Arsenal Face Season's Biggest Game....

It's just the FA Cup but this is not about the competition - this is about repeating the feat of December in reacting to adversity. If they lose again, faith will disappear...

Last Updated: 14/02/14 at 08:54 Post Comment

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Both Arsene Wenger and Per Mertesacker were quick to draw comparisons between Arsenal's response to being battered 6-3 at the Etihad and being shafted 5-1 at Anfield. On both occasions the instinct was to buckle down, stay tight and become pretty much unbreachable defensively. It doesn't make for excellent entertainment, or indeed any entertainment at all, but it serves a purpose - confidence is restored in at least one area of the pitch. In the 427th tedious weather-related analogy you will read this week, re-building a house destroyed by tornado has to begin with the foundations.

So for Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0, read Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0. Rotten for those of us watching but apparently essential for steadying a rocking catamaran.

Alas, that only works as a comparison if the Gunners now go on a run of seven consecutive victories. But while the re-fortified Gunners of two months ago followed that Chelsea draw with a visit to West Ham with Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, this Arsenal will face last week's 5-1 tormentors with no Walcott, no Ramsey and a tired-looking attacking axis of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil. Such is the difference in their recent fortunes that fourth-placed Liverpool are now shorter odds for the title (8/1) than second-placed Arsenal (9/1).

Regular readers of Football365 will know what we pay little more than lip service to the FA Cup - it's the adverts in the middle of our Emmerdale Breaking Bad, it's the glass of water we sip from between gulps of wine. There's no Big Weekend, there's no Winners and Losers, there's rarely a 16 Conclusions. But this weekend is different because this is probably Arsenal's biggest game of the season so far. Cue the 'duh-duh-duh'.

In many of the last eight seasons, Arsenal's fifth-round FA Cup clash may have been the biggest game of the season because it represented their last remaining chance of silverware. This season is different. Beating Liverpool is not about getting a step closer to Wembley, but about making a statement, about putting down a marker, about proving that the league table does not lie - that they are better than Liverpool, that they are still in the title race, that the naysayers should stop with all that naysaying, that a heavy defeat to an astonishingly good Liverpool side was just the third and last of three pretty big blips this season.

There are massive obstacles looming in March (Munich, Tottenham, Chelsea, Man City) but they will look a great deal more surmountable if Arsenal can learn from what happened at Anfield. Alarm bells rang before that game when Wenger said Arsenal "must control possession" - has he worked out in the last week that trying to control possession plays right into a devastatingly effective counter-attacking side's hands? Wenger has to find a way to contain and outscore by Sunday afternoon or he will struggle to convince fans or players that there could be a third recovery.

Sarah Winterburn

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Readers' Comments

C

lassic management. Build them up and then knock them back. Raise expectations and then dampen them. Create a dynamic where by you demand the most from your team, but where the team are given room to manoeuvre unexpected or unwanted results. Classy work by Van Gaal, he really reminds me a lot of me. A smart cookie, make no doubt.

hump3.
Van Gaal: 'I struggle for first three months'

H

e will be the England left back for ten years or more, and then you will have to thank MUFC for that. *smiles*

london saint
Shaw: Criticism spot on

P

urely because of that little diva moment he had last night, I don't want him coming to my club. DESTROYED ? Grow up and give something back to the club that helped put you up there on the world stage.

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Saints' Schneiderlin stalemate

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