There’s a lot to get through this morning, courtesy of being one of the fortunate invitees to Arsenal’s Cup Final media day. A handful of bloggers have been invited to ‘observe’ proceedings in the last couple of seasons. There were three survivors from last year on hand to guide Dave Seager, author of the wonderful ‘Geordie Armstrong on the wing’, popular Arsenal historian Andy Kelly, and Gunners Town columnist Darren Berry, through the day.
Arsene was fashionably ten minutes late and polite as ever. First up was the subject of injuries and he had to reveal that not only would Danny Welbeck not be fit for the Cup Final, but he would also not be available for England’s upcoming fixtures. That drew the query about whether Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott would start, and indeed did he know what his team would be, and not surprisingly the boss avoided the direct answer.
” I will not tell you anything today, and I just think it is important that we focus as a squad on winning the trophy.”
There followed a similar line of enquiry about the goalkeeper’s before the first attempt to draw the boss on the potential availability of Karim Benzema. That drew the expected reminder that we are focused on the Cup Final and “not in transfer mode”. If that was a polite put-down he was more brusque when asked somewhat tactlessly and mischievously about Jose Mourinho’s recent comments. A sign perhaps of the nervous tension he must be feeling ahead of another big day on Saturday.
The breaking news from Zurich proved irresistible, and Arsene avoided a snap judgement as the story was still unfolding.
“You want justice to be done and as well not to convict too quickly the people who have been taken away by the police. There’s an enquiry, sometimes I think we are too quick to convict people who have not been proven guilty.”
Then at last the inquisitors returned to the subject of Aston Villa and the FA Cup Final. Arsene singled out Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish, and his opposite number, Tim Sherwood, for praise, as well as emphasising his awareness of the task facing us.
“If you analyse their individual quality, they are a strong team. They had a great semi-final and of course they are a quality Premier League team who have a lot of strengths. They are a strong opponent.”
The presser concluded with an amusing exchange with a Chilean cameraman/reporter who followed up the obligatory Alexis Sanchez question with a very guarded attempt to draw some comment on the rumours linking Arturo Vidal to the Gunners. It ensured everyone went to watch the start of the morning training session with a smile on their face.
After training it was the turn of Mathieu Flamini to be the first player to be interviewed. Relaxed and confident, he impressed I must say. A recurring theme was that he feels that we have been able to build on last season and are therefore better prepared for what lies ahead on Saturday rather than perhaps we were last season.
“This team now has more experience. We won the FA Cup last year, so for us to go another year to Wembley and to have the possibility to win it again, of course, it’s a lot of pleasure. Hopefully we will win it for the fans, and for him (Arsene Wenger) too.”
Quizzed on the depth at the club and how difficult it is to make the squad Mathieu is honest. He has to be as injury has limited his opportunities in the second half of the season.
“I think it’s part of the game. Obviously you want to play in the top teams. There is a big effect with a lot of quality but you have to fight to find your place. It’s a part of the game. You have to accept the competition and I believe it makes you better.”
Mathieu waxed lyrical about Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, and of his latest rival for a start in front of the back four, Francis Coquelin.
“We all knew Francis was a great player, and I’m really pleased for him because he had the chance to prove it. I’m not surprised because I have got the chance to play with him every day.”
Mathieu confirmed that he has one more year at the club and is happy to remain. His experience and attitude may make him a desirable squad member but that could well depend on who comes in when the window opens. In his two spells at the club though few could argue with his desire and workrate. Surely nobody would begrudge him that third FA Cup winners medal on Saturday.