Q&A: Arsenal blog 'The Short Fuse'

Michael Regan

Ahead of the biggest game in Everton's season, I spoke with Thomas Wachtel from Arsenal blog "The Short Fuse" and discussed the game, the Champions League and ticket prices at the Emirates..

Royal Blue Mersey: Thomas, we meet again! Are you expecting the same spectacle as last time out in the league?

Thomas Wachtel: Oh boy, I hope not. I'd be happy with a nice, comfortable 5-0 win for Arsenal. I think a close game like last time is more likely, though - I'd be very surprised if the game is clearly in hand for either side in the last ten minutes.

RBM: Given you face a bit of an uphill task against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, have your priorities changed since the start of the season? Do you now feel the FA Cup is your most realistic chance of silverware?

TW: I think for the club, priorities are still the same: try to win every competition we're in, but Champions League qualification is absolutely imperative. I doubt that, for example, Arsene Wenger will field a weakened team in Munich. But I think for fans, we have altered expectations a bit. The FA Cup has opened up a bit because of some good draws in other parts of the tournament, and Arsenal have done well to beat a couple of top-tier Premier League teams already in Liverpool and Tottenham. If we can get past Everton as well - another similarly strong team - we'll be in a really good position to win it.

RBM: League form has suffered a little recently. Given that we travel to the Emirates off the back of a win against West Ham, and you off a defeat at the hands of Stoke City, who do you make favourites and why?

TW: Still Arsenal. We've been good at home all season, and I think that the squad will respond well to the Stoke game (which was, admittedly, a bit of a debacle). I think Wenger will start our strongest-possible team, I think we'll really go for this one.

RBM: How high on the list is the FA Cup for Arsenal fans?

TW: Here's a cop-out answer: it depends. For me personally, in a vacuum I put it third after the Champions League and the Premier League (if you were wondering, the Capital One Cup is about on a level with the reserve team league championship). With a 2-0 deficit going into Munich, though, I think I'd have to put it ahead of the Champions League for the moment simply because I think we actually have a chance to win the FA Cup. I'd still rather win the league, though.

I think that people really want this specific iteration of Arsenal to win something, though - not because of the oft-mentioned drought, because generally we like the players, we like the manager, and we want to see them rewarded for what's been an enjoyable season. And I think the FA Cup probably represents the best chance to do that.

RBM: A little off the subject, there has been some criticism for Arsenal ticket prices this season. I think Liverpool fans had to pay £90 in the last round, whereas Bayern Munich subsidised their supporters' ticket costs. However, my ticket for the game cost £35.50. What are your thoughts around this issue?

TW: I'm not the best-positioned to have an opinion on this, sadly. I live in Indianapolis, which is pretty far from London, and I've never been able to attend a single game. Beyond that, £90 is about what I'd have to pay for a bad ticket to an NFL game, so in a lot of ways I'm just jealous. And people seem to pay more attention to Arsenal, for some reason, when my understanding is that other teams have similarly-priced tickets. But I'm also sensitive to the real issue - the ever-growing commercialization and monetization of sport, which has been going on for about fifty years or longer and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. I think it's important to make it easier for fans to get into games (and you're not about to hear me defend American ticket pricing, either) but I'm not really sure what the answer is.

I guess in short: I understand why tickets aren't cheap, but I wish teams would try harder to cut prices.

RBM: Arsene Wenger was full of praise for the way Everton played at the Emirates in the league. Indeed, plenty of pundits said they hadn't seen a performance like that from an away side at Arsenal for years. What do you make of our season to date?

TW: Frankly, I've been rooting for you. Partly for schadenfreude, as I think it would be absolutely brilliant if Roberto Martinez's Everton finished above David Moyes' Manchester United. I also just have always had an affinity to Everton, as the non-Liverpool half of the Merseyside derby and as the club of Tim Howard and (occasionally) Landon Donovan. You guys have the Americans I actually like. And really there's not a lot to dislike, unless you sit at Anfield.

I think the team's played very well this year, and Martinez's use of loans to bolster his squad was brilliant. Gerard Deulofeu terrifies me. Romelu Lukaku terrifies me. I was expecting good things this year, but I don't think I was expecting top six.

RBM: Who are the key men for Arsenal? Will Ozil play?

TW: I would be surprised if Mesut Ozil doesn't start. I will be disappointed if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain doesn't as well, because I think he's been our best player since returning to full fitness. Other than those two, I'd say the back five will be crucial, particularly the centerbacks. Assuming he plays, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will be tested by Lukaku. I'd be shocked if Everton sat back and tried to defend, so I think those two will be key.

RBM: Who do you think Arsenal need to keep quiet?

TW: I'll stick with Lukaku. I wish people would stop comparing him to Didier Drogba, partly because I think it's a lazy comp but more because the thought of a decade of Drogba 2 makes me want to take a nap.

RBM: What specific areas do you think will win or lose the game?

TW: Midfield, absolutely. If we play with a triad of Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, and Ozil, I'll feel pretty confident that Arsenal can win that battle. If Wilshere is in there, I'm afraid I might tip the balance the other direction. But I think whoever controls midfield will control this game, and from there it just comes down to finishing.

RBM: Finally, give us a prediction for the game.

TW: Arsenal 2-1 Everton. And I predict that I'll be pacing around my basement for the last ten minutes or so, no matter what.

Big thanks to Thomas for his responses.

What do you think? Comments welcome below.

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