No surprises any more, but it’s still good we’re making statements like Cech

So yesterday, after all of the speculation, endless retelling of his impending arrival and all-round media bluster, Arsenal confirmed that Petr Cech was officially an Arsenal player.

I, like you, am very pleased. I’ll talk a little bit about the signing in a sec, but as I chewed the fat with a fellow Gooner in the office yesterday, I could not help but pine for the ‘old days’, when a transfer came out of the blue. Thanks to social media and the ever-instant access to information that we all now have, the Cech deal got to a stage where we all knew it was happening, it was just a matter of time. There was no “bloody hell, we’ve signed Bergkamp!” about the announcement yesterday, nor a legendary surprise like the one Arsène gave the media when introducing Sol Campbell to the assembled hacks, who thought we’d be announcing Richard Wright instead.

Perhaps I’m just guilty of being a little too nostalgic, but I preferred ignorance, because the positive surprise and excitement I got when any big name player signed for The Arsenal ten to 15 years ago was much greater than these days. Or perhaps I’m just getting a little older and longer in the tooth.

Whatever. The important thing is that we’ve gone big on bringing in an established and ‘world class’ goalie who can only improve our team. It is a position that many of us thought Arsène had sorted three or four years ago, but after an indifferent season for Szczesny and well documented off-pitch antics, the Pole’s position as number one has been usurped indefinitely for now it seems.

His response – I have to say – was the right one. He praised the signing and publicly, at least, said he’d be pleased to learn from such a player. That is what most Arsenal fans had assumed would be the position that Wenger would take, so it appears as though Szczesny seems to have accepted the challenge, whether or not he feels it’s still the case if he hasn’t been playing much come December, we’ll have to see. When you’re number one for as long as he was, do you want to slot comfortably back into a number two’s shoes? I’m not sure you do and with the Euro’s coming up next summer, it is quite strange to think of the turnaround between Fabianski and Szczesny as to who will most likely play in between the sticks for Poland.

If Szczesny seems to have accepted his role of deputy, what now of Ospina then? Clearly three goalkeepers with aspirations of football doesn’t fit, as we have recent examples of which when Viviano rolled in to town in what most Gooners now call his ‘gap year’. Something tells me Ospina won’t fancy a gap year and so it’s only a matter of time before he asks the boss for an exit. It is a shame because I don’t really think he’s done anything wrong, he just hasn’t really smashed Szczesny’s chances of winning his place back in to touch. It’s strange because it just feels like he’s a player who’s name wasn’t quite top billing enough to excite the fans and an increasingly ‘big name’ hungry modern fanbase who want to see stars or ‘Galacticos’ of varying degrees at the club they support.

But Cech is not just a big name, he’s a big game player too, and this new ruthless Arsène would have thought long and hard about this signing I’m sure. But ultimately, Le Boss will have come to the conclusion that sentiment is no longer soup de jour at Arsenal. He’s always said through countless interviews that if we could find a player in a position that will improve the team, then he would look at bringing them in. That’s what happened with Özil. Most of us thought we needed a striker that pre-season, but there wasn’t one Wenger deemed to be quality enough out there that he could get, but there was a Mesut Özil available and we got him. And aren’t we all glad he did!

The same happened last summer. There were plenty of people who thought Podolski was good enough as a wide left option. Sure, he didn’t do much else other than end product, but when you have somebody who is that good at finishing, do you need an upgrade? You do when that upgrade is world class. So Alexis came in and has been a revalation. 

Now we have Petr Cech. He will bring experience and quality to a defence and perhaps – although not the same mega money as the last two summer signings – he can have the same positive impact on the team as Özil and Alexis have had. We may well go out and buy another big name player who costs £40million, but it may be the Czech stopped who is the most significant acquisition this summer.

From a personality point of view he comes across very well indeed. Humble to the support of the Chelski fans (many of whom don’t really deserve it given the response I saw from some), whose at the same time talking up his new club, he looks very much a calming influence. And he’ll not need any time to settle in, either, because he’s already based in London and he’s even got one of his bezzie mates in the squad in the shape of Super Tom. I particularly liked the part of the Cech interview yesterday when he said that Rosicky’s influence helped to convince him to talk to Arsenal. 

Super Agent Rosicky. 

What it does show you is the influence that other players have on their fellow pros. Sure, it isn’t the main factor behind any deal, but these things can have an impact. It does make me find something positive in the international breaks though, that’s for sure!

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week and a half talking about Cech, so it’s time to start talking about something else tomorrow. Maybe we can speculate over a possible Theo Walcott contract signing, eh?

Giving away an Arsenal ‘keeper puppy

Bit of a mega-delayed post today and, believe it or not, it’s not got anything to do with my concoction of Sagres, Vinho Verde and fine ruby Port I drunk yesterday. My Wi-Fi was being a little temperamental so I had to come away and come back again. Such is life I suppose.

The big ‘what if’ for today still surrounds the Petr Cech deal, but with Tony Roberts leaving the club for Lukas Fabianski’s Swansea, which would suggest a bit of shuffle is being made in the goalkeeping department. All the talk has been around Cech and his relationship with his goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon, so if the club are on the verge of the deal then they need to make space, so it would seem that this is a pre-cursor to some good news. It does mean that Gerry Peyton is still hanging around the training ground, but I’m sure he’ll be quickly shunted out the door when the situation becomes more clear.

I do find it amusing that the players are so powerful now, that they can dictate who is their goalkeeping coaches. If Fabianski can bring in Roberts and Cech can bring in Lollichon, who else is defining their coaching staff? It seems to be a ‘keeper isolated role. Maybe that’s because goalkeepers are a different breed to anyone else. “You don’t understand what it’s like to be stuck in between those nets boss, so I need to be able to pick my own team”. Alright diva ‘keeper, whatever.

The loser in this particular story should it become true, is a certain David Ospina, who it appears is attracting interest from Turkey. It’s a curious case, is this one, because Ospina has never truly convinced anybody it seems. Sure, he’s got a great chant (which seems to be cheesing more people off now though, actually), but his couple of shaky moments towards the end of the season only added fuel to those people unconvinced by him in general. Was it that he had no neck? Was it his height or, more importantly, lack of? Or was it where he had come from? £3million from Nice in France is hardly the type of marquee signing that haad everybody screaming “the title is ours!”. I seem to recall that everybody – me included – was quite happy with the deal last summer. Competition for Szczesny that would kick him on another level. So for things to swing so dramatically over the course of a season seems a little unnerving in my opinion.

If Cech does sign do we all think he won’t make the odd mistake? Because let’s face it, all goalkeepers do. Even Courtois had an occasional rick last season. David De Gea looked like a more fair headed Almunia at times in his first season. Yet they are regarded as the league’s best. Cech will make mistakes and how will we react? Better than when Ospina made a mistake? Why? Because he cost us over £10million and has a reputation? Seems a bit odd to me.

All this is to say that although I agree getting Cech in is the right move and certainly an upgrade, I do feel a bit sorry for poor old Dave, should this happen. He worked hard to establish himself as number one in the latter part of the season and now he stands on the precipice surrounded by Arsenal fans looking to push him off the edge.

I watched a 30 second video earlier of Ospina’s mistakes. One of them was him clattering in to Oscar and another was of him slicing the ball out of play whilst under intense pressure from an attacker. It’s hardly a litany of errors that leaves Arsene with no choice.

But perhaps this is just life? We need a squad with the best possible players available and if Cech is available and willing to sign, then harsh decisions need to be made. Like if your dog has puppies and you have to give them away. You might not want to, but it’s not practical to keep them all, so you have to make a tough decision. Arsene’s tough decision is Szczesny or Ospina. Given Szczesny is a home grown player, younger and perhaps Arsene sees more potential in him, then it is a natural selection choice. Whether Szczesny will accept being a number two having been first choice for the last few years (the second half of this last season gone by being the exception) remains to be seen, but we’ll soon find out I suppose.

Anyway, that’s me done for another day. There’s a Q&A with Ivan tonight, so I’m sure he’ll announce every single iron in the Arsenal fire that is out there, giving us full access to Arsene’s thoughts on transfers, etc. After all, he’s always answered those transfer questions in the past, hasn’t he?

Two stumbling blocks in Cech deal; hold the press: new kit is red and white

Two major talking points from yesterday included the unveiling of the new kit, as well as the noise about Cech hotting up even further, with his coach Christophe Lollichon (what a name that is, eh?) saying that Petr loves Arsenal’s philosophy and he is settled in London.

Let’s start with the new kit though, which I must admit I’m pleasantly surprised with, because it looks quite traditional and tidy when worn by a selection of the players showing it off yesterday. How it will look on a man who is quite clearly morbidly obese and middle-ageing remains to be seen, but regardless of that I’m pleased that there isn’t any whacky attempts at veering away from what should be a fairly straightforward design: red and white.

Hector was asked for his thoughts on the kit. He responded appropriately: it’s red and white.

Good on you Hec. You’ve given the perfect response, because it’s a kit, nothing more or less. Puma need the fanfare around it to generate worldwide sales on the purchase of next seasons shirt, so need to stoke up the hyperbole, but for the players and most of the fans it should be seen as a plain old football kit.

I do like the white shoulders though. It does remind me of the 90/91 league title winning shirt, sans the different patterned tones of red diamond-looking shapes on it. Hopefully we can get the same outcome wearing that shirt as we did back in 91.

Me personally, it’s unlikely I’ll be buying the new shirt, on account of the sheer cost as well as the fact I only ever wear an Arsenal shirt to some home games. I’ve got enough in my wardrobe in that respect, so another £60 spent on a shirt that would probably only make half a dozen appearances a season, isn’t really my cup of tea.

I love how some people get so worked up in the hum-drum of it all though. Particularly when they see certain players in it and think “well he’s been pictured in the new kit so he won’t leave”. Guys and gals, all I’ll say is this: That Dutch Bloke.

One player who might be edging his way to The Arsenal is Petr Cech, if his coach Lollichon is to be believed. Heh, Lollichon; sounds like a genetically modified gherkin-flavoured iced snack on a stick.

Anyway, our pal Christophe has told the world that Petr wants to be happy, loves London, likes Arsenal’s style of play and has all but turned up at London Colney with a bag of balls, cones and some headgear. This seems to be rolling into one of those ‘no smoke without fire transfers’, but whilst most parties think that a deal could probably be done, the chief protagonists in any kind of halt in proceedings are unlikely to make it easy. First and foremost, we haven’t really heard from Arsène in any detail about this and having seen this type of speculation before, I know that we could only be a day or two away from an Arsène “no, we are not in for him”. We know that he rates him and that he has tried to sign him before, but I just have this weird feeling that despite all the noise being made about him signing, it won’t happen. It all feels a bit too public to me. Sometimes I have wondered in the past if Arsène has pulled out of deals because he’s just finally got the hump and pulled out because of all of the publicity. It’s an irrational thought I know, but are you telling me you haven’t had a thought like that about Le Boss in the past?

So whilst everyone else seems to have had their say, Arsène is on the down low and I think this transfer will not be as straightforward as everyone thinks, especially when you take the other chief protagonist into question.

Jose Mourinho is an ‘orrible little oik. And I can say that with some confidence, given that two weeks ago I went to Madam Tussauds in London and he was there as a waxwork, almost a full foot shorter than me. He’s a little man with a petty streak in him and regardless of all of the Chelski platitudes coming out about the service Cech has given the club and what he deserves, the Portuguese will make this transfer as difficult as possible. First he’ll try to make the price as prohibitive as possible for Arsenal, knowing we don’t pay over the odds. Then he’ll try to drag it out as long as he can, probably by insisting he needs a replacement first. He’ll then possibly even try what he’s publicly suggested and go for a home-grown Arsenal player. But we all know that should fall flat on its face. Why? Because the only players who he will want will be too close to the first team for us to consider. And if he does like the look of Walcott and the Englishman doesn’t look like he’s going to sign a deal, do you really think Theo’s value is not as high as Petr’s?

It’s not. Theo’s value is greater. Forward players are always more expensive in value and at 26, Theo has more of a career ahead of him (in theory, although I know ‘keepers tend to be able to go on into their late 30s) than Cech. So if any deal like that were to be done, you’d expect it to be more like a player-plus-cash deal for us than anything else.

It ain’t gonna happen.

So with that in mind, I cannot see any way in which this deal can be done quickly, assuming there is the desire from Arsène’s and Arsenal’s side. We all think we need a new ‘keeper, but remember when we all needed a defender last summer? Hold on to your Puma headgear folks, we’re in for a bit of a ’round-the-houses’ ride yet.

Cech saga to drag on, which is fine by me; Santi scoops third

It seems that we’re in full flow on the transfer tittle-tattle-go-round, which means the happiest people to be are journalists, because they are the ones who have all of the attention. This time of year must be on their objectives or something, because the self-promoting and exposure-grabbing knows no bounds. If there’s a meeting of fans, a journo will be there. If there’s a radio show needing a sound bite, the journos will be there. If a TV sports channel needs 15 seconds of filler clippings, the journos will be there. And we will lap it up because we have nothing else football-related to hang our hats on.

The sports journalist media must be livid that the season is so short, because the hits and clicks that they must try and secure in the summer to boost annual web targets, is drastically reduced. Think retailers at Christmas and some sort of unseasonally good weather that stops people from staying indoors and shopping. Yeah, that.

The current excitement from an Arsenal perspective is the movements of Petr Cech, who has said that ideally he wants to find a solution whereby he plays more football, doesn’t have to move his family, or suffer the palaver of uprooting abroad. John Cross was asked about this yesterday at a supporters club meeting and said that he thought Cech wanted to come, but Chelski are asking for £10million+ and they will probably drag it out all summer.

If Cross is right, then it would make sense, because Jose is a petty and pathetic human being and none of us could expect anything less from him. But for a change (assuming we are in for Cech of course), I’m not as fussed, because I firmly still believe we can compete with our existing team. Why not? Chelski won the league and there’s no doubt that they were the best team for it, but memories must be short, because they’re excellent start to the season was as mcn down to the ability of their manager to field the same XI for a prolonged period of time, as ours was poor because of the litany of injuries we had.

Do I think Cech would improve us as a team? Of course. Do I think without him we have no chance of winning the league? Not on your nelly. Because as much as Ospina and Szczesny may not be world class ‘keepers, if we bolster our squad numbers in a couple of areas, I still think we can win the league. Imagine what we could do if the same players fit from February until April were fit from August to January? I’m picking January because I believe that if you start to build momentum in a squad, all players up their game, which makes it easier to rotate because you can trust more players to perform. That’s what I believe happened with Chelski this season. They raced to a lead and then when they wobbled a bit this season, the players who dipped in form could be rotated with others in the squad, who were coming into a winning team. It’s easier to play in a winning team than a struggling one.

In existing squad news, Santi Cazorla has been voted third in the fans Player of the Season awards, with 8.4% of the vote. It is deserved recognition for a player who you could be forgiven for thinking would be looking for a new club this summer, if the thoughts from last summer and the fan and pundit majority were to be believed. I have to say I wasn’t sure how Santi would fit in to the current first team dynamic with Ramsey and Wilshere in the squad, but he has reinvented himself in a way that now makes him undroppable.

Sitting alongside Coquelin – who I do wonder if he might have got close to the voting, were it not for Alexis and probably Mesut – he has been outstanding this season, no more so than the 2-0 away win at Moneychester City. It is testament to his performances that instead of wondering who will play central midfield out of Wilshere or Ramsey, the end of the season saw Rambo shunted out wide to be accommodated in the team, as opposed to Santi playing in one of the wide positions like he did at times last season. Those twinkle toes and the ability to retain position and set us going from deep has meant that we’d added another dimension to our game. With Cazorla sparkling in that position, it means players like Ramsey or Alexis know they can make runs from further up the field, when we have the ball on the edge of our own box. Again, as I said last week, I’m reminded of the Cazorla ball for Ramsey’s goal against Hull. That is the sort of ball you get from Cazorla and that is why he is so important to the team, because his vision allows him to do that, something probably only Mesut Ozil has in the team other than Cazorla.

I would have actually have had my 3-2-1 in a slightly different way to the fans, as Santi would have been in at number 2 behind the inevitable crowning of Alexis as player of the season. I can only assume that Mesut will come in at number 2, because creative players tend to feature highly in these types of awards. Personally, I’d have had Koscienly, Cazorla and Alexis, because whilst Kos missed a chunk of the season through injury (like most of our team if you think about it – Walcott, Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere, etc), he was good before he became injured and better when he came back. Ozil has been brilliant since returning from injury, but by his own admission, he struggled at the start of the season.

Anyway, that’s probably enough from me for one day. I’ll leave you to your own affairs and check in with you again tomorrow for some more musings.

Arsenal season review: a case for the defence

I’m going to resist the urge to vent towards the pathetic nature of the FA’s charge of Jack Wilshere, for getting closer to the fans by singing songs, or the over sanitisation of modern day football and footballers as a result.

Instead, I’m going to plough on with my thoughts on how this season’s defence has performed as a unit and collectively.

If you were to try and think of a phrase that would describe the defence this year in less than five words, would ‘inconsistently consistent’ be a fair one? That’s what I’m going with anyway, because our season has seen only Per Mertesacker used throughout with relatively little game time. The rest of our defensive unit have all spent time out injured for some duration. But not the BFG who, interestingly enough, has attracted the most criticism of all.

It probably didn’t help his situation that he has had four different centre back partners during the course of the season, nor would his admission that motivation was tough after the heights of the World Cup in the summer. As a footballer approaching his 30s, you’d think he’d be realising that his career was but a fleeting one, so you have to make the most of every minute because when it’s gone, it’s gone. 

But to his credit, when the regularity of his most experience centre back partner Koscienly became more commonplace in 2015, we all saw a marked increase in our gentle giants overall performances. His goal in the FA Cup final will no doubt be a highlight, but I thought he had a particularly good game at Manchester City away too this year. Koscienly took most of the defensive plaudits along with Santi and Coquelin that day, but it was a defensive display built on Big Per’s leadership that pleased me.

Koscienly is Koscienly. He’s brilliant. Recovery pace that supports Per and also gets himself out of some of his own mistakes, the man who wants his own song is by far our best defender and much like our season, has been hampered by that reoccurring injury (I think it was hamstrings) that needed him to sit out a chunk of this season at a time in which we looked fragile. There’s no surprise there. It’s funny because he’s a really strong guy and yet when I look at him in the flesh I never think that he has the physical power to go toe-to-toe with players like Costa or Benteke. But he does and has. Any title tilt next season must essentially mean that he’s been fit for a minimum of 80% of the league games.

If he’s not, then Arsène will look to Gabriel to step up and although it’s difficult to make a proper assessment of him after only half a season, what I have seen I like. He seems a simple – dare I say it ‘old-fashioned’ – centre half. The first words that probably came out of his mouth as a baby were ‘Row Z’. He’s intelligent at reading danger too and I’m reminded of the booking he took on his debut against Middlesbrough as an example of how he knew that the Boro play could be in on goal if he got passed, so the Brazilian Gandalfed him before anything serious could happen.

In addition to Gabriel, Chambers will be used with a bit more regularity at centre half next season and with the youngster I see a similar situation to what happened with Carl Jenkinson two years ago. With a run of games at the beginning he looked like he had a bit of the Tony Adams at that young age about him, but as the pressure to perform each week went on, he started to fade a bit and his time was limited in the second half of the season. His performances in the qualifying round of the Champions League were the ones that still stand out for me and it is those displays that I think we’ll see more often than the difficult times he had at right back against Swansea and Stoke away, or in defensive midfield against his old club. He’ll have learnt a lot this season and I think we’ll see a Chambers beacon to his early season form next time he takes to the pitch in a competitive game.

So, on to the full backs and perhaps we should start with Debuchy, who has had a torrid season with injuries. It’s a real shame because before he picked up his knock against Moneychester City, he was looking like the perfect Sagna replacement. He gets forward, has a decent delivery, is good in the tackle and I’m sure will be given another crack at being a first teamer come the start of next season, despite Bellerin’s meteoric rise.

It has been one of the great plus points, hasn’t it? Hector has settled in to the team and looks like he’s been playing right back for Arsenal for about five years consistently. No doubt his high point will have been the goal against Liverpool, but I think his first couple of displays when he began to start regularly (I think Stoke at home was one) were the bits he should be most proud of. His rise to prominence has seen the fans feel a bit sad for Jenkinson, because the performances of the Spaniard have surely ended the Arsenal supporting loanees chance of being a regular. Certainly for next season anyway. I don’t think Bellerin will start first choice next season, but the fact that it will be so close between him and Debuchy, shows how far his season has evolved from that difficult night in Dortmund.

On the other side of the back four we have another great battle on our hands. Monreal or Gibbs? Nobody thought that would be a serious question come August 2015, did they? I certainly didn’t and it’s testimony to an excellent season the Spaniard has had in which he’s been asked to play in a position he’s never in his life tried his hand at, yet he’s slotted in at centre back when the team needed him and whilst the performances of the team as a whole weren’t great, I think it was a little bit too easy of an excuse to blame Monreal for some of the more shocking games at the start of the season. Take the Anderlecht 3-3 for example. I seem to recall Monreal taking a bit of a lasting for conceding the penalty, but other than that I thought he was one of the better players on what was a pretty shoddy night.

When he was given his chance in his more natural position, he was excellent and much like Ospina, has never let his performance level drop even slightly to give Gibbs a chance of reclaiming the starter spot. That is the very definition of ‘healthy’ competition and if the club don’t tie him down for another three years this summer (he has just one year left on his contract!) then they’ve gone stark raving bonkers and we should be storming the garrison. Or doing something. A bedsheet with black marker maybe?

Monreal’s form has been the only reason why we haven’t seen as much of Kieren Gibbs towards the end of the season, because apart from getting a bit injured, he hasn’t really done a lot wrong. Even when he’s been called on in some of the FA Cup games where Arsène has rotated he’s been excellent and was the assist provider for one of Giroud’s goals against Middlesbrough. Much like the two right backs, there is a tough decision Arsène has to make, but unlike Bellerin and Debuchy, I’m not sure there’s as much of a hierarchy in place. I really couldn’t tell you who is the first choice come the first game of the season. Right now you’d say Monreal but will that be the case with a full pres season completed for both? Don’t know. 

What I do know is that the defence that ended the season is not the same one that started it. I said yesterday that there is probably a case for another goalkeeper to come in during the summer, but I don’t think the same can be said for our defence. Even if you take out one player from every position across the back four, I think we have a good unit of players and I don’t think Arsène will be too concerned with that area this summer, which is ironic given that we’ve spent half the season moaning about it!
Anyway, that’ll do from me for one day, so I’m off for a bit of work. Over and out.

Arsenal’s FA Cup: a new dawn

Has there ever been a more comfortable and one-sided final? Have we ever seen Arsenal do it the easy away in a big game, with such verve and vigour? Does this happen to us? Arsenal are supposed to make our lives difficult, aren’t they?

Apparently not. Apparently there is an ‘easy way’ and all we needed to do was to have a gooner managing the opposition.

My day started with the usual routine of cereal and blogging, but when I was asked the usual question from The Management of ‘are you nervous?’, much response was a surprise to both of us. ‘No’ was the simple answer. And it was the truth. I could not explain why, I just didn’t feel as nervous as I sometimes do when we play teams like Stoke, or even when we played Villa away and home in the league. 

Clearly that comfort translated itself to all the fans and the players yesterday, because the atmosphere wasn’t of nerves, but of confidence. We utterly dominated from the first minute.

Arsène’s decision to start Theo ahead of Giroud could have been a gamble, but after the West Brom game it was clear he would be confident and so it showed, as he was the one to get us on the road to victory with a fantastic precision finish. He was good all day, running the channels and switching with Alexis to cause Vlaar and Okore a headache throughout the game. 

But Theo can only be good with the support of his colleagues and to a man they all stepped up. Szczesny didn’t really have much to do, but when he was called into action to catch or punch the occasional ball clear, he did. Bellerin and Monreal dealt with the few Aston Villa forays forward, but more importantly provided plenty of width and options for Ramsey and Alexis on the overlap.

In the heart of the midfield Santi pulled all the strings and was masterful in possession, deservedly picking up the man of the match award, whilst Coquelin dealt with every attack when called upon as the holding midfielder. Ahead of those two, Mesut Özil floated about the pitch, finding pockets of space and distributing the ball perfectly each time. When you had a player like that it must be a dream for the forwards, because you know he’s going to draw players out of spaces and give you pockets to move in to. Then he’ll find you with a pass.

The front three – perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for me as I thought getting Theo and Rambo into the same team would be nigh on impossible – were the epitome of movement and fluid attacking. Never stationery, always rotating and switching, Villa stood no chance. You only have to look at Theo’s goal as an example, as it was Alexis who won the header in the box and Theo arriving from the left to smash it home. For Alexis’ goal, he came from wide left and cut in field to unleash a thunderbolt, which would have probably have taken Given’s hand off if he’d have touched it.

This is two major trophies in two seasons. The players have tasted success twice and the Hull game last year has proven not to be a one-off. The team is growing. Mentally. The desire for more trophies and more success will only grow too now. The players will not accept that they can fall short and I think that will drive them on further.

It feels like this is a new dawn of success for Arsenal. Even more so than last year, because now the players will truly believe that they are winners. You can’t teach that, you have to learn it.

Today will be a soggy victory parade, but nobody in Arsenal’s world will care. We’re cup winners.

My cup final. Your cup final. Arsenal’s cup final. Make history.

This is it people. Cup final day.

It’s hard to effectively communicate the significance of today to anybody who isn’t a football fan, or even isn’t a fan whose team is in the final, but this is season defining. And I mean that with no sense of hyperbole at all. By 10pm tonight we will have one of two perspectives on how our season has evolved.

First, the bad: We lose to Aston Villa and are looking at a trophy less season in which the only consolation is that we have secured automatic Champions League qualification. It is but scant consolation though, as we know that having waited for so long to get a trophy, then having it delivered to us last year, we have come so near and yet stopped so agonisingly close. The media will portray Arsenal once again as the ‘big occasion bottlers’ and we will take an entire summer of grief from friends, family and randoms online as they dig the knife in even deeper.

But the alternative to this is the good: we win our second FA Cup in as many years. Arsene has delivered another trophy and the team now has a record in which you can say that we are silverware winners on a regular basis. The season is viewed as a success and we go into the summer knowing that one or two top-notch additions will set us up to try to close the gap on Chelski once again. Players who are linked with Arsenal know that they have a pretty good chance of silverware and that strengthens our hand further in negotiations. It’s a perpetual cycle of positivity.

Heck, even the Arsenal Twittersphere might just take a chill pill as a collective and enjoy whatever summer brings.

It is amazing that one game can have so much riding on it, isn’t it? If you think about the Arsenal players, they will have worked their little cottons off from August until May, but ultimately, unless they deliver by close of play today, it will all feel a little bit in vein.

But that’s the beauty of football. That’s what makes the highs so high and the lows so low. If there was another trophy to play for next week and the week after that, we’d be a heck of a lot more blasé about it, wouldn’t we? So would we change it for anything? Nope. I wouldn’t swap all of the nerves in the world today pre-game for not being in this competition and heading over to Wembley early this evening. Because if I did, it would mean my team hasn’t reached this landmark occasion, and I’d probably be out buying furniture polish or doing the Saturday shop in Sainsbury’s. Today’s blog would probably be the start of speculating on transfers and the longer I can go on without talking about that, the better, because it’s not what football is about.

Today is. Cups are. The FA Cup.

Team wise, my pick for the side would be Szczesny in goal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla Ozil, Alexis, Giroud and Walcott. It would be harsh on Rambo but I think Theo offers more of a wide threat on the counter than Aaron does and if Aston Villa sit deeper than expected (many are predicting that they will ‘have a go’ at us today), then Ramsey will inevitably drift centrally and we could see more congestion.

However, I don’t think that will be the team. I think all but Theo will be Arsene’s pick for today and, whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice, if that’s the team that I see on my phone just before kick off, then I’d be happy enough with that too. That’s because for all of the lack of width that Rambo doesn’t offer, what he will offer more than Theo will be defensive cover. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, but his engine is such that it will mean that if Villa try to overload the left hand side of their attack, Bellerin will be supported by the Welshman.

That’s what Villa tried to do against Liverpool and Sherwood might take the view that ‘if it ain’t broke, then Tim Sherwood don’t wanna fix it’ – because you just know he’s the sort of person to be talking about himself in third person, don’t you?

So how will today pan out? No idea, but what I do know – which is what I said on the Arsenal Discussion on Thursday evening on Arsenal Fan TV – is that if Aston Villa sit deep and play a pacey attacking trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and one other, then it might lead to gaps of space in the midfield as the defence and midfield sit deep and isolate those three. If there are gaps in the middle of the park it should play into Santi and Mesut’s hands, so they will need to have big games today if they get enough time and space on the ball.

It’s also time for Giroud to break his goal scoring duck. He doesn’t need to in order to have a good game, but he’s the sort of player that if he gets one in a cup final – hopefully in the first half – he’ll be a menace throughout the game. Vlaar will no doubt be tasked with keeping him company, so it will be important that both Alexis and Ramsey – assuming it’s him that starts – will be able to pick up balls from Giroud’s close controlled flicks and intricate touches when fed up to him.

Arsene is right to pick out Benteke as a threat and as I was speaking about with the guys from Arsenal Fan TV and Moh who pointed this out, the worry is if Benteke has seen what Gomis did to us for Swansea at The Emirates, that deep ball to the back post to nod beyond our keeper. I think Villa will try that a few times and so whoever goes in goal  – and I think that’s why Szczesny should start (think West Ham away for why – he claimed crosses all day) – will need to be commanding. If Villa try that tactic and the ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air three or four times, they quickly stop it and we’ll have seen a major aerial challenge nullified. But if they get joy with a couple, we could see an entire evening of it, which none of us want to see, do we?

I have already experienced the pain of losing to a midlands team in a cup final in 2011. I don’t particularly want to feel that pain again. Arsenal players need to let go of any inhibitions they might have. They need to play the game we know they are capable of and they need to take that next step on to proving that they are ready to challenge the oil whoring elite of this country with another trophy in the cabinet.

It doesn’t matter if you’re at Wembley. It doesn’t matter if you’re in England. If you are a gooner, then today you and I will be channelling the same spirit of success through to the players. They need every single one of us. Those in the stadium, those shouting at the TV, those listening in on radio and those watching through a live feed. Every man, woman, boy, girl and pet needs to be there for the team in spirit body and mind.

Come on you rip roaring reds.

Up the Arsenal.