Date:Sunday March 8 2009
In the previous midweek game, West Brom were, if we`re honest, the exact kind of opposition we had been waiting for to end the goal drought. The team obliged with three goals and a convincing win. I can imagine some Gooners somewhere (at the Emirates) might still be tempted and ready to add, after breathing a sigh of relief, "But it`s just West Brom." You can only beat what`s put in front of you, we`re putting a bit of a run together, at least we`re getting some confidence back and all that.
If we welcomed a "lesser" but football-playing team like West Brom in the league, maybe some of us would be delighted to host Burnley in the Cup. Last time we met at Turf Moor in December, however, our Young Guns learnt a great lesson after creating - but also squandering - quite a few chances. What`s different this time is that we`re playing at home (where I hope the atmosphere would be better in the Cup) with a different lineup (one new player added, a few senior players thrown in and a couple of them back from injury). So hopefully, it`s shaping up nicely to be an entertaining game.
Despite having won the FA Cup four times in his Arsenal career (only one short of equalling Sir Red Nose`s record), with our league campaign target reduced to a top 4 finish, Arsene Wenger is fully aware that the Cup and the Champions League represent better chances of decorating the Emirates Stadium with some meaningful silverware.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference, he again showed his confidence in this team`s ability to achieve that goal: 'I am a great believer that this team will win everything - but the earlier the better.'
In view of that, although we`ve got an important trip to Rome coming up next Wednesday, it seemed clear that the boss would give this game a worthy go: 'It is an important game and it is not one we will treat lightly. We treat it with respect and focus."
'First of all, we want to keep our run going. The best way to go into the next game against Roma is to win on Sunday. The best way to prepare is to win the game before.
'The FA Cup still has its magic. It has the magic of being qualified and the magic of going to Wembley - it has a historical significance as well. It means having something special in your daily life, something that suddenly happens which keeps everybody focused.'
On the other hand, Burnley manager Owen Coyle sounded, to me, rather conservative when he referred to his team as the "huge underdogs" who would need "a culmination of three things to come together - one for Arsenal to be slightly off their game, two for us to be absolutely outstanding and three a little bit of luck on the day.
'If they come together we have a chance. What you want to do is go and do yourself justice and come off the pitch with no regrets."
In the Carling Cup, his team has already proved their ability to do just that because it is well set up to play positive football: a London quartet of Fulham, Chelsea, our Young Guns and runners-up (hehe, sorry, Bentley`s penalty miss just springs to mind) T*ttenham will testify to that. (Now this is some feat that is worthy of a commemorative DVD! By the way, the disk, now available for pre-order on www.burnleyfootballclub.com, is creatively and aptly named as "Capital Punishment: The Dramatic Story of Burnley`s 2008-09 Carling Cup Run".)
They are just as creative on the pitch: Coyle seems to have a similar belief in building a technical, fit, attack-minded Clarets team and a similar stubbornness of sticking to that philosophy despite the physical nature of the English game, especially in the Championship. I think a few of the ingredients behind their good run are quite rare in this "park-the-bus" era:
'Every time they wear that jersey they do it with immense pride and they show their qualities, and that is what we need to do between now and the end of the season.
'We have tremendous physical resources in terms of fitness. They have shown they have the mental strength to go with it, and we are going to need all that and a little more on Sunday.
'I think we have character and versatility in abundance, but we also have quality and we have shown that. When all those come together we are a very good side.
'There are no prima donnas - no one who thinks they are above anyone else. It is very much a team effort.
'We have potential match-winners in the team; we have people who can produce a little bit of magic individually. But they bring it within a team effort, and anything we achieve we achieve as a group.'
With all these elements embedded in the Clarets side, no wonder Coyle is so set on their positive approach to their first visit to the Emirates:
"I`m not going to set a team out to go and stop the game.
"We`re taking over 5,000 fans and it would be remiss of me to just sit behind the ball and not offer anything in terms of an attacking threat.
"I`d much rather go and be positive in the game.
"Within that there`s an element that could backfire and we`ll be on the receiving end.
"But I believe in this group of players and when they`re positive and look to pass and move the ball, we can create problems for the opposition."
Amen to that, Mr Coyle.
Sorry about being long-winded with the quotes, I just thought it`s worth pointing out that some clubs are determined to play attacking football and entertain the fans, something that we as Gooners should appreciate and applaud.
I`m really happy writing this bit! In the previous Cup game, we saw the lethal weapon back with a bang scoring two goals, though only to be taken off with a minor hamstring setback. Considering that Eduardo had been out almost a year, hiccups like this should be expected. He is now fit again and every one of us hopes that it`s a full comeback that he`ll make this time.
Also emerging from the medical room is a certain teenager that we`ve also missed a great deal. (Isn`t that right, Eboue bashers?) The boss acknowledges Theo Walcott`s value to the team but also highlights the need to be patient with the boy: "He can be very good for us. It`s very important to see how he will respond with his shoulder and I think he looks to be nearly there. To have him back is great."
Having seen some good signs in training, the next thing the manager wants to ensure is that Walcott responds well to competitive action: "He is very fit but after that you have to get used to tackles and go into the challenges. You have to use your arms and shoulders to resist."
Both Eduardo and Walcott are in the squad but the boss has to assess them further to decide what kind of role they`ll play. William Gallas, who skipped the visit to West Brom with an ankle problem, will come back in defence and replace Kolo Toure who came off against West Brom with a calf problem.
In terms of our Cup campaign, a very welcome addition of course is the new boy, Andrey Arshavin, who has become eligible in the competition. In the previous league games, he has shown the creativity that we had lacked, although he is still on his way back to full fitness.
Otherwise, the same quartet continues their recuperation: captain Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mikael Silvestre may watch in the stands and support their teammates as some of them did in the previous round.
In view of Roma, I`d hazard a guess that Wenger would put out a decent side in the Cup but may substitute some players in the second half.
Possible starting XI (those names in brackets would be my personal picks for subs or second choices, depending on fitness): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy; Eboue (Theo), Denilson, Diaby, Nasri (Vela); Arshavin (Eduardo), Bendtner
Across the Gooner blogosphere, it is pretty much agreed that the Russian playmaker has shown some promising glimpses of quality in his first three appearances in the red and white shirt, despite not being fully fit yet. In a recent interview with the BBC, he has shown a bit of dissatisfaction about his fitness level and a great deal of determination to improve his understanding with his teammates and perform to his potential in English football. His performances thus far have reflected as much - I thought his passes, shots and movements oozed class and intelligence. His pace will come back as he gets back to 100%. You could just tell he kept trying and trying and a goal would come, hopefully soon. If I were going to bet, I would put a pound or two on him scoring anytime.
Brian Jensen, Martin Paterson and Kevin McDonald, who scored twice to beat our Young Guns in the Carling Cup, all picked up knocks in their midweek game against Blackpool but will be fit to visit the Emirates.
The Clarets will, however, come without their defenders Michael Duff and Rhys Williams. The former is suspended for his fifth yellow card and Middlesbrough did not allow Williams to play for Burnley in the Cup as they are still involved in the competition.
Some of the press reports have focused on McDonald, who indeed caught the eye in our last encounter by scoring two goals. Our mates over at Vital Burnley highlighted Martin Paterson as their main man. Chris Boden of the Burnley Express told arsenal.com that the Clarets captain, Steven Caldwell, had been solid for the team and, after taking a little dip in form, was coming back well and would "win the headers and the challenges" which are, honestly, not one of our strong points. Admittedly, I only watched three of their other games (that win at Stamford Bridge and the two goalfests against Sp*rs in the CC), and I had a good impression of Rodriguez too.
Against us specifically, though, how can you forget Brian Jensen, the keeper who stopped three or more shots from Bendtner alone last time around? Some Gooners might still be cursing Bendtner for those missed one-on-ones. But I thought Jensen played a blinder that day - as did quite a few other keepers against us, incidentally - so I hope he won`t repeat those heroics this time.
Arsenal are undefeated in 16 games, won 7 and drawn 9, in all competitions since the Porto defeat on 13 December.
Burnley are famous for gunning down some strong London teams (the aforementioned quartet in the Carling Cup) and PL teams (plus West Brom in the fourth round of the FA Cup).
Whether it`s their chance to avenge last season`s third round exit in the FA Cup or our chance to avenge this year`s quarter-final exit in the Carling Cup, I can`t tell. But in the Wenger era, the only time we got knocked out by a lower-league opposition was against Burnley in the CC in December. In the FA Cup, Wenger`s unbeaten record is still intact.
Should a replay be required (please no!), it will be scheduled on either 17th March (Tue) or 18th March (Wed). The winners will face Hull City at home in the quarter-finals.
Against Burnley in all competitions
urnley have only lost two of their last eight league and cup meetings with Arsenal.
FA Cup only
urnley won the first two Cup encounters between the two sides but those were in the late 1800`s. We then beat them in the next four meetings.
Chris Foy will be the referee for this game. He has officiated 18 Premier League games and handed 1 red card and 67 yellows this season. An average of 3.78 cards per game puts him in third place in the refs` card cable. The only Arsenal game he managed this season was our 1-0 home win against Bolton, in which he handed 2 yellows apiece to each team.
I remember someone started a funny loop with the Cardiff match preview by saying that if we take it seriously, we should go through. Then the next guy agreed and paraphrased that. A few others posters did the same and we ended up having more than a dozen of posts with different wordings that said something to that effect. I think we can safely repeat that exercise: If we treat the game with respect, Hull beckon in the quarter-finals. Brice said he`s getting tired of predicting scorelines as Arsenal are just unpredictable at the moment. True that, but I can see goals in a pretty open game, so I say 3-1 to the Arsenal.
11/3 (Wed) - Roma (A) - Champions League
14/3 (Sat) - Blackburn (H) - Premier League
** 17/3 (Tue) or 18/3 (Wed) - Hull City (H) - FA Cup **
21/3 (Sat) - Newcastle (A) - Premier League
(I`ve included both possibilities of the third fixture - not to tempt fate.)
To the Clarets, especially those who`re going to the Emirates for the first time, hope you guys enjoy the day out. Good luck with the play-off place!
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Date:Sunday March 8 2009
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