Two contrasting pieces of class finishing from Arsenal’s early season saviour Alexis allowed a slightly shaky performance from the Cup holders to overcome Reading and reach a record 19th FA Cup final.
A sunny, but bracing and windy, mid-April Saturday took me back to similar conditions at last years semi-final against Wigan, however pre game there was no thought of it being as problematic today as it was then.
After a few lagers at the Green Man pub to settle the matchday nerves it was a meandering walk to my seat.
After ascending many flights of stairs I took my seat and registered that Reading had taken up their full allocation, quite a feat when their average crowds are 14,000 on average, less than half their allotted seats.
Team line up wise there was no surprise in the Arsenal end when Chesney was in goal however a little surprise at both Gibbs and Debuchy usurping the incumbent full backs.
A bright start from the Arsenal saw Welbeck almost run onto a through ball successfully and bear down on goal.
The gulf in class between the number 2 premier league side and one from the lower reaches of the Championship began to show as Arsenal applied steady pressure and the Royals back line began to creak.
While Santi appeared to be having one of his less effective games the Arsenal midfield was palpably of higher quality than their Berkshire opponents with Özzy pulling the strings nicely for Alexis to rampage upfield with the only worry in team play were a few clangers from Gibbs, who was understandably ring rusty.
That aside the first half hour saw Arsenal retain and dominate possession to the extent that the Reading goal’s charmed life finally ran out of luck when a blur of speed from Alexis in the penalty box, after an exquisite floated pass from Özzy resulted in Arsenal taking the lead.
Thus Arsenal score first and therefore the Gooners at Wembley could relax over half time.
The second half started with as little lethargy from Arsenal and the worrying aspect of both fullbacks deciding to maraud forward at inopportune moments – one such lapse forced Chesney into a poor clearance from a scuffed back pass which led to a throw in. From this throw in down our right came a lofted cross to the other side of the goalkeepers box where Gibbs failed to track Reading’s McCleary who slid in to volley an equaliser.
This woke the blue and white hordes – who to the casual observer would think purchased their home shirts from the English equivalent of a slightly up market Walmart, namely Waitrose – from their first half slumbers.
It was at this point the notion of changing 3 components of your back 5 from the start (which became 4 when the BFG was subbed off for Gabriel) would affect your defensive stability hit home.
Arsenal regrouped and carried on pushing forward and once Olly Giroud was brought on the Reading goal was under more and more threat. Olly’s first intervention was to win a clearance and get a free kick, although Welbeck worked hard he is still not at the polished level of our number 12 just yet.
Frustratingly a combination of the post/crossbar and some great saves by Federeci consigned the semi final to extra time which seemed to suit Arsenal more as our more potent attack would surely penetrate the opposition goal.
As the first half of extra time drew to a close wave after wave of shots and attacks were fruitless when, quite unexpectedly, yet another surging run from Alexis caught the Wembley crowd out.
From where I sat it seemed Alexis had run into a dead end with his back to me as he charged forward yet he turned around and wheeled in celebration. I looked to my fellow Gooners on either side of me, all of us unsure as to whether he had scored or not.
A pause and seconds later, it seemed Alexis had scored so we could celebrate going ahead, at a morale sapping (for the opposition) point – the last moments of the first half of extra time.
Now the Alexis’ chant, a choice which won’t please all I suspect, went up:
Alexis, Alexis babbbyyy
Alexis, Alexis , wooo-ow-oh-oh !
(to the tune of the chorus of “Don’t you want me” by Human League)
The second half of extra time had the supporters cursing our cavalier defending and Reading had quite a few big chances to score, which only a combination of their lack of quality forwards and luck prevented a second equaliser.
The openness of the game meant Arsenal should really have scored a third, with Theo Walcott providing late attacking impetus, however the long suffering Gooner nation were spared another FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot out as the whistle blew and we could look forward to returning to Wembley for the final.
Final thoughts – we need to play better than we did today at the final if we want to retain the trophy but we every chance to regain our defensive shape until the final but I suspect the choice of goalkeeper may not be an easy one to make as Chesney didn’t inspire confidence today.
Still we are in the final and more silverware beckons while the season is still rising to a decent climax.
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)