What a ten days it’s been.
It started with a woeful defeat at Sheffield United. A couple of days later we laboured against a poor Vitoria side until Pepe played two wonderful get-out-of-jail-free cards. Then we blew a two goal lead against Crystal Palace. During that game we made ourselves laughing stocks by booing our captain. He had an on-field tantrum the ramifications of which continue to rumble. And to cap it all we discovered that all is not fair in love and VAR.
We go into tonight’s fourth round Carabao Cup tie against Liverpool at Anfield looking as wobbly as a jelly on a vibration plate.
So let’s hope that Unai Emery takes to heart the words of the French First World War general Marshal Ferdinand Foch. During the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914) things were not going well for his forces against the Germans, so he sent the following dispatch: “My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent: I shall attack.”
The philosophy is simple: one way to react to adversity is to ignore it and to galvanise your forces by taking the fight to the enemy.
If we put out an attack minded cup side tonight comprised of eager young players with a smattering of experience, there is every reason to be hopeful of a good result.
Notwithstanding the questionable display against Vitoria, the cup competitions have given us easily our most enjoyable moments so far this season.
There was the 5-0 thrashing of Notts Forest in the Carabao Cup, and the excellent wins away at Eintracht Frankfurt and home to Standard Liege in the Europa League. In those games it wasn’t just that we got the results, but that we played with a sense of purpose, swagger and, above all, fearlessness.
More of that tonight and Liverpool might be in for a shock.
For a start, there is no way our opponents will play a full strength team. The Scousers need a league title like a drowning man needs a lifebelt and they’re not going to let anything get in the way of that single-minded pursuit.
It’s not that they’ll want to lose tonight – far from it. It’s just that this trophy is a long way down their priority list and you suspect that their toothy German coach wouldn’t be too broken hearted to see them drop out of the competition.
In the last round, against MK Dons, their line-up was:
Milner Lovren Gomez Hoever
Lallana Oxlade-Chamberlain Keita
Brewster Jones Elliott
It doesn’t exactly have you quaking in your boots, does it? They may strengthen a little given that, on paper at least, we are a tougher opponent than MK Dons but I don’t expect their team to be anything like their Premier League starting eleven.
What about us?
I would go with the majority of the players who have performed well already this season in the cup competitions:
You’ll have noticed I snuck Mesut Ozil in there. I have no idea whether or not Emery will play him but with all that’s been going on around the club lately I’m backing my hunch that he will.
I would add some experience on the bench with the likes of Lacazette, Sokratis and Pepe in case we’re pushing for a late goal or trying to cling on to a lead.
If that eleven goes up against a similar Liverpool team to the one that turned out in the last round I fancy us to win.
A final word about Marshal Foch. His brave words wouldn’t mean much if the French were subsequently defeated. But in fact his army, from a losing position, turned the tide in the First Battle of Marne and although they didn’t exactly rout their German opponents they did grind them to a sort-of stalemate.
Which makes me think we might have to win in extra time or on penalties…