FA Cup, 4th Round
Arsenal 2 – 1 Huddersfield Town
1 – 0 Bendtner (21)
1 – 1 Lee (66)
2 – 1 Fabregas (86 pen)
Arsenal progressed to an FA Cup Fifth Round meeting at Brisbane Road thanks to a late penalty from Cesc saving the day, a common theme in this season’s cup campaign. When Arsenal have played Huddersfield or Orient in the FA Cup, five of the six seasons has seen Arsenal reach Wembley for the final. That they have lost four of those finals is something we might want to forget. Or not think about. Curiously enough, those finals have all been against teams Arsenal has defeated in this season’s cup runs.
The effort Huddersfield put into yesterday’s match should not be undervalued. They threatened and played well against the ten men of Arsenal and will feel disappointed not to have come away with a replay.
That that there were only ten men on the Arsenal side is baffling. How Huddersfield were not reduced to a similar number when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Bendtner is beyond comprehension. Arsène said afterwards that he would be more lenient in his punishment in the penalty area. It is irrelevant the sector of the pitch an infringment occurs; if the last man is in the centre circle or the penalty area, they should be dismissed. That the referee was Mark Clattenburg says it all; he is the benchmark of inconsistency.
Of more concern is the injury to Samir Nasri. Arsène’s initial prognosis was that the French international would be missing for three weeks, removing him from the first leg of the Champions League tie with Barcelona. It is tempting to say that this was an avoidable injury. In that there was no need for Nasri to play, that is true. That the hamstring might have gone on Tuesday is an imponderable. Diaby and Rosicky in being fit enough for the bench, were surely fit enough to start?
Arsène has never lost to lower league opposition in the FA Cup; that record might quite easily have gone south with Sebastien Squillaci’s dismissal. A match of 10 v 11 is never an easy one for the reduced numbers to play but one that they are prepared for nonetheless. The Frenchman can have no arguments about his dismissal, Eboué was running in a straight line and in no position to cover the centre back.
Once that point had been reached, it was a case of retaining the ball, weathering Huddersfield storms and (hopefully) increasing the lead which had been established. It worked out for them, just about.
The opening phase had been indifferent for Arsenal, Arshavin raked the side-netting with a shot whilst Bendtner’s miskick revealed previously unnoticed comic timing. Within sixty seconds the Dane was having the final word for the derision heaped upon him by the visiting fans. Nasri repeated his accurate pass from the previous minute, Bendtner’s effort was goalbound before Lee’s intervention took it away from the goalkeeper’s grasp.
Lee almost responded immediately for the visitors whilst Denilson weakly gave the ball to the same opponent, who set Pilkington for a cross which evaded everyone and the far post. Arsenal had possession but were not wearing the Yorkshiremen down, Huddersfield looking the more likely to score at that point. Bendtner tried to rectify that with an effort which was blocked at the near post.
In the final fifteen minutes of the half, the afternoon would go from bad to worse. Nasri’s hamstring meant the introduction of Rosicky whilst Squillaci’s dismissal would eventually see Alex Song enter the fray, Denilson tried to make himself available to Arsène as the seventh centre back at the club. It didn’t work.
Huddersfield tried to capitalise on the numeric advantage, Pilkington headed wide adding to the pressure that the reshuffled Arsenal side had to contend with. Half-time was reached though with the scoreline still showing an Arsenal lead which despite the visitors endeavour was probably a fair reflection of the first half.
The second would be a different story. Denilson fluffed his audition in the centre of defence and Chamakh was replaced by Song, the Cameroonean partnering Koscielny. Huddersfield became more threatening and only an outstanding intervention from Arshavin prevented the scoreline showing parity. It merely delayed the inevitable.
Midway through the second half and Lee saw Almunia make an outstanding save from his header, the former would have the final word on the matter, powering home another header from close range. Lee was unmarked and unchallenged, the visitor had shaken Diaby too easily.
The introduction of Cesc was once more necessary to revitalise the team. It did so with Koscielny and Bendtner twice testing the visitors nerves. As the final minutes approached, Cesc drove into the area and squared for Bendtner. McCombe intervened illegally and Cesc calmly scored the ensuing penalty.
Much is being made of the Spaniard’s request that the referee show the red card; it is unfortunately detracting from the debate as to why Clattenburg only produced a yellow. Perhaps the PGMO might allow officials to explain their decisions post-match, transparency being such a big thing in football in recent years.
This was a performance that began tepidly and became distorted by the dismissal of Squillaci. It was too reminscent of the home match against Leeds; too many players performances were lower than expected. Some surprisingly so, Gibbs and Chamakh chiefly. It is an XI that rarely plays together and it shows. With two games per week for the foreseeable future, the players will need to up their performance levels as they will be required to play between now and the end of March.
Derision greeted the noted attendance when it was announced, the fact that 59,375 tickets were sold but not everyone turned up escapes people’s attention. What is the problem with this concept that has seen scorn poured on the club for reporting the ticket sales?
A forgettable lunchtime, subdued players, subdued crowd. Attention turns to Everton’s visit when an improvement from all is to be expected.