Tag Archives: FA Cup

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)

Arsenal v. Wigan: preview

I was sitting in the hotel bar the night before Arsenal’s League Cup final against Birmingham and two Blues supporters sitting next to me were talking about the game the next day. The one who looked remarkably like Mr. Rat was loudly talking up his team’s chances whilst the one who looked like Mr. Mole sat quietly looking rather nervously around the room to make sure no 6’4″ Arsenal supporter came over and smashed their faces in. Mr. Rat then proclaimed “these Arsenal supporters are all the same, they talk big about how they are going to do us but you offer one a bet and watch them melt. Because they know, we have a real chance. I think we will win.”

I sat there snorting into my drink at each proclamation and thought to myself that I should go over and take this guy up on his bet. Why not? I was full of confidence, we were the much better team, and we had beaten them just a few games prior. But instead of confronting the braggart and taking the bet, I finished my whiskey and went off to bed.

Seeing how Arsenal lost that match and I didn’t take his bet I guess he was right on both counts.

A similar, if amplified, mood pervades today’s FA Cup semi-final between Wigan and Arsenal and it’s quite understandable why: Arsenal are once again over-dogs, Arsenal are once again on the brink of winning their first trophy in years, Arsenal are missing a number of key players, the manager’s position is being questioned from all quarters (including Tim Stillman), Arsenal have a recent history of stumbling in big games against small opponents, and that 6-0 loss to Chelsea on the occasion of Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game seemed to cause many of us to join the other lemmings going over the cliff at full pace.

Arsene Wenger seems to have learned a lesson from the harsh losses of the last few weeks and is vowing to get the team to focus more on defending and attacking as a unit. Arsenals defense has been fantastic when they play within themselves and have proven that time and again against Liverpool, Tottenham, and the comeback win over Everton in this same competition when I was there last month. In each of those matches, Arsenal were able to sit back and invite the opposition to attack and yet repel each attack with solid, organized defending.

Wigan will probably come out looking to hit Arsenal with the 1-2 punch like they did against Man City at the Etihad stadium. Once they went ahead, they defended as well as I have seen from any team at Man City’s ground.

This puts a lot of onus on Arsenal’s early game because Arsenal play the same way, early high pressing, and we could have a wide open free for all in the first 15 minutes. What has many Arsenal fans worried is that this is exactly how Arsenal have been undone in each of their huge losses this season. Each time Arsenal have lost big it has been because the opposition have adopted Arsenal’s exact same tactic.

Another concern is that Wigan employ a 3-5-2 combined with a high pressing game so that they play a lot like Liverpool. Arsenal did beat that system twice this season and both times were able to do so by not allowing the opposition to overload the Arsenal fullback areas. Everton and Chelsea played a similar tactic in that they invited the Arsenal fullbacks forward and reserved an attacking player in behind the Arsenal midfielders. Shurrle and Lukaku both played on the right (Arsenal’s left) cutting back in in those games (and Liverpool played Suarez there to do the same in their 5-1 win over Arsenal) and I’d put almost any amount of money on Wigan trying the same. Basically, if we see both Arsenal fullbacks in the Wigan final third, it’s time to panic.

Wenger himself acknowledged that Wigan is a team full of Premiership players who happen to be playing in the Championship. So, as much as we’d all like to say that this is a lower division team playing against an upper division side it is nice to hear the manager aware of the threat that these guys possess. Fortune (the Wigan forward and not every gambler’s harsh mistress) in particular is a real threat off the bench. But I’m hoping we get to the point where Wigan are looking to the bench for a little good Fortune.

Wigan are not a crap team, again a fact Wenger points out by mentioning their record getting to the FA Cup semi final. They are second in the Championship in shots taken per game (15.1) and 5th in shots conceded (12.5). Defensively they are 4th in tackles made per game and 5th in interceptions (14.1). They are also a real threat from set plays having scored a 3rd best 16 goals from that position and they love to cross the ball with a 3rd best 24 of those per game. Like Wenger has said, this may be a Championship side but they are full of Premiership players and they play like it. Wigan are a hard nosed defensive side who get in the faces of their opponents and get goals off set plays. They have had a bit of bad luck in the last few matches but their losing margins have been slim.

Still, despite missing a number of players, Arsenal have four crucial players available for tomorrow’s match: Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud.

Even though he missed much of the season with injury, Ramsey is still Arsenal’s best player statistically. He is fearless in midfield. He works tirelessly to get open for passes and never hides when the team needs an outlet. He is also an underrated tackler (leads Arsenal in per game tackles) and constantly presses to get the ball back high up the pitch. And is if that weren’t enough he is third overall in scoring and assists. Truly a stats stuffer and while people poo poo stats, they show that Ramsey is a player with tremendous heart and work rate.

Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud are all this competition’s best scorers remaining. Podolski and Giroud have 6 goals between them and Podolski’s goals have all been winners. Cazorla only has 8 goals and 5 assists but having been shunted off to the side and playing second trumpet to Özil has really limited his ability to contribute. Meanwhile Giroud is Arsenal’s leading scorer with 20 goals this season. He’s only scored once in his last six matches but he scored a double against Everton in the FA Cup match before this one.

I expect Arsene will start with Giroud up front, Podolski as second striker, Ramsey in midfield, Cazorla on the left, Ox on the right, Arteta as defensive mid and the back four picking itself (Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, and Gibbs/Monreal). Fabianski will be in goal.

I’m expecting a very tough game from Wigan but hopefully the Arsenal quality will shine through and Ramsey will get us an early goal which will allow Arsenal the chance to sit back and defend for a while.

Something they are very good at.

Qq

North Bank

4 days in London a photoblog

Remember the old slideshow? When your family would sit around the projector as your uncle showed slides of his trip to the Ozarks? Me neither. That’s why I’m not at all embarrassed to show you this photoblog of my trip to London and Munich.

Enjoy!

Day 1

I spent all of day 1 inside a plane. It takes 9 hours to fly from Seattle to London and there’s an 8 hour time difference. That means I lost 17 hours going to London. I did pack some locally roasted coffee as gifts for my friends.

coffee

Tell me that doesn’t look like I’m smuggling drugs? And you know the best part? When I got to London, I noticed that Homeland Security opened my bag and left me a note that said “hey we just rifled your bag, sucker!” I guess what I’m trying to say is that if your bag smells like 4 pounds of locally roasted coffee, they will assume you’re a smuggler.

photo 3

Landed in London and took the express train to Paddington Station. Normally I take the Piccadilly line but I knew my flight to Munich was going to leave at 7am so I paid for the express ticket round trip.

PaddingtonPlaying with a fisheye lens setting on my camera. Overall, I was very satisfied with the camera I brought for this trip. Canon SX40 was a workhorse. Solid construction, good balance of options, and a lens with image stabilization which allowed me to take photos from a huge distance without any shake. If you’re going on a football trip, this is the camera I recommend.

Got to my hotel. It was nice out

Fish-Eye-RussellOk, so the fisheye lens setting is goofy. I’m not going to use that again.

Put my bags down and met up with Les and my old friend Dee. He had shots of Fireball waiting for us. Let the drinking begin!

Dee-Les

My theory for dealing with jet lag is simple: drink enough on the first day that you fall asleep at the same time as the locals and when you wake up it will probably be morning and you’ll probably be hungover. I don’t think this solves jet lag but it does solve sobriety.

After the brief drink with Dee, Les and I repaired to his university’s subsidized bar and sat out all night talking about Arsenal. I predicted a 2-1 win the next day over Everton. As it is a university, I could look over the balcony and see that there were people who were playing with fire.

fire

Kickoff was at 12:45 and I had to meet up with some other folks for breakfast first so it was an early evening for me. Went to bed dreaming of yellow shirts, yellow beer, and yellow ribbons.

Day 2

See, the only problem with my theory about getting drunk the night I arrive in a foreign country is that the next morning, I need coffee, all the coffee, and in London Starbucks doesn’t open until 8am. You read that right, the coffee place doesn’t open until 8am. So, I went to Prat.

PretI shamelessly took a picture of my boxed cheese and pickle sandwich from Pret at 7am. Don’t judge me: first, I like cheese and pickle; second, I needed coffee; third, I needed wifi. My hotel didn’t have wifi. They advertised wifi. They even claimed that there was wifi in one little corner of the lobby. But the printer that prints out the little passwords was broken and the technician didn’t work on weekends. A hotel that has literally thousands of rooms couldn’t afford an on call weekend IT guy, pathetic. Never stay at the Royal National.

Downed my coffee and met with Adrian and Chary for a little breakfast. I had the traditional English breakfast: falafel wrap with chili sauce. Didn’t take a picture but it was really good!

Left there and jetted over to the Armoury to meet with the Arsenal media folks. They wanted to interview me for a piece called “Why I’m Arsenal”. Adrian was a great sport and hung out while I got my 15 minutes of shame.

self

They say that the camera adds 15lbs. THERE ARE TWO CAMERAS ON ME. With just one camera, see, I look much better:

Henry

Got to make a donation to the gods: a coin in the legend’s right hand.

Timmy-Adams

Time for the match and there is nothing quite like the feeling of walking into the stadium for the first time in a year:

The weather was perfect, we sat in the North Bank, upper. This is what the lens on that camera can do:
clock

Cazorla and Gibbs were all the way in the Clock End for this shot.

Gibbsorla

And Özil delivers a corner
Ozil Corner

 

Apparently, this banner caused some homophobes in Germany to act like homophobes. Personally, I sat there and thought how wonderful it is to be part of a club where all fans are made to feel welcome.

gay-gooners

Half time pints and I can still see the coin in Adams’ hand — hint: the Adams statue is outside the North Bank.

Adams

In the second half, the boys were closer. There’s my man of the match. Chamberlain was electric.

ChamberlainAnd here’s Arteta taking the penalty not once…

penaltybut twice!

penalty 2The cojones on that guy!

Sagna cross (to no one).

sagna

 

As the final whistle approached, Arsenal were up 4-1 and the fan’s nerves finally melted away. A good result, on a good day and I can say that I never had a doubt.

Talking after the matchHad a chat with some fans after the match. Those two folks on the left are Chary and Adrian respectively, the other two are from the Arsenal Arsenal Blog.

Walked around the stadium, had to see the Bergkamp statue. Yes, he does have a pole coming out his bum. No, it’s not Wojciech Szczesny.

dennis

 

The day was still young so after dropping off Chary and Adrian (they had family duties!) I went out for drinks and pie. Landed at Piebury Corner on Holloway Road. There was a DJ spinning songs, people singing, and a jovial atmosphere. They were all out of pies but when I told the owner that I was starving she gave me her husband’s Scotch egg!

scotch eggAbsolutely lovely people and I vowed to go back the next day and get a proper taste of pie. More drinking and back to the hotel room for a nap.

Selfie Day 3

First, I blogged. Then I went to get a pie.

PieThat’s the Thierry Henry: a venison and wine pie with mash and gravy from Piebury Corner. The crust on the pie is flaky, the flavor of the wine is prominent but not overpowering, the venison is tender and perfectly seasoned. Washed down with a cider it is the perfect way to spend a few calories. Even better, before a match it is insanely easy to get to, take the Piccadilly Line to Holloway Road tube station, get out of the station and turn right. Walk for two blocks and its on the right side. Get there early!

They even gave me a mug!

photo 2Such nice people.

I love the signs in London — Danger of Death has got to be the name of a metal band.

Danger-of-Death

From there I went to the Tollington to watch the FA Cup quarter final between Wigan and Man City.

Henry226Walked by the Armoury and noticed that someone needs to update the Henry bench… not that I’m a stats guy or anything.

EmiratesOn the way to the Tollington! What a stadium we have.

tollingtonI’m not going to lie here folks, I didn’t do anything with the rest of my day. I drank lager at the Tollington and enjoyed the football match. Talked with some Spurs fan who lives around the corner but who is apparently welcome at the Tolly because he’s a nice enough guy. But I had to tuck in early because my flight was 7am from Heathrow. That meant I had to be at the airport at 6am and leave my hotel at 5am. On the way home I did find a World Famous Nando’s. Kind of surprised I didn’t see Frimpong inside.

nandosDay 4

Got up at 4:30, took a cab to Paddington Station, and had a few minutes before my train. Found this plaque for a guy named “Isambard Kingdom”. Next time anyone comments about someone naming their kid something unusual, I’m going to say “you know who built Paddington Station? Isambard Kingdom Brunel.”

isambardGot to the airport where they put me on standby. Still, got to Munich on time and got to see the most unusual sight of all time: a sunrise over Heathrow.

sunriseIn my next post… Munich!

Qq