Good morning you beautiful people – James here with a match report for you. It’s actually midnight last night, but I’m away on business tomorrow, so needs must. That’s commitment, although it may be shorter than my usual waffle as I’m up at Dawn’s crack.
In my last blog I touched on the predictability that looms over this Arsenal side, however I was left surprised, not to mention delirious, at what unfolded last night. There’s no need to go all X-Factor – you know what happened – we finally broke the Old Trafford hoodoo, lifted the curse and exercised the demon. We won at Old Trafford after eleven pathetic attempts and nine, poo-stained years – delightful.
When the line-ups came out I was surprised to see Giroud on the bench after his recent form, but I was excited. A front three of Ox, WELBZ and Alexis is full of pace and power and seemed well set to expose United’s ropey defence. Szcz came in for Little Dave and Nacho, rightly, came in for Gibbs.
Admittedly, I was beyond sceptical before the game and was of course delighted to be proved wrong. Many said I was being overly negative, but there was no precedent on which to base a hope of winning at Old Trafford, other than hope alone (Brendan Rodgers, 2014/ David Brent, 2001). After we failed to beat Moyes’ rabble last season, I gave up the ghost with regard to that place. I was meant to be at the game last night, but work commitments meant I had to make do with a City watering hole with a few Utd supporting pals from the office.
Whilst Utd started the game as you’d expect the home team in a cup tie to – with intensity and a high pressing game – we seemed calmer on the ball than we have done in recent visits to Old Trafford (or Stratford as my mum called it in a text wishing me luck before the game). Once the game had settled into a semblance of order, we were looking by far the more threatening side and we made the breakthrough after 25 minutes. Ozil made an incisive pass from the inside left to Ox on the right of United’s box. He drove at their back four and looked to have run into trouble when some sublime footwork created space for him to slip in Nacho. The Spaniard’s touch was excellent, setting himself to slip it beautifully past De Gea. Monreal was superb all evening from what I saw and his form has been a real plus this season.
The delirium was short lived however. Di Maria, who really is an outstanding role model for all recovering smack heads, cut inside and delivered a probing cross. Koscielny, as has become a worrying habit, got caught under the ball, allowing everyone’s favourite granny fingerer to head home. It was poor from both centre halves, with Kos losing the flight of the ball and Per not tracking Rooney’s run.
I feared we may push the self-destruct button, but we settled again quickly. Cazorla’s ability to hold and use the ball under severe pressure was invaluable and allowed us to retain momentum; whilst preventing United mounting any kind of onslaught. Coq was winning a lot of ball (there’s a joke there, but it’s far too base for me), whilst Alexis made Valencia look like the over-gymmed shithouse he truly is. Half time came and I felt weirdly positive by this point.
We suffered a blow five minutes into the second half when the exuberant Oxlade tweaked his hammy, with Rambo coming on to replace him. It was a shame to lose a player who had been our most potent threat in the first period, but Ramsey added increased physicality in midfield and his runs beyond the ball caused Utd all kinds of problems. There was an interesting moment with Theo, where he seemed set to come on, only to be called back. The camera then panned to show him chucking his shirt down in frustration/ disgust/ some other hyperbolic adverb. I said in my last report Theo would be off this summer – Wenger’s man-management of him suggests there isn’t really an alternative scenario.
Our winner came after the hour mark, when Valencia scuffed a back pass to De Gea. WELBZ raced onto it, nicked it past the onrushing keeper and finished coolly into the empty net. There had been much debate pre-match as to whether he would celebrate should he score and I was ecstatic to see him do the right thing and go berserk. I abhor this non-celebration bollocks. Firstly, who cares about being respectful to a club who panned you off; secondly it’s disrespectful to the club who now pay your wages not to celebrate. Good work from WELBZ, who I felt was poor aside from his goal, but a striker is predominantly judged on goals and this was a big one.
United were reduced to ten men when Di Maria took a tumble under the slightest touch from Ramsey. Such was his incredulity at the booking, he saw it fit to grab the referee’s shirt to protest his innocence – second yellow card and off he fucked. Good riddance – diving is a cancer on the game and it was genuinely refreshing to see a referee take a stand against it; then booking Januzaj for an even more blatant show of cheating. I saw on Twitter he now has more bookings for diving than goals in his professional career – amusing how he was hailed as the second coming last year by the Surrey commuter train.
We should have had a couple more, with Santi and then Alexis seeing efforts quite brilliantly saved by De Gea. I had mentioned in the week that the wankfest over him making routine saves was getting dull, but these two were exceptional in fairness. We saw the game out with minimum fuss, surprisingly, with jubilation at the final whistle.
It was a cracking cup-tie, which as we won doesn’t matter in the slightest, but winning an exciting game on reflection is always an added bonus. There were some good performance out there – Coquelin and Santi were excellent, Bellerin did well against the dive monger Young after an early booking and Nacho was solid again. Ozil was brilliant in the second half, after a poor first in my view – United just didn’t know what to do with him and he really shone; although as is the way with our boggle-eyed wonder, many will completely disagree on that. Alexis wasn’t at his best, but was a constant threat and beat Valencia at will, particularly as the game wore on. Even the centre backs, who both cocked up for the first, did well thereafter, dealing well with Fellaini’s aerial threat. WELBZ toiled and worked hard, but struggled to make an impact until his goal, but it would be remiss of me to be too critical when he’s scored the goal that took us to Wembley.
All in all, that’s about as good as Monday nights get (save for May evenings in 1989 and 2002). I hate Manchester United, their fans, their manager, their players, their mascot – I’ve heard even their tea lady drowns kittens and puppies in her spare time. A win up there was well overdue and hopefully it accelerates that momentum we’ve been steadily building for the remaining months of the season.
A semi-final draw and trip to Wembley against Bradford or Reading is pretty kind as draws go; but Wigan last season should be a sharp reminder we can’t take anything for granted.
Anyway, that’s for another time – enjoy the week, mock that bellend who sits opposite you at work with a Manchester Utd mug and make the most of it. Back to business on Saturday with a London derby against West Ham.
Wins like tonight remind me football and supporting Arsenal, whilst tumultuous and often frustrating, is meant to be fun; and tonight was very fun indeed. I’m a miserable sod so I need it, but I think with the intensive scrutiny football undergoes today, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact we are allowed to enjoy the experience sometimes too.
Until Sunday when I’ll have a doubtless more downbeat match report x
Give me a follow @James_Willson2 and thanks for reading.