The unbridled joy of Wednesday night's victory over Barcelona has scarcely subsided, and Arsenal are now faced with the completely different prospect of a trip to play Leyton Orient in the FA Cup this Sunday afternoon. Before previewing that game against Orient I have a few points to make about the victory over Barcelona.
Regular readers will know that I always forecast the scoreline of Arsenal games, and my prediction was that Arsenal would win 2-1 with goals from Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas. I got the scoreline right, and one of the scorers too, which isn't a bad thing at all. Then again I always get my prediction partially right at least, as I always predict an Arsenal win. When they visit Barcelona for the return leg I will again be predicting an Arsenal win, however impossible that may seem to some people. I just can't see how I can predict anything but a win for the club I love in every single game they play. It means that I have predicted the correct outcome in 27 of their 41 games so far this season, which is not a bad record for me or the team either.
One thing I noticed from Wednesday's victory was that Arsenal's best three players on the night were not involved in the games last season, and have never played against Barcelona before either. The outstanding players for me were Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny, and Wojciech Szczesny, and this time last season both Wilshere and Szczesny were no more than promising youngsters, and Koscielny was playing with Lorient in France. As well as the players who were injured last season, those three players have made the Arsenal team a stronger one. When Arsenal have their best 11 players available there is no team that they should fear or cannot beat.
Wilshere looked so much more mature than his 19 years would suggest, and I am delighted at how Arsene Wenger has managed to find a position in the team that suits him. I knew how good a talent he was long before this season, as did most Arsenal fans, but I wasn't sure exactly where he would fit into the team. He has found an excellent role alongside Alex Song, and just behind Cesc, and the more he plays the more he grows as a player. His future is very bright, and I'm sure he will start to add more goals to his game over the next few seasons.
Koscielny had an excellent game against Barcelona, and he has formed a very effective partnership with Johan Djourou at the heart of the Arsenal defence. When Arsenal signed him last summer he was said to be a very good centre back, who could read the game very well, and play football too. He has had a few problems in his first season at Arsenal, including two red cards, but Barcelona may well have been an ideal opponent for him. He didn't have to deal with the approach of some Premier League teams like Stoke RFC or Birmingham, and when the ball is played on the ground he really looks the part. His performance against Barcelona can only have done his confidence a lot of good, and hopefully Arsenal will reap the rewards from that.
Szczesny is full of confidence in his own ability, and he has being waiting impatiently to get his chance in the first team. He angered some fans when he suggested he might be prepared to go elsewhere if he didn't get the first team football he craved, but due to Lukasz Fabianski's injury he now has the chance to prove himself for the rest of this season. I thought that he played very well against Barcelona, and his ability to make himself as big as possible when confronted by a striker saved Arsenal on a few occasions. His celebration of Arsenal's second goal made his feelings for the club perfectly obvious, and the fans love to see a player who genuinely cares.
Tomorrow afternoon Arsenal make the very short trip to east London to play League One team Orient in the fifth round of the FA Cup. At the moment Orient are 10th in League One which is the third tier of English football. It means that they are 52 places behind Arsenal, and this is probably their biggest game in a long time. They have won their last three league games, and scored 10 goals in the process which is a good record to bring into such a big game for them.
The early injury news would seem to indicate that none of the players who played on Wednesday night will be absent, as Theo Walcott and Johan Djourou have both recovered from the knocks they picked up. Bacary Sagna is also available after serving his Champions League suspension on Wednesday night, and it means that there will be quite a battle for players just to get into the match day squad. Sagna would expect to be included in the squad, as would Marouane Chamakh who wasn't in it on Wednesday night.
I think the boss will make quite a few changes, as there is a huge Premier League game against Stoke RFC on Wednesday night, followed by the Carling Cup final on the Sunday after that. If Arsenal can beat Stoke RFC on Wednesday night they will be one point behind "Manure" who play away from home in their next three league games. It's a situation Arsenal need to be ready to take advantage of, and if that means playing a weakened team against Orient I think it's a risk worth taking. I know Arsenal's so-called second string have struggled in cup games against lower league opposition this season, but they have enough talent to beat Orient once they have the right belief and application.
I would imagine that most of Manuel Almunia, Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Eboue, Sebastien Squillaci, Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, and Nicklas Bendtner will all start along with a few of the players who played on Wednesday night. What will be crucial for me will be the players that play alongside those second string players, as they will be the ones to bring the drive and belief to the team more than likely. I still think it's a strong enough team to get Arsenal through to the quarter final, and within two games of another Wembley final. I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal with Bendtner scoring at some stage in the match.
The boss was asked about Arsenal's chances of winning all four competitions they are competing in this season, and he said Arsenal will try to win the lot. He believes they can go right to the end of each competition, but he also said that it could all end very quickly too. If I had to choose one competition over all the others it would still be the Premier League at this stage, as I think it's the biggest prize of all, and probably the most obtainable after the Carling Cup.
I also think it's vitally important that Arsenal finish the job tomorrow against Orient, as a replay is the last thing they need at this stage of the season. If Arsenal can win tomorrow it means they will have a six day break between the Carling Cup final, and their league game at home to Sunderland. At this stage of the season those breaks are vital to a team that's still involved in four competitions, and it's also vital that next Sunday's Carling Cup final doesn't go to extra time. The extra 30 minutes can be very tough on players that play the full 120 minutes, and it can lead to injuries that might not usually occur.
I'll leave it there for today, but I'll have a review of tomorrow's game on Monday morning followed by a preview of the game against Stoke RFC on Wednesday. After that game the build up to the Carling Cup final will begin, and hopefully Arsenal can win their first trophy in almost six years against Birmingham next Sunday. I'll be watching that game in the local supporters club, and hopefully celebrating with a few friends, and of course a few beers too.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at an absolute cracker from a young Wilshere.
See You Tomorrow.