It has felt like an absolute eternity since we last played a game of football so it is with a great deal of relief that the focus can turn at last back to events taking place on the pitch today – even if it will only prove a temporary distraction.
In reality, it has only been a matter of days since last we played but, given everything that has taken place since Tuesday’s mauling a the hands of Munich, that short period has been extended into eons – in footballing terms at least.
It has been one of the most turbulent periods in the Arsene Wenger-era, perhaps even in the history of the football club. Both on the field and away from it, things have been pretty miserable for the club and it has been difficult to find any respite from the frustration and uncertainty that lingers around the red half of North London like a bad smell.
But there is a chance for some small measure of relief from all the woe with victory over non-league Lincoln City, who visit the Emirates today in the FA Cup. Success would confirm our place in the semi-final which, these days, brings with it a trip to Wembley.
In Arsenal’s current state, you look at the list of likely opponents for the semi-final with a sort of insidious angst, but it is infinitely more important that we at least get to the semi, than crash out in today’s quarter-final.
I don’t even want to entertain the possibility that Arsenal might lose today. There is such a gulf between the two teams in terms of playing personnel, stature, ability, finance and resource, that victory is the only possibility. And, in honesty, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a commanding win either.
Making it into the next round of the cup will not heal the gangrenous wounds that have formed among the fanbase, but it is crucially important that those wounds are not made worse. Wins make everyone feel better so the Gunners must start to deliver.
In order to get the job done, I think Arsene should stick with pretty much the same team that took to the field against Munich, although bringing in Mesut Ozil or Lucas Perez remains possible.
I thought Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Granit Xhaka performed well against Bayern so it would make sense to see them given another crack, a second chance to gel as a unit.
It has been a real merry-go-round in midfield this season, owing mainly to injury and loss of form, so getting a settled line-up in place is important.
It is also vital that we perform and fight as a team. Lincoln are going to be giving it everything they have – this is their final, the biggest game they will likely every play in. However trivial this may seem to the Arsenal players, they have to match the energy and enthusiasm of the visitors, they have to show fans they care enough to put up a fight.
In a lot of ways, Arsenal are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Nobody is getting to celebrate thrashing Lincoln because a club of our size quite rightly should, while defeat would bring what remains of the fan’s morale crashing down around our ears. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t play this game to win, and to win well.
I can’t really remember more than a handful of occasions this season in which we have truly performed for 90 minutes. Off the top of my head I think of the victory over Chelsea at the Emirates in the league and the 5-0 thrashing of Southampton in the early rounds of the FA Cup. It’s only those games that really stand out and that is not good enough.
If there is to be a mini-revival between now and the end of the season, however unlikely that may be, we have to start performing for 90 minutes in every singlae game. Let’s hope today can be the first day of the rest of our season.