Morning fellow gooners,
Whilst I am not old enough to remember that Jimmy Greaves was a footballer (a plus given the teams he played for I think) I am old enough to remember his days as a pundit with Ian St John and his legendary catch phrase: it’s a funny old game.
When it comes to the FA cup it certainly seems to become more apt a sentence and for Arsenal it was the case yesterday. Because lets face it, if you look at our form going into this game, you have to say that describing the sport as ‘funny’ would not be one of the adjectives you would look for.
To use another footballing cliché, the game was also that “of two halves”, with the first half resulting in the team roundly booed off at half time for the second time in two weeks, followed by a redemption of the players within about 15 second half minutes.
The first half actually started quite brightly, like the United game. We had plenty of possession, we looked in control and we also tested Shay Given in the Villa goal a couple of times, the most notable being a stinging shot by Thomas Vermaelen after a free kick from about 30 yards out. The return of some key players (albeit on the bench) also made the atmosphere feel a little more upbeat than previous weeks, with Arteta, Henry and Sagna back on the bench, plus the once again composed Coquelin in at right back. After Djourou’s horrow show last week, this was good news all round. The Ox also started in his second game in a row.
So whilst the half ticked away we settled into our usual passing routine, but with one vital ingredient missing – final third cutting edge. Aaron Ramsey was not always at his best in the first half and Theo was once again disappointingly quiet, only once or twice getting the opportunity to stretch his legs, with one shot poorly off target. RvP was also quiet in the first half, as Villa did a good job of stifling the Dutchman and cutting off our attacking creativity by defending deep and asking a confidence shorn attack to try to break them down. They were here for a draw with the hope of a counter attack to see if they could snatch a win.
They got what they wanted. Twice. For the first opportunity it was once again a ball swung in from our left, from a corner this week as opposed to open play, that led to the first goal. As the ball was floated to the back post, no Arsenal defenders dealt with it and Richard Dunne raised above everyone else to nod the ball home. The second goal, in an almost identical time slot as last week’s Valencia finish, came as the half time whistle was about to blow. From an Arsenal corner the ball broke, and as Darren Bent was sent racing through you feared the worse. The first shot was well saved by Fabianski, but Bent reacted the quickest and gave the Arsenal team a mountain to climb by slotting the ball home.
Cue half time. Cue the boos. Cue the Twitter outrage. I have to say I was angry that we had once again seemed to gift another result to a team that, let’s not forget, we abject at best against Spurs late last year. Whilst I am not a fully fledged member of the ‘Wenger Out’ club, I was starting to think that his time could be running out if we suffered another defeat and went out of the FA Cup.
But we come back to the old cliché and we still have a half to play. Whilst the fans were despondently tucking in to their overpriced beef and onion pies and ready salted Pringles, the team were in quiet contemplation, determined not to be beaten. So when the second half started we immediately saw a different Arsenal. Ramsey, Van Persie, Walcott all suddenly started to see more of the ball and were also become more direct, with a purpose and a mission to eradicate any recent memories of failure. If the game was to be salvaged it would take an early goal and we were to be rewarded with just that. A ball inside the box from a driving Oxlade-Chamberlain run was latched on to from Ramsey who knocked the ball beyond Dunne, who clattered into him. The ball did roll to Given but it was still a foul, so whilst the debate can roll on whether Ramsey was in control of the ball, there is no denying that had it been on any other area of the pitch no questions would have been asked. Robin Van Persie dispatched the penalty and we had about forty minutes (including added time) recover the deficit. We need only have waited another three minutes before we were level. A ball over the right hand side for Theo to run on to was latched on to by the nippy lad, and as he danced around Warnock and played the ball off Given, it fell to Ireland who kicked it against his shoulder. Back to 2-2 and suddenly a win was within our grasp. And it was just four minutes after the restart that the winning goal was found. A brilliantly direct attacking drive into the box by Koscienly found a reversal of roles as Bent went to ground to defend the ball. He missed with one part of his boot and caught Koscienly. The ref pointed to the spot and once again Van Persie sent the keeper the wrong way.
The remaining half an hour petered out with Villa trying to unlock our defence but we stood firm to get our names into the hat. Away to Middlesborough or Sunderland will be our next destination in round five.
Just before I sign off, a quick word on the booing and the situation. Yes you should always get behind the team, and yes booing doesn’t really achieve anything. But the booing is really the only way that fans can announce their displeasure. And lets face it, had we have lost this then there would not be many fans saying that Wenger knows what he is doing. Football is a game of fine margins and yesterday’s two halves reflected that. As I’ve said all along, I’m willing to see how far we go until the end of the season before I judge whether I think Wenger has had his time at the club, but until then, we need to stick together and see how far we can get.
Have a good day all.