No one expected Arsenal to get beat against Lincoln. Even the Imps manager Danny Cowley was forthcoming with his sides 1/1000 chance of snatching a result at the Emirates but the FA Cup quarter-final came at a pivotal moment in the season.
It’s evident Arsenal have been regressing for a number of years – the frustration is aired out yearly around this time from avid supporters. The results aren’t good enough. The frailties transparent for ever non-Arsenal fan to snigger at again. It’s frustrating. But not all is lost.
Cue non-league Lincoln City. It brought back the romanticism of the FA Cup that’s been lacking recently. But for the Gunners it gave them a chance to get everything back in working order. Back to basics. Get things back to the way they were – playing expansive football. Confidence. Elegance. The quarter-final was the blank canvas Wenger and Arsenal had been crying out for during these tough couple of months. There was to be little resistance after half-time – if anything fitness levels would determine that non-league Lincoln would be chasing shadows at this point.
The 5-0 result saw Arsenal book a semi-final spot against Chelsea, but there were more tangible benefits garnered from demolishing a non-league team. While it did nothing to dampen some Arsenal fans insistence that Wenger should walk away from the club at the end of the season, many hoped it would help them focus on the task at hand – the weekend’s game against Tony Pulis’s West Brom.
Arsenal have struggled against Pulis’ teams over the years. They had a torrid time against his over physical Stoke side. The worst memory of note was the horrendous Aaron Ramsey leg break courtesy of a bad Ryan Shawcross challenge. Yet, this was going to be different against a West Brom side managed by Wenger’s arch nemesis, right? Wrong.
A woeful performance saw the Gunners humbled by a hard working, no-frills, typically resolute Pulis side that were once again the thorn in Arsene Wenger’s welcoming and spongy side. Arsenal’s inability to deal with set pieces had analysts, fans and casual viewers shaking their heads in disbelief. But where do Wenger’s men go from here? Will the Frenchman continue at the Emirates? These are all pressing questions, but for now the players will embark on an international break, one in which Arsenal will welcome with the hope the players return with the bit between their teeth.
Upon arriving back in North London, Wenger will be tasked with preparing his side for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Like Arsenal, City have stuttered their way along this campaign without any real consistency. However, due to their exit from the Champions League at the hands of Ligue 1 side Monaco, Guardiola’s men will have their eyes on second place in the Premier League.
The Arsenal-Manchester City rivalry has been one of the closest in English football in terms of results. Only one win separates the sides with City edging it 91-90, according to the stats compiled by Arsenal World.
Their indifferent form has also meant that when they meet at the Emirates on April 2nd, it will be a fiercely contested match between two teams struggling to regain their stride amidst some rather disappointing results. If you use bwin’s True Form algorithm to calculate the recent form of the two teams, it shows how closely contested the game should be in the next round of Premier League fixtures. Even though the Gunners are playing at home they still aren’t considered favourites due to some shocking losses, such as against Watford at the Emirates where the Gunners were odds-on favourites to win. Also a comprehensive defeat at the hands of London rivals Chelsea means that True Form has seen that as a major indicator that City will come out victors on April 2nd.
In City’s last 5 games, they’ve been relatively consistent compared to Arsenal, which is an overriding factor as to why True Form sees them as slight favourites. Wins against West Ham, Swansea and Bournemouth as well as draws against top half teams Stoke and Liverpool has meant that they have played against better placed sides than Arsenal in their last five games, therefore being considered favourites by True Form because of their positive results.
However, regardless of the stats that swing in favour of City, Arsenal will be hoping that playing against a likeminded free-flowing footballing team will give Özil, Sanchez, Walcott and Ramsey the room to breathe and express themselves even when the Gunners are at their most vulnerable. The Lincoln game was meant to be a building block to help them regain some sort of title-challenging form. But every season has its set backs, let’s just hope that was the last of them, and we don’t have to see Tony Pulis again until the next campaign.