Is Lower League gap closing? F.A. Cup reflection

Well I have to say what a crazy weekend it has been in the FA Cup; shocks a plenty as so-called giants have succumb to the tenacity and spirit of lower league teams. The best thing about the weekend has to be that despite our wobble we managed to dispatch our opponents in Brighton. Arsenal managed to pass their test and avoid being one of the premiership teams to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whistle is blown; game is won and successful passage into the next round achieved; no shameful exit and no unwanted replay on the agenda. It seems a long time since we were able to glide under the radar unnoticed and I quite like it that way.

Now our focus turns to Wednesday against Liverpool, the fans are happy and now it’s down to Arsene Wenger to ensure that the weekend’s events do not spawn any complacency. Liverpool will be down but it can certainly act as a motivation for them to right their wrongs with an instant response against us. Arsenal need to want it more than Liverpool and that means we need to turn that spring in our step into a determined and focused stamp of intent.

It’s a bit too early for a pre-match review of the Liverpool game on Wednesday so I will turn my attentions back to the giant killing of the weekend. It certainly raises the question of whether the gap in quality from the elite in the premiership is becoming shortened against lower placed teams.

In Arsene’s long stint as manager he managed to hold onto a record of never losing to lower league opposition in cup football. That was broken eventually against Burnley a few years ago when he fielded a young team in a quarter-final of the Carling Cup. Even then it was shrugged off because of the team selected; fast forward to this season and the loss on penalties to Bradford in the Capital One Cup. On this occasion we selected the strongest team we possibly could in that tie, no kids were anywhere near the starting eleven or the bench and yet we managed to go out of the competition.

bradford fc Jack Wilshere

Bradford fans celebrate around Jack

 

We may not have been outplayed by Bradford and it did seem it was one of those days where nothing seemed to work for the team but at the end of the day given the standing of both clubs in their respective leagues there should have only been one outcome. We went out and will always look back on that moment with embarrassment and as a permanent reality check in our clubs history.

Now you look at that result and say Bradford played the game of their lives and should enjoy the moment before being brought back down to earth in the Semi’s against Aston Villa. Yes Villa was at the time going through one of their worst runs of form in recent years but they had two legs to get it right. How wrong were we? Bradford took the game to Aston Villa, refused to bow down to Premier league opposition and deservedly earned their place in the League Cup Final against Swansea City.

Now we look at the results pulled off by the likes of Leeds, Oldham and Luton Town. When the fourth round draw was made you would be forgiven for assuming you would see Tottenham, Liverpool and Norwich in the draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup. One upset out of the three at a push but for all three to finish in favour of the underdog is quite a feat. Each of those teams deservedly won their games and the fans of those premiership teams cannot begrudge them their moment.

Leeds celebrate

Leeds celebrate against Spurs

 

Is the gap closing on the elite because of a raise in standard of lower league teams or is the so-called quality of the elite teams that are going out to these lower league teams reducing. I will include Arsenal in this question because of the Bradford result; you could probably say it’s a mixture of both factors. We certainly would not expect such results in the days of Vieira and Henry and even the most positive of Arsenal fans would admit our standard has declined over recent years; the lack of silverware is evidence enough.

Lower league teams have stepped up their quality over the years, gone are the days where every league below the premiership resorted to long ball football. As more and more young managers influenced by the workings of their successful managers from their playing days bring to their new jobs all the techniques they learned it becomes a lot evident when you watch lower league games in action. You will still get the odd long ball teams but there is a growing number of more and more passing teams that play good football in the championship and lower divisions.

oldham celebrate

Oldham celebrate Liverpool scalp

 

One other massive factor I would highlight from the recent giant killing is the psychological focus that is maintained by the underdog teams. They fight like it is their life depended on it and when watching the games you can see that they want it that bit more than their more privileged opponents. Complacency is a big failing in the so-called big teams and the managers struggle to motivate their players to give 100% when they know they are playing smaller teams.

It has reached the point where a top-tier team has to psychologically prepare for a game against Luton town the same way they would against Barcelona. It’s easier said than done and that is one of the failings that stun some of these top teams. It isn’t a case of just turning up and expecting the opposition to be star struck by your attendance.

That is exactly why the next round for Arsenal against Blackburn cannot be taken lightly; we know them well from their time in the premiership but given their standing now we will have to expect demand a fully focused performance.

It is our last realistic chance of silverware this season (the Champions League though not impossible will be a tough task) and the Bradford result should be motivation enough to not take this game for granted.

Enjoy your day people.

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Bradford embarrassment sinks Arsenal to new low

Absolutely shocking performance last night, Arsenal fans across the land must be united in wondering how we can turn this around. The line up last night included no kids, none of the young raw players we have witnessed in previous rounds. This was the first team out there, pitted against a league two side. There is no excuse to struggle against a side from that level; I know the home fans were up for it and that would of course lift their players but this was our first team out there.

Words cannot describe the embarrassment felt witnessing the game yesterday. On Saturday the win against West Brom was seen as the first step on the long road to recovery; a chance to build back some confidence and momentum and prove the club is still a major force. Well yesterday Bradford City pushed Arsenal back about 20 steps; it is going to take a hell of a lot to restore some pride and dignity to Arsenal’s reputation.

arsenal out

Our once great club is now a laughing-stock; it is hard to defend the events of last night. It may only be penalties but it should never have reached the stage of penalties. Despite the one million and one wake up calls we have already had this season we still have not reacted. Will this spark some soul-searching and a new focus to put things right? Hardly, we will be here again in couple weeks time questioning another defeat. It is a vicious cycle and the January transfer window cannot come quick enough; we need wholesale changes, talking up the quality of the players we have means nothing if they cannot produce the results.

We are a club in turmoil; there is no way to sugar coat it, a high number of players in the squad are just not good enough to take us back to the top. Arsene needs to put his ruthless hat on and wield the axe; he needs to fix the team as soon as possible. We cannot afford to wait until the summer and at the moment Wenger cannot afford any more slip ups. The pressure is on like never before, he lost the backing of even more fans last night after that outcome and at this moment in time I cannot see him lasting the season if things don’t change.

wenger ball

In his defence, he put out a strong team against Bradford and those players who were on the pitch should take most of the blame for the performance and result. They let him down big time, they let the fans down and they let their selves down. I’m not even going to single out players; the usual suspects who the fans ridicule did nothing to prove otherwise. I won’t blame the penalty misses because like I said the game should never have even got to the stage of a shootout. The whole team needs to look long and hard at itself, we cannot paper over the cracks anymore because fan power grows stronger with each poor performance.

The only Arsenal positive I can think of right now if the fact that we are not playing until next Monday so my weekend won’t be spoiled in any way. I will get back to being more positive about Arsenal and their chances for the rest of the season but for now I am sure you are in agreement that this sucks right now.

Try your best to survive the banter from rival fans today.

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Time to move on from Santi scandal

We start the week in a slightly better mood compared to last; A win certainly can make things feel a lot better. Swansea last week is far from forgotten, we have merely put a band-aid over the wound but we need the bandages and that secret ointment Mr Miyagi uses to heal up the karate kid to overcome the pain.

I wouldn’t patronise any arsenal fans, I know we are all on the same page when it comes to Saturday’s game, it is only one game and there is a hell of a long way to go to get the confidence back and hit the form we know we are capable of. There seems to be a lot of daylight between Arsenal and the top of the league but that doesn’t mean we have any right to give up, anything is possible and we must fight until the very last game of the season. Finishing above Tottenham should be at the back of our list of priorities, we don’t need to be dragged down to their level of measuring success; the Manchester clubs and Chelsea should be our concern.

The remaining December fixtures (Reading a, Wigan a, West Ham h and Newcastle h) are ones the old Arsenal would expect to win; I understand we are not the Arsenal of old but we do have quality in this squad who can achieve so much more than we have so far. Optimism from the fans has weakened over the years but we still cheer on the boys and still believe in them despite the odd moan and grumble from the stands.

One of the main points from the game against West Brom was the dive from Santi Cazorla that led to the opening penalty. It was a dive, I don’t deny it and I certainly do not welcome diving in the game however this is not a common trait from the player in all the games we have witnessed from him this season. The overreaction to the incident has been quite hypocritical from some quarters of the press and I feel deep down they know he is not a serial diver.

santi

There are some players who are known for their diving so much that it becomes something that is laughed off and dismissed when they produce simulation in games. Whenever there is a new kid on the block who gets exposed by the cameras those same people want the book thrown at them. The level of disgust should apply to everyone who does it, to pick and choose relevance is not the way forward. The media favourites such as Suarez and Bale need to be pulled up for their misdemeanours and until such is done the problem will not be solved. I will not condone an arsenal player who seeks to cheat in every game and I’m sure many fans would agree with me, it is an embarrassment to be forced to defend cheating performed by your own players. But we don’t have players who seek to cheat in every game and so I do not believe there is any issue to deal with. It was a one-off incident and people (mainly rival fans) now need to get over it and move on.

Bradford game this week for a place in the semi finals of the Capital One Cup, really hope we don’t end up with egg on our faces. A nice mix of experience and youth is required, we are still away from home and need to stem the potential pressure caused from a crowd who will be bang up for it. I’m not saying it will be our only chance for silverware this season but it certainly is the chance for the first silverware of the season. If we go all the way the final will be nice and early in the season (24th Feb), we can get it out of the way and focus on all the other competitions we are in. It’s still a long way away but we need the job done this week, fingers crossed guys.

Enjoy your day people.

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