Arsenal play Chelsea this weekend and so the celebrations and happiness at reaching the FA Cup final will have been kept to a minimum as the Gunners try their best to derail Chelsea’s title procession.
But Arsenal were lucky to beat Reading at Wembley. With the match level in extra time, it was a tame shot from Alexis Sanchez that beat Adam Federici and booked Arsenal’s place in the final for the second year in a row.
Yet to get to a final two years in a row starts to look like it has less to do with luck and more to do with good tactics and good judgement. To retain any title is hard, and Arsenal are on the verge of doing just that, with only a rejuvenated – but still relegation threatened – Aston Villa standing in their way.
Luck is a factor in cup competitions for sure. Arsenal were lucky to avoid bigger teams in their cup run this season, and they were lucky again at the weekend, but they’ve consistently put themselves into the positions where they can take their luck when given it. Even when not playing well they still haven’t been threatened too much.
But cup games, especially semi finals, aren’t about playing well. They aren’t about being convincing and they aren’t about impressing. They’re about winning and they’re about making the final. And if Arsenal needed luck to do that then that’s less than ideal, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that they’ve made the final. And they have a great chance to win it, up against a team that, under usual circumstances, they’d expect to beat.
But we felt the same way this time last year, and a few years ago too. Arsenal made the cup final and faced Hull City at Wembley. It was their first trophy in nine years and ended a drought that had fans calling for Arsene Wenger’s head despite all he’s done for the football club. They won last year, but were 2-0 down inside ten minutes.
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In 2011, Arsenal found themselves in a similar position, facing Birmingham City in the final of the League Cup, they had the chance to end a six-year trophy drought, but a mix up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny ended that hope.
So Arsenal have been here before.
They’ll need even more luck to win the league, though. And if Arsenal go into that final with Villa as Premier League champions they’ll have been even luckier than they were last weekend. All logic tells you they won’t win the league from here. A win on Sunday would go some way to helping them out, but only a little bit. They’ll need big favours from three other teams.
This is where Arsenal’s luck for this season will run out.
Next season might be a different story, though. They have a good side, they have some wonderful players, big names now, too. They even have the money to go out and strengthen again in the summer. And if they bring in a defensive midfielder,Arsenal can replicate their current form right from the beginning of next season. Being more solid in the midfield would also take some of the strain off players like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. These are good players, but perhaps being asked to do too much recently, and this must affect their performances.
Wilshere has been out a fair bit this season, and Ramsey too missed the Christmas period.
Arsenal’s injury list for the last couple of seasons is worrying. They’ve had so many players out with niggling injuries, not to mention the more serious ones. It’s hard to remember a season where Arsenal had all their best players fit and well for an assault on the league.
Theo Walcott has been missing for huge swathes of the season and isn’t yet back to his best. Olivier Giroud suffered a broken leg and has still managed to bag himself 14 Premier League goals. Imagine just how much better Arsenal would be if they could keep their players fit all season.
Bringing in a defensive midfielder won’t just solve a defensive problem, it might also take the physical pressure off the midfield and reduce injuries a little bit. It’s not a panacea, and it’s not just going to stop these players getting injuries, but the Premier League is so physical and so fast that it makes sense that less physical players will be over run in the midfield. Especially if they’re trying to battle back after losing possession.
Arsenal were lucky to make the FA Cup final, but they’ve been unlucky with their injury list. Perhaps it’s somewhat of their own making, asking smaller players to do lots of physical work. Arsenal know that luck can go both ways, but it is really pushing it to think that Arsenal might get lucky in the Premier League title race.
For this season at least.