It seems the broadcasters got it right in the end. No upsets yesterday even if, just for a while, the romance of the FA Cup seemed alive and kicking. Normal business was resumed with the expected results turning up in all but one of the ties. Congratulations to Rochdale on surviving their tie with Nottingham Forest and I am sure making the players of Yeovil Town, Dover and AFC Wimbledon think they want what would arguably be a more glorious success.
Spreading it over four days is diabolical. There are solutions to its diminished status but the Football Association are disinterested in finding them, preferring to allow others to pontificate as they give football’s soul a hefty shove on its way down the river.
For Arsenal, it’s been a long time in the making. As holders, they get no special preference for their defence of the FA Cup won so dramatically in May and the fates decreed Hull City would get an early chance of revenge. Had they taken a three-goal advantage, the final would have been all but over; they missed and Santi didn’t soon afterwards with the complexion of the match changed irreversibly.
Let’s hope that this is the first step in a longer run than last time we were FA Cup holders and Bolton Wanderers ended the defence before the end of January 2006.
For me, today has a sense of anticipation, a vibrancy almost and I think it’s because Arsenal have a chance to win the FA Cup, to genuinely compete in it. Certainly it’s a more realistic ambition than winning the Premier League or Champions League.
I know that for some just targeting the FA Cup is not enough and I agree entirely. However, it is the most realistic target at moment. Whether that happens is another matter.
The same problems which blight the league campaign are undermining today’s match. Arsène made no attempt to hide the extent of the injury problems besieging the squad,
After [Ospina and Martinez] we will see. I cannot rotate too much either because we need stability. We have the 18 players – nobody else will play. At the moment, we have a decimated squad, so that means everybody will have to contribute very well and a lot. The fact that you play at home can be an advantage.
That is a fairly definitive statement and offers little surprise. It isn’t the busiest time of their fixtures-wise but with games coming thick and fast, it offers injured players little chance for recovery.
For today’s game, I would make a number of changes. Some respite may come during the next week with no matches but that’s no reason to risk the likes of Koscielny or start Walcott as some as demanding. He’s played less than an hour since November so I fail to see how starting today is managing his return properly. It makes more sense to give Walcott a series of thirty minute appearances over the next few weeks so he is ready for a sustained return.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain nursing an injury, it will mean a rare outing for Joel Campbell; a chance to show the clamour for his inclusion has basis in fact rather than desperation.
In the back four, change is necessary. The nervousness which beset them on Thursday was, I think, as much to do with Koscielny as any fault on Szczesny’s part. Instead of restoring confidence, the French international seemed to cause a loss of focus and concentration. Injury may well be the cause – although the past suggests it isn’t the sole reason – and if so, what benefit is there in his inclusion today?
Nacho Monreal’s return as a makeshift centre back is the most likely solution in partnership with Mertesacker. With Ospina in goal, no further changes in the back four seem sensible.
The other decision is whether Arsène goes with an out-and-out striker. I assume Alexis will play given the rest of the side are being taunted by a gang of unforgiving banjo wielding cows. However, none his appearances leading the line can be deemed successful and Hull’s back four will be anything but uncompromising.
And more than anything else, it gives Akpom experience in the first team. With suspensions and injuries, Wenger needs to find a better answer to that than fifteen minutes to score three goals in a match which had escaped Arsenal’s grasp. Today is the type of match that Arsène would not have hesitated to throw the youngster into a few years back.
It leaves the line-up
A good cup run lifts some of the pall which has fallen over the Premier League side. Arsenal occupy the hinterland of relative success; top four consistency but never threatening to become genuine title challengers. That is under threat this season through their own performances and you feel that as much as the FA Cup was a boost for us, the supporters, last season, this time around the players may benefit from a decent run.
So enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. Oh and a robust performance on the pitch at teatime, gentlemen, if you please.
From The Vaults
1925/26 was the first season that the top flight clubs entered the FA Cup in the Third Round, prior to that they had entered in the First Round proper. Arsenal, top of the First Division, travelled to Molineux to face Wolverhampton Wanderers, then 12th in the Second Division. Below are the match reports from the original meeting and subsequent replay.
As seems common with Norris-era Arsenal, the matches were played against a backdrop of controversy. Jock Rutherford had retired at the end of the previous season, only to re-sign for the club during July 1925. The FA refused to register him as an Arsenal player on the basis that they were investigating whether Rutherford had any ties with a betting company, a contravention of their rules.
Being the Football Association, the affair dragged on, most likely because Rutherford had taken legal action against Turf Publishers for using his name without permission in promoting their football coupons. Rutherford won and was financially supported by Arsenal in paying his legal fees, which the FA would then reprimand the club for a year later.
However, any hopes that Rutherford had of being registered as an Arsenal player were dashed as the FA continued its investigation. The below is their summation and findings, issued on 11th January 1926, eighteen months after the ‘offence’ was reported to Arsenal and the player.
Rutherford would go on to become – and remains – the oldest player to turn out for Arsenal in a competitive match. On 20th March 1926, he played in the 1 – 0 win over Manchester City at Highbury, aged 41 years and 159 days.