Arsenal face Leyton Orient away in the fifth round after what turned out to be an unexpectedly exciting fourth round FA Cup tie against Huddersfield. I say turned out because for the first half hour Arsenal not only couldn’t move out of second gear into third they couldn’t even get out of first.
If the team win, the argument that the correct selection was made prevails, rightly so in my opinion and today was no exception. Wenger used the opportunity of playing lower league opposition to experiment: Nasri had his training wheels on, practicing the midfield play-maker role while trying on the armband for size; Diaby was given an opportunity to knock some of the rust off; Arshavin and Chamakh to restore confidence, Gibbs needs games, Bendtner to gain even more self belief by scoring more goals and Almunia to try and remind the Spanish footballing community that he is still alive and available for sale or loan.
With that amount of experimentation I doubt if too many expected grade A Wengerball, I certainly didn’t. Nevertheless Arsenal moved the ball around well enough creating a gilt edged chance after ten minutes for Arshavin who blasted over from six yards out. The next memorable opportunity occured just a few minutes later; the ball came across the box to the waiting Bendtner, it seemed to take for ever to get to him allowing us to wonder if he was going to carry on where he left off against Ipswich and produce yet another piece of Bergkampesque play and volley it home but alas, no, that was not the case, he completely missed it to the taunts of the Huddersfield fans. The thing that they would not have known is that when it comes to self belief our Nikki is head and shoulders above any other player they may care to name. It took only five more minutes for the next opportunity to arrive which he duly slid past the keeper and proceeded to taunt the Huddersfield fans himself by putting his finger to his lips in a gesture of who is quiet now.
What little urgency the game started with all but disappeared with the scoring of the goal; my mind started drifting to other more mundane things, I suspect the same happened with a few of our players because Huddersfield started creating some fairly good chances but as close as they came the alarm still didn’t ring and wake us into action. All this changed when Squillaci got himself sent off; suddenly the remaining players on the field seemed to take the view that the odds had been sufficiently evened out that it might now be a challenge worthy of their full attention and commitment.
Not happy to just reduce us to ten men the Gods of Football saw fit to try and even up the competition furthermore by having Nasri pull up with a torn hamstring which will probably keep him out for three weeks.
Arsenal held out until half time but there was little surprise that Huddersfield came out in the second half sensing they had a real opportunity and proceeded to throw everything they possibly could at us, getting their reward from a corner to make it one one.
Time for the biggest gun we have in our arsenal to be brought off the bench, the Spanish thirty six pounder was unfurled and proceeded to do what Fàbregas does best…add a world class dimension to the proceedings and win the game. And this is exactly what he did, stepping up to score what turned out to be the winning goal from a well taken penalty. Overall not pretty and not a game that will stay in the memory for too long but the Arsenal go marching on and I for one will settle for that.
Almunia: affectionately known as the Spanish Waiter was attentive, focused and available when needed but not overbearing, only dropped one plate but I think he can be excused for that. 7
Eboue: the best thing this Ivorian does is give Sagna a rest. 6
Squillaci: school boy error, totally unnecessary sending off. 5
Koscielny: we should not forget that he is playing out of position, he is a right sided CB and is only filling in on the left due to Vermaelen’s injury; with that in mind, I think he is doing even better than he is getting credit for. 7.5
Gibbs: a better game, better positioning, that’s not to say perfect, there is still a long way to go but these games are so good for him and his development. 7
Diaby: rusty, as expected but the gulf of difference (we’re talking Grand Canyon here) between him and Wilshere was there for all to see. 6
Denilson: hurry up Ramsey. 6
Arshavin: the Russian’s confidence is such that if someone flicked a two headed coin in the air I swear he would fear that it would come down as tails. 5………. but an extra two for the brilliant, brilliant tackle he made a yard away from the goal line. 7
Chamakh: they say that the first time you parachute out of an aeroplane you are not scared because you do not know what to expect, where as the second time you know exactly what is coming and you are cautious; the first half of the season was the Moroccan’s first jump into the EPL; Christmas has passed, he is now on his second. 5
Bendtner: he is getting better and better and we will need him if RVP gets injured. 7.5
Rosicky: Super Tom showed more determination than I expected, still fighting to be regarded as an important part of the squad. 7.5
Song: calmness personified 7.5
Fàbregas: simply the difference. 8
Van Persie: just for being an Arsenal player. 10
Written by London