In the run up to this game, both Arsene Wenger and Wojciech Szczesny have called it a “six pointer”. You’ll be aware of this football cliche, I’m sure. It’s quite early in the season for it to appear, but traditionally it refers to matches that will have a crucial impact on league standing come the end of the season. Conventionally, they refer to relegation scraps or title-winning bouts between a notional ‘big two’.
This, however, is modern football. The fourth Champions League qualification spot is now revered as such a crucial prize that there are some of these ‘six-pointers’ being played for it. This too is the modern Arsenal, and it this kind of match (rather than glamourous times against Manchester United or Man City) that will ultimately define our season. I admire the humility and realism of both Arsene and Wojciech in admitting it, but I can’t help but find that a slightly depressing pill to swallow.
Of late, some have accused me of being a little more negative than usual. I don’t think I’m being actively negative; I’m just a little sobered by the steady, wearing realisation of our standing in English football. Every year you hope that we’ll burst above the parapet and contend again for the major titles. Every year you slowly realise that you’re just in another race for fourth, the trophy without a prize to lift.
Arsene’s come under a lot of flak recently – some justified, some not. I’m no psychologist, but I can’t help but feel his tetchiness under questioning betrays the fact that he recognises some of the disenchantment among the support is justified. I wasn’t particularly bowled over by his self-defence either. Among the things he said was:
“At the end of last season we finished third. Honestly I don’t think there was much more in the team than finishing third. My pride comes from that as well.”
Here’s my issue with that: his job isn’t simply to get the best out of the team he has available. He’s also in charge of building the team. Whose fault is it that the team he had assembled could only, at its absolute maximum, achieve third place?
Anyway, putting a more positive spin on things, we’re entirely capable of going and winning at Everton tonight. That said, they’re a good side with some terrific players, so it’ll be a close game. The ‘six-pointer’ nature of the match means a win here would eradicate memories of that dreadful 0-0 with Villa, and that’d be no bad thing.
My hunch is that Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna will come back in for Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson, with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott replacing Ramsey and Chamberlain. The tired legs of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud will once again be called upon to inspire us to victory.
Come on Arsenal. Make me smile!