|12 Mar||5:15 PM||FA||Manchester United (A)||0||2||Lost|
With the fallout from Tuesday night rumbling on, one worries about what sort of impact all the talk, the tribulations and the personnel shortages will have on a hugely testing task at Old Trafford.
On the face of it, and looking at this current side, you fear just what might happen to them tomorrow evening.
And this is what is inherently wrong with the Club right now: the innate fear of failure. A fear that is borne out of a sheer willingness to win, to prove us all wrong, but a willingness that has inevitably become counterproductive in the search of that elusive moment of glory.
I saw it at that same venue before Christmas, I saw it at Wembley just short of a fortnight ago, and I saw it as we headed out of Europe with a whimper.
That has got to stop before long, and Arsène Wenger and his players are surely aware of that. What perfect opportunity then to do just that at the stomping ground of our old foes; an enmity that, so far, seems set to be revived once again as the race for the Premier League title reaches its enthralling climax.
Whether it turns out to be that way will partly be down to this FA Cup sixth round clash. So soon after four became three, and three having quickly whittled down to two. Partly but not wholly, mind.
Partly because we have seen recently, having gone up the M1 in full flow and clear at the top, what a destructive impact the drubbing in 2008 had on the rest of that particular campaign, notwithstanding Eduardo days later, of course. But not wholly as, having emerged triumphant from the knockout clash now only remembered as the day David Beckham got a boot to his mush from Fergie way back in 2003, it also went on to kick-start United's galvanised rise to pickpocket us to the championship.
Whatever the impact and the implications, this will be for later. What we can be sure of is that we can turn this one into a defining moment of our modern history, our future that Arsène Wenger has gambled everything on, including his own reputation and standing amongst thousands who had previously idolised him, but whose knives are now sharpening by the hour.
Which brings me onto a somewhat hilarious accusation made by a couple (just a couple) commenting on my last article. I feel compelled to question those one or two smarty-pants who, following defeat, in the meekest of manners against Barca, and as I questioned the side's lack of conviction and courage, where in God's world did I mention anything about Wenger having to leave and leave now? Well, the answer is in their broad-based imagination, clearly. And in any case, if one cannot see that yet another trophyless season, one delivered so weakly in a fashion similar to the lashes received by Birmingham and Barcelona in quick succession would signal the beginning of the end, the failure of Wenger's noble dream, then boy, it must be you who has forgotten the spirit of Arsenal. So please do not come forward and smugly suggest that I go and support Spurs, in itself an expletive (amongst others) when failing to answer back in a civilised manner and in a manner worthy of the Club we all love and wish the very best for.
The very best that I am still hopeful will shine through come tomorrow night at the ground where Arsène Wenger would most love to make a statement.
A statement that the spirit of Arsenal is, contrary to what we have recently been subjected to, very much alive and kicking, and ready to take English football by storm over the coming two months as we head for the final stretch of this seesaw marathon.
A seesaw which has seen us more down than up, admittedly. Who knows, it may just swing in our favour tomorrow (though we may have to make our own luck should the FA in their inherent wisdom appoint their Manchester United favourite, I mean big-game ref, Howard Webb).
They may be top of the table and favourites to progress owing to their home form and our shocking return in such key affairs over several years now, but make no mistake, United will be wary of a backlash and are smarting from their own long-awaited dip in form. All of which prompted Sir Alex Ferguson's return from the dead to chip away at our nerves, claiming that we have "rearranged the pecking order". Now, that, coming in the midst of our apparent slumber, if anything, should be the ideal pep talk as the players head out onto the turf.
With no Fàbregas, again at Old Trafford (time to install Samir Nasri in the middle of the park in the Captain's absence), no Walcott, and probably no Song, our task is that much harder. But I am still convinced, as are many neutrals incidentally, that, collectively, we can turn it on and out-do any opposition on these shores, provided we stand up to the fight and play without the fear that has been our undoing. It is upto the players to live up to their hyped billing and exorcise the ghosts of the last two weeks, safe in the knowledge that the next ten can be their making, Arsenal's renaissance.
And with that, I leave you with just how the true spirit of Arsenal can shine through, just as it did in 2004. Having crashed out of the Cup, followed by European heartbreak, we were staring defeat at home to Liverpool to derail our league campaign that had been going so well upto then, only to roar back in barnstorming fashion. The rest is history; as Arsène and his Invincibles went on to claim one of, if not the greatest achievement in modern team sport.
That is what I am talking about, and that is what I will be looking for at Old Trafford, and over the next ten mammoth cup finals, regardless of tomorrow's outcome.
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