The gods of the cup draw have, over the years, been both cruel and kind to Arsenal.
In the Champions League, we seem to have committed some grievous sin in the distant past that has forever condemned us to draw the strongest teams in Europe at the earliest possible opportunity.
In domestic competition, however, we have fared a little more favourably – this season’s FA Cup has been a prime example of that – with back-to-back ties against non-league teams smoothing our path to the latter stages.
That little slice of domestic good fortune continued on Monday night when the draw was made for the final four of the FA Cup.
Our reward for quarter-final victory over Lincoln was a clash at Wembley against either Manchester City, Tottenham, or Chelsea.
Given Arsenal’s current form, it would have been preferable to have been handed a bye into the final but, unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to have been an option.
The next best scenario, as far as I could see, was a draw against Manchester City, a side who remain as predictably unpredictable as the Gunners.
Chelsea and Tottenham are both in good form and brimming with confidence and energy – the very qualities Arsenal have been missing for months. Given our propensity to collapse at the earliest sign of trouble, a semi-final tie against either of those two was not an experience I was relishing, in all honesty.
That’s not to say that City will be any easier, of course. On their day, City are as good a team as any. As they have proven on occasion this season, they are capable of the sort of devastating attacking football that can leave others in their shadow. Crucially, however, they have also shown themselves to be fallible under pressure, susceptible to the same bouts of flimsy defending as Arsenal. In fact, in league competition, they have only conceded two fewer goals than the Gunners.
It was with that in mind that I kept all available digits crossed for Monday’s draw and, inexplicably, it worked. We even managed to be drawn as the home side, a small matter but a potentially marginal gain nonetheless.
There’s every chance that City might just be in excellent form for the semi-final, they might again harry and hassle Arsenal into the sort of mistakes that cost the Gunners at the Etihad earlier in the season. They are even capable of sticking four or five past us, if the Gunners get it wrong. But there is also a good chance that they might just get it spectacularly wrong as well.
It’s that sort of unknown, that inconsistency, that means I don’t go into this tie dreading what might happen – as I would have done had we drawn Chelsea. Instead, I go into the tie with cautious optimism, knowing that if Arsenal are switched on and up for the fight, they have an excellent chance of beating City.
It’s undeniably sad that the days in which we feared no opponent appear to have gone but we remain capable of beating the best. The big ‘if’ of course, is whether Arsene Wenger can inspire his side to make one last push before the end of the season.
They showed some fleeting signs of life against Lincoln that make me believe they are capable but whether they will do so remains to be seen.
The proof will come in the clash against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. The performance at Albion will be a barometer for how the Gunners are shaping up for the remainder of the campaign. It’s going to be a tough test against a side whose primary objective is to make you despise their very existence, and they are excellent at doing it. If we can come through that game with a win and a better performance things may just start to look a little rosier once more.
As far as the tie goes, the gods of the cup draw have done as much as they can, the rest, it would seem, is up to us.