out of the game mentally. Against United on Wednesday, Wenger inserted Kieran Gibbs into left back in place of Nacho Monreal. While Monreal is a more robust and stereotypical defender, it is Kieran Gibbs who can have a greater impact on the game. With Kieran Gibbs in, what you lose defensively (which isn’t much), you more than make up for in possession, positioning, and progressing the ball forward.
Wenger has lived and died by playing a possession based, attacking brand of soccer. One of the issues Arsenal had against Liverpool last week was that we didn’t have enough of the ball. Players like Ozil, known for his world class ability to pick out a pass, did a better job of passing the ball to the other team. For Arsenal the best form of defense is keeping the ball away from the opposing team. Kieran Gibbs will provide confidence on the ball, as well as space for others to work in. His marauding runs down the left flank provide space to work in for the central midfielders as well as the winger on his side. He can provide quality service into the box and can even score goals himself.
There are no guarantees we will see either of these players on the line-up sheet at the start of the game, but changes clearly need to be made. As the large banner being draped off the second tier of Emirates Stadium usually reads, “In Arsene we trust”, I too will be trusting Wenger to make positive changes to the line-up.
My prediction: 3-1 to the Arsenal, which will leave me with visions of Wenger’s post game locker room speech ending with…“AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!”