Why the top four race and the FA Cup are mutually inclusive, not exclusive
Arsenal supporters are well-versed in the late chase for the top four. Of late they have become rather less used to cup finals. However, both are now on the table following a strong FA Cup run, discounting the semi-final performance against Wigan. Football pundits, keen to provide some controversial commentary, consistently question the team and whoever else might have an opinion; which do you choose - top four or the cup?
April 28th, 2014
Following the victory at home against West Ham, Gary Neville’s response was that it has to be both, and there can be no other answer. In fact, the two are most certainly not mutually exclusive, a point which seems to have eluded the rest of the Sky Sports team.
Arsène Wenger must compartmentalise the season into the last four Premier League games, which as he stated are all must-win games, and only then allow the team to focus on the FA Cup Final against Hull City. As he has already outlined, this is the approach, and the mantra of the manager is always ‘one game at a time’. The fact is that this approach is truer now than ever.
This race for top four, ushered in by an era where Champions League football is of vital importance for the maintenance of an elite squad of players, both through retaining a competitive edge in the transfer market and in keeping current players happy. As always, football provokes knee-jerk reactions, this season, within one match Arsenal are written off, and Everton promoted as a certainty for fourth place, and only a game later all is suddenly in Arsenal’s hands.
In reality, single point margins and the unpredictability of the Premier League mean that this race will go to the wire, presumptions and conjecture are worth little.
What is clear is that Arsenal have a battle on their hands, and have been through a difficult run of form in 2014. On their side is the fact that key players such as Ramsey and Özil are returning. It should be remembered that this run has coincided with a number of injuries in that Arsenal first team.
Momentum may also return if the team can now build on the confidence from being in a Cup Final and the victories against West Ham and Hull City. The impact of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil on the team’s performance was crystal clear during the Hull match.
However, any underestimation that Arsenal make in these final games will most certainly cost them in the long term. Everton have difficult fixtures remaining, perhaps where they are not favourites, but by the same thinking, Arsenal’s look easier. Perhaps then, as much chance Arsenal have of losing, Everton surely also have of winning theirs.
Ultimately, considering the still embryonic state of much of this team, and the tentative confidence, so easily broken, of a team which still does not consider itself a team of champions, and without any medals to back this up, mean that should Arsenal fail to make Champions League football, they may well miss out on the FA Cup too. Rather than being mutually exclusive, these two occurrences are more mutually inclusive.