19 April 2015

We win the FA Cup, it's humiliations galore? That is a noble cause!

We're through. Finished. Finito. Stick a fork in us, we're—oh. That kind of 'through', as in 'through to the final.' Much better. Not only are we through to our 19th final, we also have a chance to set a new record for FA Cups won, creating further distance between us and those also-rans at Old Trafford. All in all, it was a good weekend to be a Gooner (most of them are...); this one gives us even more reasons to enjoy it. Man U lost, giving us a boost in our quest for second; and Liverpool lost as well, This is not to say that facing Aston Villa will be a walk in the park—far from it, if memory serves, as Hull served notice—but the situation does give one time to contemplate...

As for us, we've been victorious in our last four visits to Wembley (Wigan, Hull, Man City, Reading). Going into the final, we have to know that we've beaten Villa 0-3 and 5-0, suggesting that our fifth visit will be a cakewalk. However, that overlooks the impact that "Tactics" Tim Sherwood has had over at Villa Park, Under his leadership, the Villans have climbed out of the drop-zone and have witnessed the phoenix-like resurrection of Christian Benteke, who has not only returned from a ruptured Achilles' tendon but has also returned to dangerous form, scoring nine goals in ten starts after struggling to find three goals in 18. I'm sure that Gooners need no reminders of Benteke's potential—other than the image offered above. We'll return to the FA Cup clash in due time.

In Prem news, Chelsea somehow found a way to nick three points from their betters in a brave, plucky, and spirited performance; the clearly out-matched and out-spent club were indeed lucky to escape with all three points despite—oh. Right. In a quintessentially Mourinho-ian performance, Chelsea found one goal at home despite Man U dominating possession to the tune of 70%. Say what you will about the man, he gets results. Chelsea's win looks like it will be enough to end the debate over who will win the Prem; it also gives us the inside track on finishing second. In an astonishing turn of events, Mourinho apparently opted to let his squad win instead of gifting the match to Man U in order to twist a knife in Arsène's back. Had Man U won or even drawn, the race for second place would have seized up tighter than a Gooner's arse while watching the FA Cup semifinal. As it stands, we now have a game in hand and a one-point lead over Man U. We have the inside track.

We're not quite done yet. There's a doin's a' transpirin'. As it turns out, UEFA has changed the rules regarding who qualifies for the Champions League and Europa League. Three Prem clubs qualify for the Europa League: the FA Cup winner, the League Cup winner, and the fifth place finisher. Chelsea won the League Cup but will qualify for Champions League. Their Europa spot will bounce back to the sixth-place Prem team. If we win the FA Cup and stay in the top-four, the Europa spot we'd earned would go to the seventh-place Prem team. In the days of yore, if the FA Cup winner had already qualified for Champions League or Europa League play, the FA Cup runner-up would qualify for Europa. Hence, Hull a season ago. Under the new rules, that runner-up gets nothing. Therefore, if we can defend our FA Cup title, the Europa spot we'd earn would go to the seventh-place Prem finisher—which could be Liverpool, Tottenham, or Southampton.

In other words, we now have an ulterior motive when it comes to winning the FA Cup (not that it's a foregone conclusion). We've seen how Liverpool and Everton struggled under the burden of continental commitments and how Man U have thrived in the absence of such commitments. While we should by rights be focusing on those who finish above us, we do also have to keep at least one eye on the rearview. Liverpool and Tottenham threatened us for long periods despite those continental commitments; Southampton did the same without facing the same. If we can win the FA Cup, we could then look forward to a Prem campaign in which all three of these putative rivals has to wander hither and yon to various hinterlands.

None of this is meant to undermine the glory of winning the FA Cup. I don't for a second suspect that defeating Aston Villa is any easier at this point in the season than defeating Liverpool. I merely suggest that a certain strategic element has to come into play at some point; to whit, win the FA Cup and achieve glory (and make life that much more frustrating for our rivals). Whether we're surpassing Manchester United for FA Cup titles or consiging Liverpool, Tottenham, or Southampton to Europa League purgatory, it would be difficult indeed to find more motivation for winning on 30 May.

Let's do this.