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Monday, 16 February 2015

Too Soon To Dust Off The Yellow Ribbon?

G'day Gooners,

It would be most amusing to see Man Utd get their pants pulled down at Preston North End but whatever the result Monday night, really the Scousers are the only opposition I'm most anxious to avoid in the draw for the quarterfinals. 

Before Liverpool beat Bolton in the last round, I sensed that the closer they get to a Wembley appearance, the more their squad might be motivated by the opportunity to try and ensure that Stevie Gerrard's Liverpool career ends with a fitting swansong and the feeling that this might be fated was only reinforced when they avoided another potential banana skin at Selhurst Park on Saturday (although in pointing this out to fellow Irish Examiner contributor, Steve Kelly, my Scouse pal, he replied "so long as they don't play him"!).

If we are destined for a date with Liverpool, after meeting Hull in last season's final, it would make for a far more enthralling return to Wembley if we could avoid them until 30th May and if PNE fail to manage Man U's exit, hopefully by which time someone will have done us the favour of eliminating the bookies other favourites for us.

Obviously a home draw would be ideal because other than Reading, playing any of the other remaining teams away would mean an unwanted schlep up the motorway, with Villa and West Brom marginally preferable, geographically speaking, to an arduous outing to the North-West. 

After they disposed of Chelsea and having seen the state of the Valley Parade pitch (sandpit more like!), I doubt anyone will relish drawing Bradford. Although if this is what fate has in store for us, at least there will be plenty in our squad who will know exactly what to expect and having endured our penalty shoot-out humiliation in the Mickey Mouse Cup, up there a couple of years back, I must admit that no matter how cold, an opportunity to exact revenge would be a particularly sweet dish.

Yet to my mind, come the quarterfinals, the facts of the matter are that we are going to have to beat three of the seven remaining sides if we are to retain the FA Cup. If the Gunners are sufficiently motivated to do ourselves proper justice in all three matches, you can rest assured that the other seven clubs will all be far keener to avoid us than we should be concerned about them.

Meanwhile "Tottenham watching Songs of Praise"
COYG
Bernard
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Too Soon To Dust Off The Yellow Ribbon?

"Zut Alors....Ray Parlour didn't include you in my hat-trick bet?"

            When you consider that for the vast majority of players catching a scent of an FA Cup Final appearance might well be a once in a lifetime opportunity, I was somewhat astounded watching the highlights of Saturday’s cup games on the box.

            Surely Mark Hughes must’ve been incensed upon seeing the TV pictures showing his Stoke players hardly breaking their necks to try and get back to prevent Blackburn scoring. Similarly, it must’ve been infuriating for all those Hammers fans who made the trek up to the Black Country to endure the ignominy of an Irons’ performance that was devoid of any steam, only to hear Allardyce offering feeble “three games in week” fatigue excuses for the way in which they rolled over against the Baggies. Then as the hors d’ouevres for Sunday’s main course, I found myself watching the live coverage of an unbelievably insipid Midlands derby at a half-empty Villa Park.

            All of which seemed to be in such stark contrast to black and white pictures of a “Cup Classics” series that just happened to be showing on Sunday morning when I turned the television on. It featured a positively electrifying 5th round giant-killing, where lowly 4th division Colchester somehow overcame the venerable “dirty Leeds” side in 1971 (and I suppose thereby ensuring that Don Revie’s infamous outfit didn’t stand in the way of the Gunners’ glorious double that season).

            For all their renown in the dark arts, I’d forgotten quite what a fabulous side Leeds had in those days, but it was the intensity and fervor of this contest that really struck me. It brooks absolutely no comparison with the over-hyped, comparatively pallid, modern-day equivalent. With Boro having not been beaten so far this year and after their admirable feats at the Etihad in the last round, I was expecting Aitor Karanka’s team to produce a relatively fierce assault on the quarterfinals

            Perhaps beating Man City was Boro’s cup final, or perhaps promotion to the Premiership has now become such an obscenely valuable prize that maintaining a valiant cup run would be mere fools gold, compared to the significance of their midweek Championship match. Whatever the cause, I’m sure that like most other Gooners, I couldn’t have possibly dreamed of a more comfortable progress into the hat for tomorrow night’s draw.

            Despite beating Leicester last Tuesday, this was hardly a convincing victory and our application and intensity was no more earnest than the thoroughly unacceptable attitude witnessed in our dismal derby defeat. Mercifully we’re now blessed with a squad of sufficient strength in depth that Arsène can ring the changes, without him being accused of disrespecting the FA Cup.
"Piece of cake this FA Cup malarkey"

            To the contrary, compared to the starting XI in our last two games, we appeared an all-together more formidable proposition from the moment Dean blew the whistle on Sunday afternoon. My fears about Gabriel being thrown in at the deep-end proved completely unfounded, as a Boro side who set their stall out to stifle us, soon seemed to be mesmerized into a stupor, by the speed and intricacy of Premiership football played at it’s most entertaining best. As our mazy patterns made mincemeat of the weight of Boro’s defensive numbers, at times our guests looked more inclined to want to join in the applause than to make a concerted effort to thwart us.

            In Mertesacker’s absence, Santi Cazorla seemed to relish his increased responsibility as captain. It helped to have Gibbs and Chambers as such willing outlets on the flanks, enabling Santi to display the full range of his play-spreading passing abilities, but the Spaniard appears to be growing into his deeper-midfield role as the fulcrum around whom everyone else operates, with the added bonus of a new-found willingness to bring some defensive nous to the party.

"WTF! Only one lousy shot to prove myself worthy
of displacing David Ospina at Selhurst Park!"
            It was most fitting to see all eleven players involved in the build up to our first goal and most satisfying to see Giroud volley home our second, with the accomplished touch of a genuine top drawer goal poacher (of the sort we might’ve previously said he wasn’t capable of). But Gooner Valhalla has been the prospect of the potentially peerless combustion possible when Alexis’ energy coalesces with the grace of Özil and the glimpses we witnessed on Sunday left everyone drooling at the thought of the damage this Arsenal side could do if we ever get all our ducks in a row.


            Doubtless I’ll be back in pessimistic mode after we take two-steps back again at Selhurst Park on Saturday. But if we can build on the performance against Boro to finally garner some consistent momentum, we might have good cause to salivate over a scintillating climax to  our season.

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email to: londonN5@gmail.com

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