In spite of the TV companies best efforts to milk their limited exclusive coverage for all it’s worth, by squeezing as many televised FA Cup matches into a weekend as is possible and despite the sobering ramifications of so many empty seats at several 4th round matches, mercifully the oldest knockout tournament on the planet continues to retain magic aplenty.
Following Saturday’s “cup shocks”, the Terriers’ fans were straining at the leash as they crossed the South Bridge to our impressive gaff in buoyant mood, many having apparently travelled down the night before, for a criminally early KO on a Sunday.
After dominating Huddersfield for 20 minutes, when the Gunners finally broke the deadlock, for a few moments there I thought that we might for once be able to sit-back and enjoy some stress-free football. I assumed that the fact the Terriers could no longer afford to merely sit back and attempt to stifle our passing game, would guarantee us some rip roaring entertainment, as we began to exploit the resulting space and strolled into the next round, with just the sort of relaxing afternoon that was required 48-hours in advance of Moyes’ Toffees loosening a few fillings.
Sadly, with a win-double act of Denilson and Diaby doing their best Laurel & Hardy impression in the middle of the park, I couldn’t have been more wide of the mark. It was all downhill from there, as our afternoon took a depressing turn for the worse, when our player of the season pulled up short with a patently obvious hamstring strain.
Arsène admitted afterwards that he regretted his decision to play Nasri instead of Rosicky (because the Czech midfielder had only just recovered from an illness). But as Samir limped down the tunnel the Emirates was enveloped in a palpable mood of desolation, as every Gooner present wondered if any prospect of overcoming Messi & co. in a couple of weeks time, had disappeared with him?
In my most humble opinion, this wasn’t le Boss’ only selection blunder. Other than puttting him in the shop window, in the hope off finding some schmuck foolish enough to take the Spanish keeper off our hands, I can’t imagine what possessed Arsène to pick Almunia. The timid goalie’s reluctance to stray from his line left our back four looking as fragile as ever, barely winning a single header.
Moreover the Spaniard is perhaps a somewhat tenuous patsy, but while I’m pointing the finger of blame, should Nasri’s absence result in us capitulating to the Catalans, as far as I’m concerned our klutz of a keeper will be singularly culpable, since it was Manuel's quick distribution that sent Samir on the mad dash down the middle of the park, which left him clutching the back of his thigh.
Personally I don’t understand why Wenger didn’t pick Wilshere and Walcott. If anyone can play two games in three days, it should be these two energetic youngsters. Unlike the lackadaisical football of the likes of Denilson & Diaby, which fostered the Terriers' dreams of further progress, at least Wilshere and Walcott’s feeling for the FA Cup might’ve motivated them to produce the sort of passion and commitment that could’ve put the result beyond doubt, enabling us to conserve our appetite for Tuesday’s sticky Toffee pudding, instead of fighting tooth and nail for our FA Cup lives.
I don’t profess to know better than le Gaffer (why risk loaning Ramsey to Cardiff?), but what I do know is that I was sitting there at 1-0 expecting the sort of comfortable scoreline, where we could afford to proffer our 5000 guests the gift of a consolation goal and within the space of a few minutes, I was transformed into a rabid terrace lunatic, venting my frustration at ref Clattenburg (the epitome of inconsistency), following the catalogue of ineptitude that began with Shava sloppily conceding possession, Denilson infuriatingly wafting out leg, in a typically feeble attempt at a tackle and finished with the cynical block that resulted in utter apoplexy at Squillaci’s red card.
After the lessons of our encounters with Ipswich and Leeds, I could’ve sworn Wenger assured us they’d learned that they couldn’t afford to take lower league teams lightly? Still at least we didn’t lose and (although Huddersfield are bound to feel hard done by) we were rescued from the threat of a return to Yorkshire for a replay, as Cesc came off the bench to almost singlehandedly save the day.
What’s more, if Nasri’s injury should prove to be a disaster, despite the seemingly miraculous workings of Colin Lewin’s magic sponge, there is at least some solace in the prospect of him having the company of Denilson in the treatment room. And following a favourable draw that offers the light relief of a short hop to Leyton, there was some comfort, nay great delight in the “let’s all laugh at Tottenham” farce at the Cottage. I guess Harry will now have to wait until 2021?
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