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Monday 11 January 2016

The Red & White Cup Runneth Over

Who's bright idea was the green kit?
Judging by the irritatingly incessant whining of the WOB, despite the fact that we’re currently looking down on every other club in the country, there are far too many Gooners, who simply can’t comprehend that the vast majority of footie fans spend their entire lifetimes waiting, mostly in vain, for their teams to win something.

With our own comparatively trifling, nine-year sojourn in the silverware-starved wilderness interrupted by the euphoria of successive, memorable May day outings to Wembley, this adds a certain spice to the recommencement of a journey that many seem to feel is now destined to always culminate in another end of season trophy party. But then it’s been so long since we last lost an FA Cup encounter that I guess it’s inevitable that we’ve become somewhat blasé. Folk seem to forget that every cup run requires a large slice of good fortune.

In spite of the incremental efforts to sabotage the highlight of the sporting calendar that is the 3rd round of the FA Cup, myself I’ve always adored this unique convergence of clubs from contrasting tiers of the football cake. The increased allocation of tickets for away fans will often result in a stonking atmosphere. Yet there’s simply no accounting for the incompetence involved in Sunderland returning around half of their tickets, too late, apparently for them to go back on sale to us Gooners.

The FA badly need to address the fact that there were far too many empty seats all over the shop this weekend. A good start would be for clubs to acquiesce to the “Twenty’s Plenty” campaign. Instead of Black Cats’ bums on seats prior to Saturday’s KO, there was a large banner draped across the empty section promoting this effort to limit costs for the travelling hard core to 20 quid.

Moreover, the rotation that results from prioritising Premiership ambitions sends the sort of signal that inevitably has a detrimental impact upon the intensity and focus of those involved. As evidenced by Laurent's uncharacteristic lapse in concentration, in gifting our guests the opening goal!

In the absence of the customary 3rd round fervour on the pitch, combined with the muted atmosphere off it, sadly Saturday’s encounter was a perfect example of the creeping diminution of the traditional cup “blood and thunder”. Still with BFS railing about their midweek relegation “nine-pointer” v Swansea, if Sunderland were gentle as a result, I guess we should be grateful that Cattermole & co. didn’t leave their customary black & blue marks on the Gunners. Seemingly everyone in the stadium, bar ref Atkinson, was convinced Giroud had been brought down in the box during the second half, but it speaks volumes that this match transpired without a single nasty tackle of note!

Watmore Jeff?
Iwobi hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees on the odd occasion that I’ve seen him play as a central striker for our U21s, but playing behind Giroud in Saturday’s rare run-out, he was about the only Arsenal player who looked really up for it in the first-half, as he was at least trying to make something happen.

Unlike Man Utd, we might not have taken a tedious 70mins to produce a shot on goal, but with five players on the park with alleged attacking instincts, it was particularly disappointing that we failed to put the prosaic Black Cats under the cosh.

After Sunderland took the lead some suggested that they’d rather see us lose than risk blowing vital Premiership points against Chelsea, as a result of a midweek replay. Mercifully we didn’t have to wait long for Joel Campbell’s retort and while this performance might’ve been far from the Gunners at our scintillating best, there was cause for optimism that this goal and the two subsequent peaches were all straight out of the “football made easy” book, as extremely pleasing on the eye, slick, passing moves.

Our cup might’ve runneth over and out if Sunderland hadn’t fluffed two great chances following the break, but after Ramsey came on and snaffled our second, there seemed little fight left in the relegation threatened, Wearside mongrels. I was hoping that the Ox would grab his recent opportunity of some proper game-time, but he and Gibbs both failed to impress and with pace being his greatest threat, it’s really hard to fathom why Walcott appears so reluctant to run in behind the opposition’s back-line.

Joel or Hector MOTM?
I was also disappointed that Reine-Adelaide only enjoyed a cameo late run-out, when the game was already won. This elegant teenage midfielder covers the ground with the sort of effortless grace that’s reminiscent of the panther-like Henry on the prowl and we’re all impatiently waiting to see if he can truly cut the top flight mustard. The consensus is that Bellerin was MotM, but I think Campbell shaded it. It must be unsettling knowing he’ll be sidelined as soon as Alexis returns, but after so many seasons in the shadows, it would be foolish to let Joel fly the coop just right now.

With Klopp struggling to muster a team from his decimated squad, Wednesday’s trip to Anfield is looking less daunting. If the unknown Elneny is the only guaranteed acquisition, with crucial matches coming thick and fast surely Jeff will be let off the leash before long? Obviously a home draw in the 4th round would be most expedient, but if not, please could we at least be presented with an unusual awayday outing?

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