Sunday, 13 April 2014

Plucky Arsenal Knock Out The Holders To Reach The FA Cup Final

Arsenal went to Wembley on Saturday to take on the FA Cup holders in an attempt to reach this season's final. With their league chances gone it was their last chance of silverware this season and they emerged with a win on penalties after extra time. They will face Hull City in the final on May 17 and hopefully end their nine year wait for a trophy.

Arsene Wenger made a few changes from the team which lost 3-0 to Everton the previous week. Aaron Ramsey started for the first time this year after recovering from injury with Lukasz Fabianski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo also coming in. Mathieu Flamini didn't play as he was suspended, Tomas Rosicky missed out through injury and Olivier Giroud dropped to the bench as he had done in the previous rounds.

Wigan may have been the cup holders but they currently ply their trade in the Championship and Arsenal were rightly strong favourites to reach the final. Arsenal hadn't won in their last four games though and their injury ravaged team had struggled for form and confidence in those four games. If they were going to reach the final they were going to have to beat a Wigan team who had put up an excellent defence of the trophy they won last season.

It was far from a classic game and chances were few and far between in the first half with Sanogo and Bacary Sagna going closest for Arsenal and Wigan never really threatening the Arsenal goal. The second half seemed to be taking the same path until Per Mertesacker upended a Wigan player in the Arsenal area on the hour mark to give away a penalty. Jordi Gomez stepped up to put the ball past Fabianski from the spot, but the Arsenal keeper was to get plenty of other chances to deny Wigan from 12 yards.

Arsenal had half an hour left to save their season and Giroud came on for Lukas Podolski as they switched to playing two strikers. As the minutes ticked by they pushed further forward all the time, but it looked like their luck would desert them when Sagna hit the post with just over 10 minutes left. The goal they craved eventually came when Mertesacker got his head to a wayward Chamberlain shot to score from close range. His celebration was very emotional as he was very relieved after giving away the penalty Wigan had scored from. 

Arsenal had their equaliser and the game went to extra time without too much incident in the remaining minutes. In the 30 minutes of extra time it was Arsenal who did most of the attacking as they had done for the majority of the game and they came closest to scoring when Chamberlain hit the post with a fine shot. Kim Kallstrom made a rare appearance with eight minutes remaining as he came on for the fatigued Ramsey.

I thought Wigan were happy to go to penalties and take their chances from 12 yards and that's exactly what happened. Arsenal don't have the worst record in penalty shoot outs in recent years, but statistics like that fade from the mind when your team is faced with a shoot out. Fabianski is a good penalty saver though and I thought he might just be the man to make the difference for Arsenal. 

He proved to be the difference between the teams as he saved the first two Wigan penalties while Mikel Arteta, Kallstrom, Giroud and Santi Cazorla all scored to send Arsenal through 4-2 on penalties. It was tense and nervous but the players just about got the result they needed without ever being really convincing. It doesn't really matter how they won though as the all important fact is that they're through to the FA Cup final for the first time since 2005.

The players celebrated like they had won the cup after the game and it's understandable considering how close they were to going out and how their league campaign has floundered so badly recently. A lot of questions had been asked of these players and a defeat to Wigan would have ended their chances of a trophy. They now have a very real chance for glory at the same venue in just under five weeks and those celebrations had a fair degree of relief in them I would imagine.

With that cup final place booked they can concentrate on trying to win their last five league games to give them a chance of catching Everton and finishing in the top four. While it's important for the team to end it's trophy drought against Hull  it's equally important for them to qualify for next season's Champions League. Everton won again on Saturday and they're now two points ahead of Arsenal and both teams have five games to play. 

On paper Everton have the tougher run in but they have form on their side having won their last seven games in a row. They play at home to both Manchester clubs as well as Crystal Palace and face trips to Southampton and Hull. Arsenal have home games against West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom as well as trips to Hull and Norwich. 

It's certainly an easier run in for Arsenal, but they will need to win all of those games to put pressure on Everton. The first of those games is this Tuesday night at home to West Ham and the players have to put that approaching cup final out of their minds and concentrate on the job in hand. West Ham will be no pushovers, but a win would put Arsenal back into the top four before Everton play at home to Palace on Wednesday night.

It looks like being a very exciting end to the season even if it's only the usual annual fight for a top four place and the added bonus of a trophy to compete for. There should be a few players coming back from injury very soon too with Laurent Koscielny possibly available on Tuesday night and Mesut Ozil possibly returning next Sunday. They are two very important players and their returns will add some genuine quality to the team at a vital time. Let's hope they can help to make the difference that the team need right now.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. I still think Arsenal are playing complicated football. We all know football is a simple game with the aim to score asap. Wenger has made into a n abstract art with passes galore or too many.I like the way Ox ran at the Wigan defenders.Go direct instead of passing laterally and over so so many times.
    Believe me ,Bruce will play like what red face used to do: flood the md and hit on the break.RF used it so many times to beat the fm.So don't be surprised Bruce wins . It's all up to the fm.
    Btw,Coutino scored the Pool winner.Can you envisage Arsenal scoring such a goal?No ,it will be another pass and chances there wont be a goal.

  2. Plucky????? Lucky I would say ..... another poor, sub standard performance against a team from a division lower!! Apart from Sanogo and Fabianski all of the players in the Arsenal side are top squad players ... so irrespective of the injuries, this side all recruited by Wenger, should be good enough to turn in at least a good performance, but once again they weren't! But lets face it, the football that Arsenal play is not enjoyable, Wenger has created a side that plays boring sideways and backwards passing like a cheap imitation of Barcelona, but the game has moved on and it is now big teams who play faster sharper and more direct football movement who are winners.

    An FA Cup Final win against a poor standard bottom EPL side like Hull should not gloss over the problems that Arsenal have. Sure it will be great in the short term, but if it means that Wenger is retained in charge then it will prove to be the worst thing that could have happened as he is the catalyst causing the problems, his tactics are out-dated and obvious, his team selection questionable, his poor use of substitutes until after 65 mins shows lack of vision or instinct and maybe fear, plus his lack of coaching drive is quite striking as apart from this weekend he can be seen match after match sitting back on the bench looking lost for ideas. Arsenal need a Martinez or Rodgers, a younger manager with drive and new ideas and the zest for the game that Wenger once had but that he has lost, apart from being able to offer excuse after excuse in press conferences that is!!!