Arsenal's season has reached an absolutely crucial stage and their next few games will determine which direction it takes. With Chelsea four points ahead of them in the league they have to start winning games consistently with no room for mistakes. They have only won two of their last six league games and face Spurs, Chelsea, City and Everton in the next four.
Before they can even think of the league there's the small matter of the FA Cup and a quarter final at home to Everton. The FA Cup was the last trophy Arsenal won back in 2005 and it has to be their best chance of a trophy this season. They have had home draws in every round so far and with the draw favouring them so much they have to take advantage of it.
Of course the opponents weren't always easy but with Spurs, Coventry and Liverpool beaten it's time Everton went the same way. The win over Liverpool in the last round was achieved with quite a few changes to the recognised strongest 11, but I don't think there is room to do that against Everton. It's always a risk to play your best players in so called lesser competitions and Arsenal paid the price in the third round victory over Spurs when an injury Theo Walcott picked up ended his season. With the fans longing for a chance to win a trophy after nine barren years the FA Cup is a chance that cannot be surrendered easily and it has to be given priority.
When Arsene Wenger picks the team he cannot try to hold players back for the Champions League second leg away to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. The chances of making the last eight in that competition are slim after losing the home leg 2-0 and the FA Cup has to be considered a much better possibility of success. The strongest Arsenal team possible has to give their all against Everton and then concentrate on the Bayern game with an FA Cup semi final place booked.
Jack Wilshere won't be available of course after Daniel Agger did for him in England's midweek friendly win over Denmark. I find it hard to fathom how a round of international friendlies can be thrown in at such a crucial stage of the season, but it certainly doesn't surprise me that one was. With most of the Arsenal players playing on Wednesday night for their countries there will have been little time to prepare for Everton, but they're in the same boat no doubt.
The Arsenal performance in the defeat to Stoke last week was just not good enough and I think a few changes need to be made. For me the team lacked pace in attack and were too predictable until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on and eventually offered an attacking threat. Everton have full backs who like to get forward and aren't the best at actual defending and I think Chamberlain had to play from the start.
With Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini not on midweek international duty I think they should both play in midfield against an Everton team which controlled that part of the pitch for most of the game when the teams drew 1-1 at the Emirates in December. I would have Mesut Ozil in front of them with orders to roam freely and try to open up the Everton defence. As well as Chamberlain I would play Serge Gnabry in a wide attacking role with Olivier Giroud as centre forward.
I think the pace and enthusiasm offered by Chamberlain and Gnabry could be what Arsenal need to shake things up in attack and maybe create a few chances for Giroud. I'm not Giroud's greatest fan but he's the best centre forward currently at the club and should play in such an important game. He may not be the best centre forward at the club next season if Arsenal can target the right player this summer and succeed in bringing him in.
The defence more or less picks itself as long as Laurent Koscielny is passed fit to play and if he isn't Thomas Vermaelen will fill in for him. Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are the best central defensive partnership at the club, but Koscielny cannot be risked if his participation threatens the rest of the season for him. Of course I'd like to see him and Mertesacker in the team, but Vermaelen is good enough and will hopefully step up if he gets a chance.
I think the team I have suggested is good enough to go out and take the game to Everton and get the win they need. If they can start the game with the tempo and attitude which has been missing far too often recently I think they can dominate the game and create the chances they need. Everton closed Arsenal down and stopped them playing their own game in the league game in December, but a team with width might just be able to find a way around those tactics. Far too often recently Arsenal have been so narrow in attack that opponents have found it too easy to halt their progress.
The boost from a win and upcoming FA Cup semi final might be just what the team needs as they come into a run of games which will determine the fate of their flagging title challenge this season. The good news is that both Aaron Ramsey and Kim Kallstrom should be available to play in those games and might well be in the squad for the Spurs game next week. Ramsey was the best player in the team and the league until his injury and he has been sorely missed for the last few months. If he can come back in the same form he could have a big say in how things pan out for the rest of the season.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.