15 May 2014

Thursday Throwdown: FA Cup Final Week

Arsenal and Hull battle for the
old trophy on Saturday
(Credit: Carlos yo, Wikimedia)
Sam: Andy, it's almost here. All objectivity is going out the window this week; this Throwdown is just going to be pure emotion. I have spent all week vacillating between being incredibly excited, and incredibly nervous. I'm also being a little superstitious, trying to avoid any strong statement about my beliefs and opinions on Saturday, but this is such a big game there's no way we can talk about anything else this week. How have you been feeling this week?

Andrew: Every day this week there has been a moment where I remembered that the FA Cup Final is on Saturday anda it immediately fills me with joy. That joy then quickly gives way to sheer terror at the prospect of losing said final, throwing me into a month long depression. I remain very, very excited for Saturday's match but that excitement is in response to thoughts of Arsenal winning only. Once I remember that there is a chance that the Gunners will lose, I get that gnawing pain in the pit of my stomach and have to block all thoughts of final from my mind for fear of freaking myself out. Is this... this can't be healthy, right? Please at least tell me that I'm not alone in this Lovecraftian terror. 

Sam: I'm going through the same thing, and I'm sure the majority of Gooners are too. The problem is there's just so much riding on this match: the chance to end a trophy-less drought; the chance to finally shut the media up about said drought; the chance to finish a once-promising season on a high note; the chance to let Bacary Sagna leave (as it looks increasingly likely he will) as a champion... I could go on. For me, the biggest thing about this match is that we could finally kill off the media's favorite story of how Arsenal haven't won a trophy for amount of years. It's just really annoying to hear, particularly because there are only 4 trophies available every season, and in an era where money seems to be a very good indicator of how likely you are to win a trophy, there are only really 2 or 3 challengers for each piece of silverware; even a Premier League club only has a 1-in-64 chance of winning the FA Cup. Also, I'd love to be able to rub Sp*rs fans faces in a triumph, because even though we celebrated a 19th consecutive St Totteringham's Day this year, most Spuds that I know actually mocked us for celebrating, saying things like "Look how far you've fallen", etc. What's your biggest 'storyline' (for want of a better word) going in to the match?

Andrew: Honestly, I just want to win the FA Cup. I mean, I want Arsenal to win everything but now that we actually get to enjoy the madness of a cup final, I desperately want to win. Part of it is because of the tired old media narratives about Arsenal and what qualifies as being a success, and certainly part of it is to stake a claim about the resurgence of the Gunners and Arsène Wenger's legacy. Being able to flaunt it in the face of Spurs fans would be lovely too, of course.

But more than anything I want the feeling of success, that cathartic release of a title win. I could feel it build a little every step of the way, with the victory over Spurs, the redemption of the wins home to Liverpool and Everton, and then the relief of the shootout against WiganThis Saturday though, it's the whole thing and not just a piece of that feeling. Goddamn it, I want to experience it again.

I know it sounds like I'm chasing the dragon here but even though I love the more general aspects of fandom such as the way this club is constructed and having Arsène as our philosophical leader, winning titles is hard to beat in terms of an immediate, concentrated fulfillment. Am I wrong for putting so much emphasis on winning the damn thing?

Sam: Not at all. Part of fun of FA Cup Final week is the stress of the build-up, the knowledge that on Saturday at around 1.50pm there could be a huge explosion of relief, celebration and pure joy, or we could all be bottling up our emotions and trying to put on a brave face and make excuses. I just want to feel like I did in 2005 again; I've almost forgotten that victorious feeling, truth be told. My mind keeps trying to envision that release of emotion, imagining that roar that could happen at full-time, jumping around the pub and singing songs, before I take control of my thoughts again, not wanting to build up my hopes too much.

It's looking increasingly likely
that Saturday will be the last time
we see Sagna in an Arsenal shirt
(Credit: wonker, Wikimedia)
I wanted to talk briefly about the line-up. During the Norwich game, there were several conversations about who played, who should have been rested, who could have done with a run-out, etc. I think that the selection of Lukasz Fabianski means that Wojciech Szczesny will start on Saturday. It wouldn't be the first time that Wenger has let a reserve 'keeper play all stages of the cup, then selected his first-choice in the final. I also understand the decision to start Ramsey, as he's only been back from injury for about a month and is our key player. He needed a run-out to avoid rust and obviously scored a superb goal so will be brimming with confidence. There's also been some talk in the press about whether Bacary Sagna should start if he's going to leave this summer. For me, you have to select your best available squad for a cup final; if some of those players aren't here next season, it doesn't matter. Those who are staying will get the confidence boost of winning a trophy, and what better way to send off a consistent servant like Sagna. What are your opinions on what the line-up should look like?

Andy: We agree that you don't build experience for next year if that will cost the team a chance to win this year. Sagna deserves to play in the FA Cup final in what looks to be his last game in an Arsenal kit and he deserves this because he is the team's best option at right back. He will help the team win on Saturday more so than Carl Jenkinson will (nothing against the Corporal, mind you), hence he will be on the field. The same can be said of Szczesny starting over Fabianski but that gap is a lot smaller and Lukasz has been amazing when called upon this year. It would be a shame if he too leaves the team but he does deserve a starting job so I would understand him seeking it out.

Going into the game against Norwich I had entertained the idea that we could see a starting lineup that consisted of players that are normally substitutes, maybe even with some youth team players thrown in to make up the numbers. This thought, however, failed to take into consideration Arsène Wenger's philosophy both as a man and a manager. He wanted Ramsey, Özil, Giroud and others to go into the final brimming with confidence rather than giving them an extra ninety minutes of rest because he values giving players control over their attitude and has confidence in those whom he trusts. It could have come off different if a game Norwich side had defeated Arsenal in its last game in the Premier League, but it didn't and now, hopefully, the team is clicking on all cylinders going into the match against Hull.

The only real potential for lineup surprises would seem to be in midfield. I assume that the defense will be Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Sagna as usual and Giroud will feature up top, but there is some debate to be had about the middle of the park. What do you think it will look like come Saturday?

Sam: There certainly are more questions around the midfield than anywhere else. Ramsey is guaranteed to start, and I would guess he'd line up alongside Mikel Arteta at the base of the midfield. For the more advanced positions, I guess it depends how you want to approach the game. There are questions over the fitness (and sharpness) of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, but I would expect both of those to at least make the bench. If we assume they aren't starting, then four players - Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil - are in competition for the remaining three places; I would guess that Özil and Santi make it for sure. This leaves one place. On one hand, you'd want Poldi's finishing ability as an added scoring threat alongside Giroud, but there's always the fear that his ... lack of interest, shall we say, in defending will put a lot of pressure on Gibbs. Rosicky, on the other hand, offers a willingness to get back and help, as well as good ball retention. He also provides the option of dropping back to play alongside Arteta and allow Ramsey to play more advanced. Having said all that, though, I'd expect Arsène to select Poldi, giving us a midfield of: Ramsey, Arteta; Cazorla, Özil, Podolski. What's your opinion?

Andy: Surprisingly, you and I agree on this as well as I think Podolski's finishing will be important against a Hull team that will most likely defend maniacally and try to get a goal against the run of play. Speedy players just won't be as important as there won't be space behind the defense. We could still debate the inclusion of other players but honestly... I'm a bundle of nerves and thinking this much about the specifics for the match on Saturday is making my stomach hurt. I plan on self medicating with alcohol and hopefully we'll be drinking to celebrate rather than drinking to forget once all is said and done. Cheers Sam, and I will see you for the final, decked out in my finest yellow ribbon.

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