Many of the greatest footballers ever to have graced the turf have preferred to go by a single moniker.
Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zico, Perrygroves to mention but a few. Well, now we can add a new hero to that list: Sokratis.
I had always assumed that our tough Greek defender chose to go by his forename because of the obvious difficulties associated with his surname, which contains 17 consonants and 23 vowels. If his surname were printed on his Arsenal shirt it would start on his back, wrap round his chest and trickle down his leg.
But today we know better. Today Sokratis joins the pantheon of mononymous greats on merit alone. His goal just before half time in last night’s F.A. Cup fifth round tie at Portsmouth was perfectly timed and perfectly taken.
When Mikel Arteta’s line-up was announced for the game and Sokratis was in at right back, I commented that “he’s not a bad player, but he’s no right back.” Ahem… what I meant was that really he’s a Number 9. Honest.
The line-up had nine changes from the team that lost so dispiritingly to Olympiacos last Thursday, with El Patron deciding to give youth a chance.
Martinez was back between the sticks. The only truly experienced heads were at the defensive end of things (Sokratis, Luiz, Mari on his debut and Torreira). Apart from them it was the Arsenal creche all the way: another start up front for Nketieh; Martinelli and Nelson out wide; Doozy and Willock (who sound like a cartoon duo) in midfield and Bukayo Saka at LB/wingback.
I, for one, was very pleased to see such an exciting young line-up, but when the game started it took some time for our lads to get into their stride.
In front of a boisterous and confident Pompey crowd it was no surprise that the home side started with energy and enthusiasm and had the better of the first half, with a couple of half decent chances (including, worryingly, some more or less uncontested headers in our box).
For our part we mostly passed sideways and backwards and sideways again. In comments I described it as “constipated football”. We had one or two good moments (with Saka on the left and Nelson on the right) but were a bit toothless.
To listen to the BT Sport commentary team you’d think we were being humiliated by the League One team, so desperate were they for every sports journalist’s wet dream, the ‘big cup upset.’
In fact, lackluster though we were, we dominated possession and neither team really looked like scoring. The most significant moment of the half (until Sok’s late strike) was what looked like a nasty injury to Torreira. He was piled into by the Portsmouth centre back James Bolton who won the ball fairly, but whose follow-through was borderline reckless. The Terrier went off on a stretcher to applause from some of the home fans but abuse from others. Reports today suggest the injury may not be as serious as it looked last night.
And so to the Sokratis goal. Great work down the right from Reiss Nelson (not for the first time) saw a low cross fired in which was volleyed home by Sokratis with all the aplomb of a van Persie or Bergkamp. It was a crucial strike, deflating an “up for it” Pompey just before the break.
We opened the second half with an equally powerful dagger blow. Nelson again dong excellent work on the right wing and putting in a cross which was met by Nketieh’s well-judged run. Even so, the striker had a lot to do to control the ball at high speed and get it past the Pompey ‘keeper. A really high quality goal.
From then on we dominated possession and created more chances. The wind had well and truly gone out of Pompey’s sails and we never looked like relinquishing our lead.
And so we move on the quarter finals of a competition that this club has made its own. Here’s hoping for a good home draw…
Looked shaky under high balls once or twice but was tidy with most of what came his way.
Got skinned at right back several times in the first 20 minutes, but seemed more solid afterwards. Superb (and important) strike for our opener.
A very tidy debut by the big Spaniard. He’s a physically imposing figure but I was also impressed with his good footwork. A promising start.
Didn’t do much wrong and brought the ball forward well at times. Doesn’t entirely inspire confidence aerially in our own box.
This lad never lets us down. Solid defensive play and always a threat going forward.
Was doing fine until clobbered.
Typically energetic performance from Doozy. He must be such a nuisance to play against. In general he used the ball well as well, although he is undoubtedly hampered by his one-footedness. Got booked for taking the piss out of Mike Dean, whoch earned him an extra half a point.
The one youngster who struggled on the night. He did not seem particularly at the races and looked absolutely knackered from about half way through the second half. Perhaps he’s carrying an injury? Even so, games like this are to be expected from young players.
Nelson 8 MoTM
A coming-of-age game for young Reiss, who has shown flashes of brilliance in earlier games this season but never had as big an impact as he did last night. More of this and he’ll be pushing for starts ahead of Pepe.
Great all round attitude and effort, with plenty of skill to go along with it.
Took his goal beautifully (in terms of the run, the control and the finish) and worked hard pressing from the front when Portsmouth had possession. He’s making a strong case for being selected ahead of Lacazette on a regular basis.
On early for the injured Torreira, Dani was tidy and gritty. Sold outing.
On late too late to get ratings.