That was nerve-racking. Much more than any of us would have liked. After the game I rushed for my validol. I know a couple of my friends who rushed to pubs or their secret alcohol stashes to ease the pressure. But we made it into the final and, first and foremost, I want to clear up some points on the overall impression from the game. So here goes.
Some general waffle
I’ve seen quite a few Arsenal fans on Twitter complaining about the way we won the game. That it wasn’t a convincing gung-ho win over a supposedly much inferior opposition. To these guys I’ll quote Andrew Mangan (more commonly known as @arseblog):
“Firstly, I don’t think the changes to the team worked. Neither full back contributed a great deal to the play in general, and when you look at how Monreal and Bellerin have been playing recently that was certainly an area that weakened us.
Secondly, Reading played very well and tried to make it as hard as possible for us to play through them. Defensively they were very well organised and switched on. And thirdly, the occasion played a part. It was a semi-final and in my memory of watching this club, I can’t ever remember an easy game at this stage of the competition, regardless of the opposition.”
I’ll discuss the first point he made separately, for now I want to concentrate on the second and third.
In my opinion, Reading deserve huge credit for the way they played. They fought from the first minute to the last and, despite coming up relatively short on the offensive side (they only had three moments: the goal, the saved shot and the two-on-one against Koscielny), their defensive performance was nothing short of admirable. It wasn’t the “parking bus” performance, no, but Reading were hugely effective at their thing. They went into the game with a plan and executed it perfectly. Hats off.
And secondly, there are no easy games in the FA Cup semi-final. Andrew Mangan has been supporting the Club much longer than I have, so when he says that even the Invincibles never had an easy ride, well, that’s saying something. There are simply no pushovers at this stage. No one can “accidentally” make it into the last four.
And now, onto some less general points.
Martin Twatkinson, the ref
After some decent showings from referees (I still remember how godly Michael Oliver was in our 2-1 win against United), I started to forget how inept English referees are. Yesterday I was reminded.
He didn’t make any really costly decisions, no. We may have actually been cut a break when Debuchy’s handball went unnoticed. But to say the ref controlled the game would be very far off the mark.
Our players were bullied all over the pitch. Every one of our players (Debuchy included. Fresh from injury, mind you. Had someone broken him in his debut game, I would have gone through the roof) got his share. The extent varied, but one thing is sure: we’ve lost Mertesacker. He limped off with an ankle injury, one which is likely to keep him out of action for the remainder of the season.
And the ref allowed the bullying. Disgusting.
Apart from Debuchy, our changes didn’t work. Szczesny and Gibbs were at fault for the goal. The former had little to do apart from the goal, the latter was crap all-around. His passes didn’t connect, I do not recall him making a single good cross and Reading got in theirs from our left-hand side. Welbeck was just invisible while he was on.
I’ve already said a couple of times Wenger likes one romping and one conservative full-back. Bellerin and Monreal were such. Debuchy is conservative, so playing him with Gibbs (romping) made sense. Or, rather, it would have made sense, had Debuchy been fully ready and Gibbs was not utter shite all-around.
Wenger wanted to give Debuchy a run-out before we face Chelsea? I can understand that. What I cannot understand is why neither Chambers nor Bellerin made the bench. Furthermore, all theories should go to hell when it’s obvious Gibbs is out of form. Play your in-form guy, play Monreal. If that means two conservative full-backs, so be it.
I don’t want to see Chezza or Gibbs start in the final. Both did nothing to displace Ospina and Monreal and there’s no room for rotation or sentiment in the final. You should just play your best XI there. And ours doesn’t include either Szczesny or Gibbs.
You’ll say I have double standards. That I was fine with playing Fabianski in the final last year despite Szczesny being our number 1. And to this I’ll say: Fabianski deserved his place last year. He showed with his performances against Tottenham, Coventry, Everton, Liverpool and especially Wigan that he’s up for it. Szczesny did nothing of the sort and only United posed a real threat.
You can read more on why it was wrong to rotate yesterday here (link, Captain Deeg).
Width, goddamn width to our play
Like it was against Burnley, we couldn’t stretch the play. Alexis did his best on the left, but wasn’t sufficiently helped by Gibbs, our right flank was dead.
Why? Because Aaron Ramsey is not a winger and Debuchy didn’t want to get exposed and roam upfield. To his credit, I think he did admirably defensively, however, our attacking game suffered. Without Oxlade, Bellerin and (for the most part) even Walcott our flank was lifeless.
Wenger doesn’t want to shift Ozil wide? Understandable. Arsene prefers Santi to Ramsey in a deeper position? I’m fine with that. Then bench Ramsey and play someone who’s a winger, or at least closer to being a winger.
My personal pick (with Oxlade out) would be Theo. He improved things offensively yesterday after coming. He has nearly won us a penalty. Wenger fears Walcott won’t track back? Play a defender who’ll manage the defensive stuff on his own. Debuchy or Chambers. For obvious reasons it would be highly risky to play Bellerin behind Theo.
Or play someone else on the wing. Wilshere, Rosicky, Gnabry maybe. Just not Ramsey.
Ozil and Sanchez
These guys won us the match. Ozil completed 100 out of his 114 passes, created 9 chances (set the new record in the FA Cup’s history) and bagged two assists. Everything good that happened yesterday was because Ozil was on the pitch.
Sanchez, well, what can you say? He took us into the final with his two goals. These were his 21st and 22nd goals respectively. Alexis is only the third player in Arsenal’s history to score 20+ goals in his debut season, behind Ian Wright (30) and Thierry Henry (26). Five more and Alexis leapfrogs the great Frenchman:
“He has made a fantastic contribution this season. He looked to struggle a little bit to get into the game but he has that stubborn resilience and that individual potential that allows him to always create something special. He gave that again today. I’d hate to see the damage he Alexis would cause if he did get into the game.”
Those who say we didn’t deserve to get through should watch the game again. 23 shots and 72% possession suggest otherwise. Were it now for Federeci, who made some brilliant saves from Gabriel and Ramsey, to name a few, the game would have ended in normal time. Why is it that opposition goalkeepers always have a game of their lives against us?
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that we’ll play in the final. And there we’ll face Aston Villa, who have beaten Liverpool. Thank God we avoided that “Steven Gerrard’s birthday is on the Cup final day” narrative.
Now, what did she wear?