23 January 2014

Thank you, Mannone; thank you, Man U...

Each of them deserve a hearty thank-you from Gooners everywhere. Man U, of course, earn our gratitude by losing in horrific fashion, but a more-heart-felt thanks goes to Vito Mannone. In a delicious, delicious performance, Vito turned away Man U's fifth and final penalty in the shoot-out to dump Man U out of the league cup, help Sunderland advance to the final, and remind his old mates at Arsenal of the risks of overplaying one's hand in these tournaments.

Part of the glory of the FA Cup and league cup is the possibility that some club from out of nowhere, with a payroll dwarfed by each member of their opponent's starting XI as well as that guy who pops to fix the corner flags, can slay a giant. Hell, it happened to us twice last year, as League Two Bradford knocked us out of the league cup's quarterfinal, and again as Blackburn beat us at the Emirates in the FA Cup's fifth round. However, those shockers feel like they were ages ago, coming as they did before we became the first Prem club to win at Allianz Arena and before we went on a ten-game unbeaten streak to close the 2012-13 season. Gone, it seems, are the soul-searching and angst, the calls for Arsène to be sacked or Ramsey sold.

How times have changed.

However, the portents are clear. Bradford knocked us out the league cup in a shoot-out, just as Sunderland did to Man U. Before we lose our senses in gleeful schadenfreude—trust me, there's ample time for that later—let's remind ourselves of what's at stake. It's easy to write off Coventry due to the morass that their owners have sunk them into. Relegated.  Put into administration. Playing home-matches 35 miles away. However, there's a lot of pride coming from Coventry, rightfully so, and, as happened in that cinematic classic Major League, the players and fans seem to have rallied around their hatred of the club's owners. Spite can be some powerful, powerful stuff.

Therefore, Mannone's save on Rafael's shot, the one that meant that Sunderland would get to the final against Man City, might be one of the more-vital saves he's made for Arsenal. No typos there. By denying Rafael, at Old Trafford no less, Mannone sent a beacon of hope to Coventry, yes, reminding them that the overmatched need not get overrun. However, he also sent ample warning to Arsenal, reminding us of the same. The warnings and reminders of Blackburn and Bradford may have lost a bit of their edge over the last twelve months, give or take, but a fresh omen from just two days prior to our match can snap minds back to attention.

Of course, I'm not in the locker-room or on the training ground, so don't mistake me for being in the know about the squad's state of mind. For all I know, Arsène is looking into ways to calm the players, so amped they are to go out and destroy the Sky Blues. For all I know, each player has taped to his locker an image from the Blackburn or Bradford matches, searing into his heart and eyeballs the memories, motivating him to go out and play pitch-perfect football en route to a 10-0 shellacking of Coventry.

However, it's also just as likely that there's a lot of "it's only Coventry" and "this is just another in a soft stretch of fixtures" going about. Heck, we drew Chelsea in the league-cup and Tottenham in the FA Cup, each in the fourth round. From there, there's bound to be a bit of let-down when facing a side that haven't played in the Prem since 2001. Look around, and most of the predictions (mine included) are for Arsenal to win 3-0, if not more.

Pride goeth before the fall, as it's been said. With that in mind, I'm thankful that Mannone's save reminds our lads that anything's possible, just in case anyone forgot. Thanks, Vito.