By Tim Todd, tl;drer
Here it is, your tl;dr match preview.
- Arsenal play Reading in the FA Cup Semi-Final
- The match takes place at Wembley
- All pressure is on Arsenal to win because Reading are deep underdogs
- Winning back to back FA Cups will do absolutely nothing to change the minds of people like Stewart Robson who despise Arsene Wenger and everything he represents.
- Are we having fun yet?
Wembley, for me, still holds harrowing memories of the 2011 League Cup final.
Obafemi Martins winning goal went off like a bomb inside the stadium. The Birmingham end of the stadium erupted in screams of joy and our end of the stadium was blown down like the trees in the Tunguska blast.
And as we trudged out of the stadium the scene was post apocalyptic; rain falling in huge wet globs like nuclear fallout, and everyone pushed slowly toward the trains by the sheer will of the crowd. The dead carrying the dead.
Three years later in the same stadium, Arsenal overcame a 2-0 deficit to Hull City winning with a dramatic late goal by Aaron Ramsey to lift the FA Cup. It was Arsenal’s first trophy in 9 years. And the memory of that win should still carry us but oddly, the loss to Birmingham is fresher for me than the win over Hull.
My theory is that this is the case with all sports fans. The losses hurt more than the wins can soothe.
I suspect it’s part of the survival instinct. Pain can kill us and so we have to learn to avoid it at all costs. Thus, pain stays fresher in the mind. Pleasure, on the other hand, is something to be sought but it’s more like a life-bonus. It’s not going to kill us not to have pleasure so its memory fades faster.
Arsenal’s run last year hasn’t faded completely. I still remember the giddy excitement of singing “she wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon!” And “Wembley, Wembley, we are the mighty Arsenal and we’re going to Wembley” over and over again in the build-up to nearly every match and sometimes just randomly in the middle of a match as I watched in my living room. And I remember sitting in the Emirates with Adrian as Arsenal overcame Everton to secure a place in the semi-final: the crowd only confident enough to sing about Wembley once the Arsenal had restored their lead.
I haven’t heard much singing about Wembley this year, last year those songs were ubiquitous, and the lack of singing makes me wonder if Arsenal fans have the same sense of excitement that they did last year? Please, those of you who are there, tell me that the songs are sung just as exuberantly I want to believe that we Arsenal fans aren’t taking this match and the cup final for granted.
But I fear that we are and worse, I fear that the team might take Reading for granted. Reading are 18th in the Championship and Arsenal are in 2nd in the Premiership. And just like the gap between their places in each division, there is a massive gap in terms of talent on these two teams. Arsenal have at their disposal Özil and Sanchez, players Arsenal bought from giant clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid for £30-40m each, Reading do business with… well, they did get a few players on loan from League leaders Chelsea, but the only player they purchased this season was Oliver Norwood from Huddersfield for £1m. In terms of talent, spend, and pedigree Arsenal have the huge advantage.
So, it doesn’t much matter who Arsenal start in which positions. If Arsene rotates some of the forwards, for example bringing in Welbeck for Giroud, he still has Giroud on the bench. The same for nearly every other position on the squad. For that reason I won’t be surprised to see Walcott in the starting lineup or even Jack Wilshere — both players need games and they are fit. And if Wenger keeps true to the squad he has used so far in the FA Cup, Szczesny should get a start over Ospina at keeper.
The one player who might not rotate out is Coquelin. His best replacement, Arteta, had a setback in his recovery plan and can’t play. Arsène could bring in Flamini for Coquelin but only if Coquelin really needs the rest.
Who Arsenal rotate in or out is irrelevant, however, because all of the pressure is on Arsenal to win this match. Reading are such underdogs that they are like a little Chihuahua cowering underneath a Pug, and the Pug is the actual underdog.
So, in a weird way nothing Arsenal do in this match matters. If Arsenal win, the haters keep hating and the lovers will be filled with a temporary joy but Arsenal advance in a competition they are supposed to advance in. If Arsenal do the unthinkable and lose…
I just hope everyone has fun tomorrow.