Arsenal played Huddersfield Town earlier today in the fourth round of the FA Cup, and despite nearly making a mess of things they managed to get through to the fifth round. The draw for the fifth round has already been made, and Arsenal will play away to Leyton Orient on February 19th or 20th. It's another game that Arsenal will be huge favourites to win, and if they can they will be through to the quarter finals.
That game against Orient will come only a few days after the home game against Barcelona in the Champions League, and a few days before Stoke RFC come to the Emirates for a Premier League game. It's going to be a very busy time for Arsenal at the end of February, as they also have to play the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City on February 27th. It's been a very busy month of January so far, and February looks like it will be even busier, and possibly more exciting. It all starts on Tuesday night with another home game in the Premier League, with Everton as the opponents.
Getting back to today's game, and the boss picked the team that I thought he would, with the exception of Abu Diaby starting for Tomas Rosicky, and of course the surprise inclusion of Manuel Almunia in goals. I genuinely thought that Wojciech Szczesny would continue in goals despite Arsene Wenger's policy of usually playing his second choice keeper in domestic cup games. I thought that it was a game where Szczesny could have gained more experience, and continued his run in the team.
He is the current first choice, and the best thing for him is to keep playing. I can understand that Almunia probably needed a bit of game time, after missing four months through "injury", but surely a reserve game would have been the place to reintroduce him. If Lukasz Fabianski is to remain injured it could mean that Almunia has a role to play before the season is over, despite my misgivings about his ability been the posts.
Arsenal started brightly enough, and after a couple of missed chances they went 1-0 up in the 21st minute.
Samir Nasri played Nicklas Bendtner in, and his shot was deflected by a defender past the keeper, and into the corner of the net. It seemed like the game was there for the taking, and Arsenal would earn their passage to the fifth round, but Huddersfield had other ideas. To their credit they came out of their shell, and went at Arsenal at every opportunity, particularly after Samir Nasri hobbled off with a hamstring injury in the 32nd minute. It looks like he will be out for two or three weeks, and that's something that Arsenal could have done without.
I had said that I thought Nasri would be included in the team as the playmaker, and his departure signalled the end of Arsenal's domination. He was replaced by Rosicky, who also took the captain's armband from him. Rosicky performed well to be fair to him, but it's hard to understand how Arsenal were so poor for the next 40 minutes. Half time arrived with Arsenal still ahead, but down to ten men,and under pressure.
Only a few minutes before the break Sebastien Squillaci was sent off for a professional foul, and he will not be available for Tuesday's game against Everton. He was the last man back, and the ball was played past him for a Huddersfield player to run onto, but he stepped across and blocked the run. The referee had no real option, and with no centre backs on the bench Arsenal pushed Denilson back into that role until half time.
At half time Marouane Chamakh was the player sacrificed by the boss, as he brought Alex Song on to play in Squillaci's position. Huddersfield continued to dominate, and Arsenal had a chance or two of their own at the other end. The equaliser eventually came from a corner when Alan Lee headed home virtually unchallenged in the 66th minute. That sprung Arsenal back into action, and Cesc Fabregas replaced Diaby soon afterwards. He immediately took control of the game, and Arsenal no longer looked to be a man short.
As time ticked by it looked like the winner Arsenal badly wanted wouldn't arrive, but then in the 86th minute they got a lifeline. Cesc passed the ball across the box towards Bendtner, and he went down under a challenge from a Huddersfield defender. It looked to be very harsh, but the referee gave Arsenal a penalty, and the Huddersfield player got a yellow card. I'm not sure it was a penalty, but if a penalty was given, then surely the referee had to send the player off.
Cesc stepped up to take the penalty, and sent the keeper the wrong way to give Arsenal a scarcely deserved 2-1 win. I noticed that he hesitated a couple of times in his run-up to the penalty, and I thought the referee was meant to make him retake the penalty, and give him a yellow card for that. I may be wrong, but I thought the rule was changed at the start of the season to cut out players pausing in their run-up.
It was a poor performance from Arsenal overall, and some of the players really didn't cover themselves in glory. Thankfully Cesc was on hand to rescue them yet again, and it seems like he is on a one man mission to win the FA Cup this season. I'm sure that the team to face Everton on Tuesday night will be completely different, and I hope that the performance will be as well. With Nasri unavailable for a couple of weeks at least I would imagine that Andrey Arshavin will play in the wide left role, and although his form is not very good at the moment, he has at least found the effort that seemed missing earlier in the season. If he continues to work as hard as he is at the moment, I'm sure that his performances will improve, and he will show everybody exactly how good he is.
In other news the afternoon was finished off very nicely when Fulham knocked The Spuds out of the FA Cup with a 4-0 scoreline. It was 4-0 at half time, but luckily for The Spuds Fulham eased off a little in the second half. They face a trip to Blackburn on Wednesday night in the Premier League, and if they don't win that game they will have a mountain to climb if they are to qualify for the Champions League again. The teams behind them are closing quickly, and the teams ahead of them are slowly pulling away from them. The FA Cup was their last real prospect of a trophy this season, and they can only wait until they are knocked out of the Champions League, and technically cannot win the Premier League, before their season is over.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from today's game.
See You Tomorrow.