The Galavanting Gooner:
By Steve Kessel
Yes, yes they can. Let’s be sensible, Arsenal are the favourites, but as the past two semi-finals have shown us, Arsenal don’t always play at their best when they are expected to win. Last year’s final was most definitely a stressful event for us Arsenal fans, and despite their league position, I do think that Villa will pose more of a threat than Hull did. Benteke is in great form and should they both be fit, the combination of him and Agbonlahor, with Delph pulling the strings in midfield, will give our back four a tough time. That said, of the two teams, I would have picked Villa to play over Liverpool. This is not only as Liverpool have a little better quality throughout the squad, but more as we now wont have to suffer the huge Gerrard fanfare. The flip side of this is that there will be the potential of a loss to a Tim Sherwood side! This would be almost as bad, and something I really do not want to experience. He already has a monumentally elevated opinion of his abilities as a manager and this would put him over the edge. His head would instantly become so big that he would have to be craned out though the retractable roof.
Though Arsenal will be strong favourites, they will also be subject to all the pressure and expectation. This could favour Villa as they will be playing under no real pressure and, if Sherwood can get them playing as a cohesive unit between now and then, they could really shock the Arsenal. Given their earlier performances this season, it is easy to forget that they do have good quality players in their team. There is a reason we will be favourites, however, we have BETTER players throughout the side. Barring a string of bad injuries to first team players, we should have too much for them, even with some potential squad rotation.
I do think Szczesny will play in goal and I think this is fair. I am not 100% convinced that Ospina is better (only that he has a better cheer when he takes a goal kick). When Szczesny has come back into the team (Man U and Reading), he has not shown enough to displace Ospina, but equally he has not done anything wrong. He was criticized by some for the goal he conceded against Reading. In my opinion he was not at fault there, and Gibbs was more to blame for allowing the player the time and space to make the attempt in the first place. Once the ball deflected off of Gibbs, Szczesny didn’t really have a chance. He also has better distribution than Ospina. My only complaint with him, in the past, has been him messing around with the ball in the box, and against Reading he provided a fine display of no nonsense goal keeping. I believe it showed he is taking the role seriously and I will be happy to see him between the sticks for the final. Aside from that I think the boss will pick the absolute strongest 11 he feels will have the best chance of lifting the cup.
If Arsenal do, as I predict, retain the cup, this will be accompanied by some nice statistics/records. We would be the first team to retain the cup since the ‘see you next Tuesdays’ in blue in 2010. Arsene would be the first manager to retain the cup since… well since himself in 2003, and before that Keith Burkinshaw who did it with the scum back in 1982. Wenger would gain the joint record of most wins by a manager (six) which is currently held by George Ramsey, who won it six time with Villa (coincidently) between 1887 and 1920. More importantly, he would move above Alex Ferguson, with whom his is currently tied with five each. I firmly believe that, should Arsene achieve this, the joint record of six will never again be equalled. The culture of turning over managers every few years has become too engrained in the sport to facilitate such a record in the future. For the club, we would move ahead of Man U and become (for the time being) the most successful club in the history of this old and prestigious competition, with 12 victories. Despite some claims that the cup has lost some of its past importance, I still believe this to be an incredible achievement.
For, now, I hope that all these stats will not have been listed in vain, and come the end of the season we will be gearing up for a big night of celebration.
Up the Arsenal!!!