Saturday, 7 January 2017

Arsenal's FA Cup Trip To Preston Previewed

It's FA Cup action today for Arsenal with a trip to Preston in the evening game live on TV. The midweek 3-3 draw at Bournemouth is still fresh in our minds and to be honest it's not easy to put a game like that behind you. You can look at it two ways as either a point gained after trailing 3-0 or two points dropped against a team we really should have beaten on paper at least.

The first 65 minutes from Arsenal was abysmal and we were probably lucky to be only three goals down at that stage, but the comeback was great and the point could prove to be important at the end of the season. As I said before the game Bournemouth are no pushovers, but we did nothing to take advantage of their defensive frailties until we were three down. They were the ones to take advantage of our defensive problems with Arsenal handing them the first two goals on a plate.

Hector Bellerin went AWOL for the first goal, but he wasn't helped by Aaron Ramsey not wanting to do the defensive part of the game either. Bellerin managed to get back though and then he was beaten far too easily as was Petr Cech for that goal and the third one too. In fact Cech didn't cover himself in glory for his attempts to save the penalty either as has been the way with the many penalties Arsenal have conceded this season.

I was a little worried when we signed Cech that his best days were behind him and I'm even more worried now. David Ospina will get a chance in the FA Cup today and it might just be time for Ospina to make the goalkeeper's shirt his own. His shot stopping is vastly superior to Cech's for me at the moment, but I do worry about his abilities on crosses.

The second goal Bournemouth scored was almost worse from Arsenal with Granit Xhaka inexplicably pushing their player over in the box when there was no real danger. He had done well to get back after Arsenal lost possession outside the Bournemouth area, but it's impossible to understand why he pushed the player over. I was delighted when we signed Xhaka and he can be very good most of the time, but it looks like he lacks a football brain. His ability to make stupid decisions is next to none and he has to work harder to cut those stupid mistakes out of his game.

If the foul by Xhaka was a penalty then the push on Bellerin which led to the third goal was a free to Arsenal without a doubt, but the referee didn't give it and again Cech didn't cover himself in glory.

I may have gone into that game a little too much considering it was four days ago, but as I said it's a tough one to get out of my head. We should have won, could have lost and ended up with an unlikely point in true Arsenal style. That point dropped us to fifth in the league, but we actually closed the gap to Chelsea at the top to a mere eight points.

The question is are we truly chasing Chelsea or is our actual goal to finish in the top four yet again. It's going to be a very tight finish with six teams battling it out for those four places and any two teams could miss out. I really can't see us winning the league considering our awful form against the rest of the top six for many years now and our ability to implode just when it matters most.

With all that in mind the FA Cup becomes a little more important because the league is such a stretch and the Champions League is definitely beyond us. We were knocked out at home to Watford last season at a time when our league challenge was imploding, but we won the trophy in the previous two seasons. No team has won more FA Cups than Arsenal and no manager has won more than Arsene Wenger. 

I have no doubt Preston will give us a tough test today and try to take advantage of any defensive slips that we are so fond of at the moment. Even with our current injury problems and Alexis Sanchez having a much needed rest we should still be too good for a team who sit in the middle of the table a league below us. I'm not taking Preston for granted, but once Arsenal don't either I think they will win.

Hopefully they can advance to the next round and put the cup aside for a while so they can concentrate on the league. They have three games coming up that they should and most definitely have to win before a trip to Chelsea early next month. Nine points from those games is a must and with so many of the teams around us playing each other we will move up the table if we win those three games.

If we can go to Chelsea in good form and with most of our injured players back then maybe a performance like the one in the 3-0 win at home to them earlier this season might just be what we need, but it's a huge ask from players who have failed when the chips are down time after time.

I'm still of the belief that last season was our chance to win the league with all the other big clubs failing at once, but we blew it despite leading in early January. We are the only team in the current top six to have less points than this time last season and some of them have an awful lot more points. If we couldn't win it when they all fell by the wayside then what chance do we really have this season with all of them performing so much better.

I'll leave you on that depressing note with the Preston game up shortly and the hopes of a 13th FA Cup win for the club getting under way for this season. I think the boss will play the strongest team he has with the exception of Alexis as he knows this could very quickly be our only route to a trophy this season. Let's hope we beat them and the players and manager can change enough to improve our fortunes from here on in.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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