WBA Preview: Grey Day Or Brave New World
The last day of the season is upon us, do you remember this:
Perhaps you are too young? What of this one (albeit a different take):
Thanks to AFCGuildford for these
This is slightly more recent:
Title wins, moments when the champion mentality shone through. In 1996, the same situation was faced as now; win and European football beckoned in the following campaign. Dennis Bergkamp stepped up and unleashed the thunderbolt that saw Arsenal participate in the 1996-97 Uefa Cup.
Many will tell you that the current Arsenal squad is just not capable of producing the equivalent moment this afternoon at The Hawthorns. I do not subscribe to that theory. All of the above have one thing in common; there was a sheer professionalism about the above three performances that meant Arsenal controlled their own destiny. If Arsenal emulate that, the required result will emerge and Champions League football will once more be seen at The Emirates.
There are parallels with 1989; the end result is being achieved the hard way.
Third place this season could have been secured but it wasn’t, the season still has something to play for. No point in bemoaning performances or mistakes; the end product wasn’t there and now we find ourselves looking at West Bromwich, wondering which Arsenal will turn up this afternoon.
As the media turn their eyes to Mancunian battles higher up the Premier League, the tussle for the Champions League football is no less absorbing. It doesn’t end this afternoon with Munich the final resolution of the matter. Finishing fourth may not be good enough and if that is not sufficient motivation for a win, I do not know what is.
Whatever doubts the manager has privately, they are not being aired in any public forum. This squad, he believes, is one of the toughest mentally that he has managed. They have had to be, recovery from 17th to 3rd even over the course of a season underlines that there is a quality currently at the club that is underestimated. By no means are they the finished article – twenty points away from it – but right now the hope that they can produce one more big performance is not misplaced.
The team news was brighter than last weekend although the white of the clouds is tinged with grey. Lukasz Fabianski has made no secret of his desire to play first team football; he may get his chance today if Wojciech Szczesny does not recover from whichever ailment besets him. At least there is a reason why his distribution last weekend was so woeful. A better one than just an off-day, at least.
Bacary Sagna has not been able to find any miraculous cure for a broken leg so the energetic Francis Coquelin will presumably take his place; his performance against Norwich surely warranted that. With Andre Santos a doubt, the same back four which finished last weekend is probably going to start; let’s hope that the concentration which was so noticeable in its absence has been rediscovered. One final big performance from Laurent Koscielny is required.
Otherwise, I do not envisage many changes. Theo Walcott’s recovery would see Gervinho revert to the bench, I think, with Yossi Benayoun on the left. That said the hamstring problem might best be served with a gentle reintroduction to the side, an impact substitute rather than a restrained started, inhibited by the knowledge that a twinge or a tweak might see the end of his afternoon. With so much at stake, I wonder if Arsène can afford to be conservative in his selection?
The alternative is to include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the start. The youngster certainly brought life to the torpor which engulfed Arsenal last weekend although I suspect that the wily Israeli would get the nod because of his experience. But I would make one change to accommodate them both.
Aaron Ramsey has been dogged by indifference and the summer break might be the best thing for him, a chance to free the chains of this season from his mental cage. The young Welshman has been inhibited by seemingly trying too hard; his game always had a natural flow prior to his injury and this time it has been too stilted, ponderous of reaction at time. That said, I thought his deep-lying performance last weekend was as good as has been seen this season.
Arsenal need a balance of attack and defence but I think that Oxlade-Chamberlain can offer more of that the axis of Song and Ramsey. With that in mind, Benayoun could pair with the youngster on the left, leaving Song to defend, to provide the barrier to the threat of the Albion midfield. It leaves the line-up as:
Szczesny (Fabianski) ; Coquellin, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Rosicky, Song, Benayoun; Walcott (Gervinho), van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Three points Gentlemen. Three points. Don’t rely on Tottenham and Newcastle failing, don’t give them the chance to offer the view that Arsenal only qualified for the Champions League through someone else blowing their chances. But then does that really matter? No, the outcome is all. Third is the aim; fourth is not a failure yet.
If your nerves are strong, visit Arsenal On This Day to find what this day in 1989 held in store.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.