THE BEST TEAM IN THE WORLD OR THE WORST TEAM IN THE WORLD?
The Fiver's all for image changes. It cheered when Radiohead released Kid A, trembled as Guy Ritchie turned the world of movies on its head by releasing Snatch, and hollered with delight whenever the chaps out of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy turned an alpha male's life around by getting him to drink expensive coffee and have a haircut.
But Arsenal's recent changes have been a bit too much. After they beat Barcelona last month they were the greatest team in history, even though they could have lost the game 4-2; then they were chokers when they lost the League Cup final; then they were champions-elect when Manchester United lost to Chelsea, even though the Gunners' contribution to the evening was sitting on the sofa watching it on telly; then they were chokers again when they drew against Sunderland, even though they were the victims of refereeing as uncooked as a sushi festival; then they were the Big Cup champions elect when Jimmy Grimblethorpe, 13, steered them to a 14-0 victory in Pro Evo.
Tonight they face Barcelona in Big Cup again and we'll find out definitively whether they're the worst or best team in the world ... until Saturday when some of the guys from the Arsenal accounts department take part in the local pub quiz.
One man who's holding firm ahead of the game is the Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, who sparked outrage in the British tabloids by suggesting – reasonably – that Jack Wilshere would only make the bench if he played for the Catalans. Pep also refused to be ruffled by Arsene Wenger's refusal to confirm whether Robin van Persie will play tonight, probably because it's a mind game that couldn't be more telegraphed if it was a right-wing newspaper read by retired army colonels in Surrey.
And, besides everyone knows the way to deal with Van Persie is to keep him away from the ball until he injures himself in the 14th minute. "I want all the great players to play, everyone against everyone and see a great show," piped Pep. "I hope they are all in the team – Van Persie, [Samir] Nasri, Cesc [Fabregas]. I want [Alex] Song to play, because I would like to play the best possible Arsenal," he added, mysteriously omitting Tomas Rosicky from his Dream XI.
As for Arsenal, Wenger reckons his team won't go out to defend their narrow lead. "Is it realistic to go there to try to play a 0-0 from the first minute on?" he chortled, looking at his back four. "First of all it would be considerably against our nature and even tactically I don't think it is defendable. We have not a team with 11 defenders who are happy to defend."
Or any defenders who are happy to defend for that matter, Arsene.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I'm dumbfounded and speechless. A guy ran on to the pitch without any of the stewards getting near him and I thought I was doing them a favour. My only thought was to get hold of him so we could get on with the game. I managed to grab him and bring him to the ground and the funny thing was the stewards actually thanked me for it. But the referee decided to send me off" - Dorchester Town player-manager Ashley Vickers is not a happy man after seeing red for tackling a pitch invader who was dressed as Borat. But "speechless" he is not.
DOUBLE YOUR MONEY WITH BLUE SQUARE!
"So Arsene Wenger reckons 'You can't go to the Camp Nou, play for 0-0, and not try to score'. I beg your anorak-wearing pardon, but I think you'll find that Chelsea did precisely that in 2009. And it worked for us, as you'll see from the return leg ... oh" - Rob Hobson.
"Working out how many titles Manchester United would have if Kenny Dalglish had been appointed Liverpool manager in 2000 (yesterday's Fiver letters) is probably a futile exercise. [But? - Fiver ed] But Dalglish had left Celtic after actually managing to do worse than John Barnes and before that he had a spell at Newcastle where he took a title-challenging team into the bottom half. Compare and contrast to Ged Houllier, who won six trophies at Anfield and should get credit for the team he left that won Big Cup in 2005 - Jon Roberts.
"Re: Man Utd fan unsubscribing to the Fiver after getting in a funk over a simple and free email (Fiver letters passim). Surely they would have been better off continuing their subscriptions, while protesting by changing their web page colour to green and yellow? After all, works a treat at Old Trafforhahahahahahahaha" – Flavio L'Abbate.
"During my all-important Sunday league clash (Manchester Accountancy league division two) the ref was giving his weekly quota of foul throws. One looked a little harsh and when I relayed this to him in my calm and polite manner I was told: 'His back foot was literally a mile off the ground and I'm not exaggerating'. How do you respond to that?" - David Haikney.
BITS AND BOBS
Two more reasons for Gennaro Gattuso to be grateful he's suspended for Milan's game against Tottenham tomorrow: Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart are back in training and expected to start.
Fernando Torres couldn't even score against Blackpool, which is a bit like going on a stag do to Budapest and [snip! Fiver lawyers!] but Carlo Ancelotti isn't worried. "We are happy about his performance," he said. "He is a top scorer and he will score, this is not a problem."
Nathan Delfouneso has joined Burnley on loan from Aston Villa until the end of the season, although expect Ged Houllier to deny all knowledge of the deal if the England Under-21 striker starts banging them in.
Big news. Dimitar Berbatov has revealed that there's a lot of pressure involved in playing for Manchester United. Who knew?
STILL WANT MORE?
How much is experience worth in the managerial merry-go-round, asks Sachin Nakrani.
Referees who flounce about the pitch like Louie Spence on a sugar-high should follow Phil Dowd's unobtrusive lead, reckons Richard Williams.
Tonight's tippy-tappy game against Barcelona is a test of everything Arsenal want to be, writes Paul Hayward.
SIGN UP TO THE FIVER
Want your very own copy of our free tea-timely(ish) email sent direct to your inbox? Has your regular copy stopped arriving? Click here to sign up.