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Man at the match; Chary: beware, Tigers poop on pitch

A stoppage time equaliser from Danny Welbeck changed an embarrassing result into a disappointing one as Assem Allam’s Tigers looked on course to snatch three undeserved points from Ashburton Grove.

Before I proceed further I will stress that what I say about the game is from a very tribal, Arsenal-centric point of view so if anyone has stumbled upon this report expecting an objective, balanced view, I politely suggest they “do one” (i.e. go elsewhere).

The overriding impression of Allam’s Tigers is of a team who waste time from five minutes into the game and then feign injury to halt opposition attacks. These tactics, combined with a pliant accomplice in the referee and a weakness in Arsenal’s defensive mind set led to two points being dropped when all three were needed.

We faced our FA Cup final victims for the first time since that epoch ending day in May on a mild October afternoon which whilst grey was far from as autumnal as you would expect and there seemed a closeness and humidity that seemed to stifle the air.

We went to Wembley, Wember-ly

We went to Wembley, Wember-ly

The Arsenal lined up as expected at the back with Bellerin replacing Chambers (suspended) who would have replaced Debuchy (injured) at right back and Monreal reprising his Emirates Cup role as centre back.

The midfield also picked itself as the fully fit players started( Wilshere, Flamini and Santi) with the three up top also being the only match fit/in form players, Welbeck, Alexis and The Ox. Arteta and Rosicky were on the bench as expected after their injury doubts but Rambo’s presence on the bench was a fillip as we’ve missed his dynamism when he is on form.

Early chants of

“Who are you ?”

from the HC Tigers fans were answered by:

“2 nil and you effed it up”

in a happy reference to our previous meeting.

An early shot from Santi, attacking the North Bank unusually in the first half, seemed sure to swerve into the top right hand corner but the first goalkeeper used by Ex Man United player coach Steven Bruce managed to palm the shot away.

The next significant action was early reward for a typically energetic and scintillating start to the game by Alexis, who controlled a high ball delivered and larruped a low drive to open the scoring.

Our free scoring Chilean

Our free scoring Chilean

Before the goal, and as noted earlier, Harper in goal for the Tigers was beginning the ritual of time wasting by approaching his goal kicks as if they were ticking bombs to be defused. Sadly the referee for the day marked his card by failing to stamp down on this gamesmanship by his inaction and as the game wore on more and more ludicrous lengths were went to in order to slow Arsenal’s attacks.

After the Alexis strike, surprise surprise, somehow the goal kicks were then taken quickly. Well, well !

It was a result of this that my main worry before the game, of our defence lacking the cohesion of a well-drilled back four that had played together regularly, came to fruition.

A foray down our left flank went virtually unchallenged and the Tigers first attack was rewarded by a goal – first shot, one goal, an infuriating characteristic of Arsenal sides for longer than I care to remember.

Top tier view

Top tier view

Even in the less rowdy upper tier I was in for the game there was fury about the validity of the goal as, after later enquiry, there seemed to be a foul on Flamini in the build up but what compounded this was the Arsenal defenders pausing to protest rather than playing to the whistle.

First test and the defence implode and a cheap equaliser conceded, albeit potentially wrongly allowed due to the foul. We just know that had it been us who’d fouled in the build up to the goal the lino would have gleefully flagged it as such and had it chalked off. Maybe it’s my Arsenal-centric view but it does feel we suffer disproportionately more than average from poor decisions.

Thankfully, the crowd still got behind the team from the restart and the half time jeering was directed at the referee.

The restart was calamitous as the defence and midfield showed a somnambulistic approach to dealing with Allam’s Tigers attack from the whistle. A dreamy, casual attitude in the midfield carried over to the defence as a cross came over from Arsenals left, again, and unfortunately the BFG’s leap was mistimed and allowed Hernandez to nod in to put Arsenal 2-1 down.

It seemed odd to me that I would be more worried about attacks down our right due to Bellerin’s inexperience and yet both goals conceded were from our left. It must be said that young Hector’s performance, his tenacity in the tackle and his good understanding of building an attack, got him many approving cheers all afternoon.

Now the Tiger’s were in front we got the “pooping on the pitch” my report is described as the time wasting went up another level and the tactic of “dying swans in the penalty area” was in full view.

As the Arsenal pushed forward, any chance possible one of the opposition defenders would hurl themselves to the ground and lay on the pitch, and then not move off the playing area as the referee should have ordered them too.

Dawson in particular, as you would expect from an ex-spudd, was guilty of this and when he was eventually made to walk off the pitch for treatment instead of taking the shortest route to the touchline he would take a long lazy arc across the pitch to maximise his meander to the more distant point on the touch line. All this was allowed to happen by the referee (even though Welbeck and Jack were pointing at the nearest touchline for Dawson to go to) who was beginning to lose control of the game.

And the Allam Tigers fans had the shamelessness to shout:

“Same old Arsenal, always cheating”

Their team were taking cheating and gamesmanship to a level only possible by the truly snide.

They were also keeping up their Cup Final habit of advancing six-ten yards further up the pitch on their throw ins and free kicks, but the Arsenal players seemed drilled on this part of the opposition play as they were quick to point out the encroachment and even the incompetent referee of the day had to act on that.

Second half pressure

Second half pressure

For the last twenty minutes the pattern of Arsenal attack-Tigers play acting-Arsenal chance continued into stoppage time of six minutes. The two bright spots in the Arsenal forward play, Alexis and Santi (who was his usual busy, creative/scuttling self, although a bit unlucky when it came to developing attacks) continued to put the opposition under pressure.

The introduction of Joel Campbell seemed to offer something different in our attacks and in the limited time available to him, gave a good account of himself. He seemed to be a bit of a provider/link-up player and not just the target man I thought he was.

Finally the Arsenal equalised when a clever bit of interplay between Alexis and Welbeck resulted in an equaliser that prevented the Arsenal faithful from suffering the hammer blow of a home defeat.

The reaction at the end of the match was muted relief with a tinge of exasperation as to why we allowed ourselves to get into a position where we have to claw back a late equaliser and also at a very late chance not quite going in for Gibbs when it looked like a repeat of the FA Cup Final result was about to happen.

If any satisfaction could be had from the game it was that Allam’s Tigers fans were minutes away from a famous win and that it was taken away from them. For the ethos of their play, and let’s be fair about it, they deserved nothing at all.

There did seem to be murmurs of discontent brewing in the feeling around the grounds after the game, not just with the performance but the squad deficiencies, and it will take a string of good displays to dispel these.

It is now down to the players, manager and club to do that in the coming games.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Man at the match, Chary: Fabianski ushers Arsenal into the FA Cup final

A helter skelter match ended on penalties after full time and extra time couldn’t separate the Arsenal from the conquerors of Manchester City in the previous round, when Fabianski held his nerve to save the first two of five penalties so that four successful spot kicks from the good guys were enough to book a return trip to Wembley in May.

After a gap of over fourteen years between my last visit to Wembley to see Arsenal play and today I was hoping to see a victory for the Arsenal and although the build up to the game in the media and the Arsenal blogosphere ensured nerves kicked in a few pints at Mannion’s pub near the south entrance to Wembley helped settle those nerves.

Also plenty of Arsenal songs, not fit for a family blog, ensured a degree of alcohol induced bravado stayed with me till I took my seat in the upper tier behind the south goal, to the right of the managers dug outs.

As expected Wigan failed to sell their quota of tickets and many pockets/blocks of empty seats were visible in the Wigan end

In (some of) the blue corner - Wigan

In (some of) the blue corner – Wigan

Before kick off was the moments silence, although I heard applause also, to commemorate the tragic loss of life at an FA Cup semi final 25 years ago at Hillsboro, with 96 seats(to remember the 96 fatalities that day) kept empty.

Hillsborough 96 remembered

Hillsborough 96 remembered

The line up changes that were most significant were the addition of Rambo and Monreal (with the latter stepping in for Gibbs who was only fit enough for a bench place) and the replacement of Sanogo for Giroud, as seems to be the case for the FA Cup team selection with Fabianski the designated cup goalie.

From the start it was clear that Wigan’s form was on the up and Arsenal’s spluttering with no Arsenal player really catching the eye in the first half, except for flashes of Rambo’s tenacious drive with the ball when surging through the midfield. It was obvious the team have badly missed his forward motion in the midfield as without him it all looks very pedestrian, as several moans about our slow paced attacking attested to amongst the Arsenal supporters.

Something that did come across was that moaning about the team is not an age related thing or the preserve of the “I want it now” generation of youngsters. A pensioner next to me was totally negative all the way through the game and had decided we’d lose after seeing only ten minutes of the game; needless to say not one word of encouragement or singing for the team left his lips all the way through the game.

While Arsenal did create chances in the first half not too many clear cut chances were made, except for the cross that led to Sagna’s sliced shot over the bar, Wigan themselves looked hard working but not especially dangerous.

At the start of the second half as usual the boys in red and white upped the tempo and more free kicks corners accrued from the Ox who was growing in confidence or Santi who had seemed subdued in the first half.
It started to look like it could be one of “those days” when either the woodwork or a bit of good goal keeping was bound to keep the shots out when Arsenal appeared certain to score.

Inevitably a bit of controversy arrived to gift Wigan a goal, a foul on Monreal was not given and with the Arsenal players expecting a stop in play Wigan took advantage of the hesitancy to push into the penalty box and lead to the BFG making a penalty kick worthy challenge.

Indignation swept through the red end of Wembley due to frustration at the referee for not blowing for the foul or the injury and also slight annoyance at Wigan for not having kicked the ball out.
Monreal was taken off injured to be replaced by Gibbs and then eventually Gomez took a virtually unstoppable penalty, which Fabianski came close to keeping out, 1 nil to the Championship team.

As seems to be the case nowadays the Arsenal support is schizophrenic in that anger and dejection at the penalty was replaced by cheers at the restart trying to pick up the spirits of the players. However the jeers quickly returned when the Pod was subbed off when everyone thought the exasperating Sanogo would make way. The Pod had a quiet game while Sanogo seemed to show touches of skill which made you think “Where did that come from?” and then clumsy touches that would be maddening.

Olly came on and was greeted with, to the tune of the Van Judas “She said..” song:

“She said yes Giroud, she said yes”

While it’s hard to say he’s a top line striker it was immediately obvious Olly was better than Sanogo and his hold up play and flicks was leading to more and more dangerous attacks, including a header off the crossbar.

Finally a ball launched into the Wigan penalty area was diverted towards the BFG who bundled the ball into the net and atoned for his earlier penalty kick inducing mistake.

The relief was such that even the moaning pensioner stopped cursing he team although what he thought of my “F**k you Wigan” chant while the BFG celebrated in the goal in front of me, I’d rather not know.

Wigan heads dropped and they held on till full time despite Arsenal pushing for the winner in normal time, the Ox hitting the post and an acrobatic mid air goal line clearance from a Wigan defender when the red end were about to cheer the Gunner’s second goal.

Arsenal piling on the second half  pressure

Arsenal piling on the second half pressure

Annoyingly the referee blew for full time just when Olly was through and appeared to be held back by a Wigan defender which, if it had been an arsenal player doing the holding back, would have been a red for a professional foul.
Nonetheless the momentum was still with Arsenal and for both halves of injury time it was mainly Arsenal attacking, with Källström almost scoring with his first touch.

As with his appearance against Swansea Kim seems to have something about him that showed today also, a strength and precision in midfield that is probably what we need right now when, Flamini aside, our midfield is a tad lightweight and powder puff.

Wigan held on and the spectre of penalties came, the news that they would be taken in front of the Wigan end(the majority of photographers had been stationed at my end as it was the end Arsenal attacked and they scurried round the pitch to get to the other end) were greeted with moans of:

“We can’t even win the toss for the penalties!”

Beneath the raging tension in me I felt deep down there was a smidgen of hope in the calmness and authority Fabianski had shown in the game so far; an inkling that he could be the hero of the moment.

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

Fabianski psyching out Caldwell

The Championship side took the first penalty and although I was not a great penalty it still had to be saved, the Wigan player sinking to the ground in defeat, something even I could see from the other end of the stadium.

First up for the good guys was Arteta, who was coolness personified with a regulation, text book penalty.
Wigan again tried to score in the shoot out and failed again, a slightly better Fabianski save this time and the Arsenal support dared to hope again.

Källström converted our second penalty with the minimum of fuss and pressure was back on Wigan who finally managed to notch a successful spot kick.

Even though Olly’s successful spot kick was preceded by a second successful Wigan kick all it needed was for Arsenal’s fourth penalty to go in and it would be all over

Up stepped Santi, he scored then scurried to the corner to celebrate with the team, out of relief more than anything and only then could Arsenal supporters in Wembley breathe again.

Santi celebrates deciding pk

Santi celebrates deciding pk

An incredibly hard fought game ended with the Gunners victorious and a date at Wembley in May meant we can now sing the following in earnest:

“What did she wear ?
She wore, she wore,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
In the merry month of May!
And when, I asked,
Oh why she wore that ribbon,
She said it’s for The Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!
Wembley,Wembley,
We’re the famous Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!”

By 17th of May with more injured players returning, especially Özzy, and Rambo getting back to his best we can expect a better performance than today with confidence also returning bit by bit.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Man at the match, Chary: The Ox and Giroud set up Wembley date

A twice taken Arteta penalty proved to be the turning point, after Everton’s on loan Chelsea player Lukaku equalised an early Özzy strike, after which Giroud’s brace set the Arsenal on the way to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final.

Spring appeared to have finally sprung in London as the locals greeted the blue skies and lack of rain with surprise and relief. Southern England had become a saturated sponge over the course of the mild yet wet winter, but today the green shoots of recovery in the weather were mirrored by encouraging signs from the team who had disappointingly lost last weekend to the Orcs of Middle Earth.

A detour around the environs of London N5 preceding meeting up with this blogs gaffer, Tim, pre match was a pleasure and we while we both feared Everton’s undoubted quality we hoped his “good luck charm” effect continued to work this year, as it had on his previous annual pilgrimages to watch The Arsenal.

Wenger kept to his policy of using Flappy as his Cup keeper but surprisingly started Sanogo and less surprisingly had to use Vermaelen to stand in for the unfit Kozzer.

As expected Özzy returned to the starting line-up and it was his cool finish, after being set up by Santi’s surging run and pass through the middle of the park after around ten minutes that gave the home side the early lead.

Replays on the big screen showed what the goal meant to Özzy as unusually I was in the North Bank lower this time (and not the clock End) and as the goal was scored at the Clock End and I had a rather distant view of it.

Distant shot after Ozzy goal

Normally the away side would go into their shell after conceding early yet the Toffees seemed to have an extra energy and bite about their mid field that only increased and made it look like they had an extra man in midfield. It also seemed that whenever the ball bounced in midfield it went to a player in blue. In the first half the energy and running they showed hadn’t been matched by any other team that I’d seen at Ashburton Grove this season.

Everton appeared to target our left flank as they viewed Gibbs/Santi/Özzy’s side of the pitch as being more vulnerable. One of these runs led to Özil having to track back the player and make a clearance virtually level with our goal line.

Surely this can’t be what we bought him for?

It was a run, around the half hour mark, into this flank from Barkley that led to a possibly offside Mirallas turning a ball across the face of the Arsenal goal that Lukaku chipped/tapped into the net.

His subsequent diversion of his goal celebration run from in front of the goal to behind it to goad the Arsenal fans with his ear cupping gesture tells you all you need to know about a player schooled in the Chelsea way by the grand master of lizards, the specious eye gouger himself, José Mário Mourinho.

A blue smoke bomb went off soon after the equaliser, courtesy of the loveable Scouse scallies.
Understandably the home crowd quietened to absorb the disappointment but, and as I’ve noticed this season, the resilience of the on pitch performance enhances that of the crowds support. Quite soon the home support got behind the team and some more Santi and Ox drives and numerous corners meant the half time whistle was followed by encouraging applause.

At half time pat Rice made a pitch side appearance with the warmth of his reception showing how the club and its supporters honour the valued servants of the club. A certain Van Judas, complete with the whinging little boy inside, take note.

Credit where it’s due as some of the Everton supporters joined in the applause as Pat walked off the pitch.
By the time the second half started those of us in the North Bank lower had been directly in the sun for over an hour and were feeling a little lethargic however a bright start by Arsenal shook us out of our half time slothfulness.

While it looked like individually none of our midfield were having a bad game, and The Ox was irrepressible, it appeared the whole was less than the sum of the parts; based on who we had out there the home side should have had a better grip on the match and the midfield in particular.

Santi corner

Santi corner

Santi’s scampering running style is noticeable anywhere on the pitch, which is saying something for someone with as poor eyesight as me, and his hard work all over the pitch doesn’t go unnoticed, it’s no wonder he’s a fan favourite.

To my (not very good)eyes The Ox running directly at the lumbering Everton centre back pairing was always going to cause alarm for the away team especially when they were being shielded by the lumpen Gareth Barry.

Sure enough an Ox run at Barry saw him swipe out the Arsenal forward yards in front of me and as he slid onto his knees after being upended the ref, Clattenburg, pointed to the spot.

Being 3 rows from the front my views of the penalties were obscured, I could tell the first had been converted but then I saw Clattenburg make square shaped hand gestures and the scoreboard take the score back from 2-1 to 1-1 and then bizarrely Giroud (who had come on for the hard working but “unpolished” Sanogo) was shown a yellow card; as ever Clattenburg wanted to be the centre of the show.

The tension in the North Bank lower grew as Arteta settled down to retake the penalty; relief as Mikel held his nerve a second time to put Arsenal deservedly into the lead.

Yes, we ARE 2-1 up now!

Yes, we ARE 2-1 up now!

The introduction of Rosický for the tiring Ox seemed to add extra urgency to Arsenal’s forward play and added to Everton becoming more open as they chased the game, more chances for Arsenal wrre created.

My experience of the North bank lower was the support was generally more raucous, having said that I had two middle aged, white haired bearded gents to my right who spent most of the match gently sipping tea and murmuring the odd comment to each other. Strangely they also left early so they missed the Giroud brace that put paid to all the nonsense being written about his off field problems affecting his on field performance.

He scores/s**gs when he wants

He scores/s**gs when he wants

It annoys me that the British press see it fit to take a voyeuristic interest in Giroud’s private life, you wonder if the hacks are some kind of peeping Tom voyeurs.

His connections with crosses from Sagna and Özzy gave the score line a satiating and confidence boosting look and led to my crowd highlight of the match.
Quotes:

Que se-raa, se-ra, whatever will be, will be.

We’re going to Wember-ley, que ser-aa sera.

The gusto and volume with which the North Bank lower sang that gave me a spine tingling moment and was a satisfying response to the “We shall not, we shall not be moved” chants we heard from the blue corner after their first half equaliser.

Loyal Everton fans ALL staying to the end

Loyal Everton fans ALL staying to the end

At the final whistle you could see how much it meant to the players to be just two wins away from a trophy, this was a symptom of the urgency with which the players urged each other on and kept each other at the top of their game during the match.

We've got a BFG

We’ve got a BFG

As Per walked in front of us, showing a right handed fist pump as HIS song was sung, the crowd sensed perhaps this could be our year.

In any case what better way to prepare for a trip to, arguably, the best club side in the world on Tuesday?

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)