The final whistle signalled the orderly march to the exits. Breath weaved its way skyward, mingling with tobacco, Bovril and occasional other aromas. Waves of red and white rode a sea of grey, black and blue, huddled against the cold. In the aisle, oceans collided as heads craned, seagulls cawing against the backdrop of Sports Report. Had Altrincham really held Everton? Walsall, Manchester United? Bloody hell! (Non-league) Wimbledon beat Burnley?!
It was a magical time, a Golden Age; a legacy carelessly spurned by the Football Association. The romance of the cup stood no chance against the merciless marketing of the Premier League and UEFA’s rapacious Champions League. Too little reward, too much arrogance. It was the FA Cup; the world’s best domestic cup competition. Parochialism in a global game.
Technology doesn’t help. Monday lunchtimes spent huddled around a transistor to hear the draw. Bryon Jones authoritative tones took us to Lancaster Gate, FA headquarters as the BBC took us through the corridors into a smoke-filled room. The balls clacking in their velvet bag could be an effect from the BBC Sound Archive but we didn’t care. Didn’t even think of it; conspiracy theories were the stuff of dinner table talk. After removing tin foil hats; the second gunman possessed table manners.
But the magic of the FA Cup is different now. Everything is; the world moved on. Diminishing relevance, from the willingness of managers to field much-weakened teams with little care of the consequences to the fans who sat by idly watching it happen. When more money can be won by finishing fourth than winning a trophy, the financiers won and fans lost the battle for the soul of football.
Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside
Unless travelling by train, of course. A smattering of tickets offered on social media pointed out the futility of trying to travel by public transport to this evening’s game. Television doesn’t care and you’re waiting for Godot if you think that is going to change.
Or a man who rang a pizza company to order a fleet of ferry.
Unai Emery takes Arsenal to Blackpool in a tie which resonates with FA Cup history while underlining the devastation wrought by unchecked ownership of clubs.
Heed the lessons of Blackpool when an asset-stripper takes charge of a club.
In the meantime, a much-changed XI highlights the Spaniard’s priorities for the season:
We are going to be competitive. The priority is the next match, and that’s Blackpool. I am going to play with the players to be competitive. If we need some young players to do one mix, but finding this power to be stronger with them, we will do it. The priority now is Blackpool.
Plenty won’t be making the trip, however:
Continuing with his injury and not OK to train with us is Mustafi, he has to recover from his small injury and continue working alone. Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, Mkhitaryan and also Mesut didn’t train this morning.
To be honest, Ozil is the only one of those whom I would push to include. The German needs to be play to ease pressure on the rest of the squad in an attacking sense. Nketiah seems likely to start with Lacazette or Aubameyang leading the line.
Is it a game to break in young defenders? Sokratis, Koscielny and Zech Medley? Keep Lichtsteiner on the right, Jenkinson on the left; as close as possible to their natural positions and the Swiss as far away from a central defensive role as possible.
And Today’s Mystery Guests Are:
Saka and Willock, alongside Elneny in midfield? The guessing games continue and depend on fitness of others. A relative youngster in Iwobi is surely capable of playing against Fulham and today, if needed.
The XI I’d go with is not the one which will play, of course. I’ve talked myself into:
Cech; Medley, Koscielny, Sokratis; Lichtsteiner, Elneny, Willock, Jenkinson; Saka, Lacazette, Nketiah
It’s the FA Cup third round, a great day in the English footballing calendar. If that moment doesn’t set the pulses racing, remember Arsenal’s (in)glorious pasts with the FA Cup. The good times and the bad which form the rich fabric of the club. If you can’t do that, then there’s no hope for you.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.