Category Archives: FA Cup

Up For The Cup

If glory was easily achievable, it wouldn’t shine so brightly.

Silverware is in hot demand, and is more fiercely contested now than it ever has been.

Not so long ago, the League cup was treated as a runaround for the youth teams, to blood our club’s latest prodigies in a safe environment that carried zero risk or ramification for the season.

Even the institution of the FA Cup took a bit of a hammering at some point but now?

Every competition is an opportunity.

Our current FA Cup run is a rare bright spot in a season of beige’s and grey’s. Aside from the changes new boss Mikel Arteta is making, our season has been dragged into obscurity through poor results.

The FA Cup however, carries a promise of another special day.

fa-cup-wembley-pitch-800

We are lucky enough to be able to recall some recent Cup wins. Even discounting before 2014, we still have three FA Cups to our name, each with their own memories and day that we can recall with crystal clear clarity.

It lights up a season, and in the future when we recall a certain campaign, it doesn’t matter of our league position was underwhelming.

All we will recall is lifting the cup.

The problem with our chances this season however, is that the remaining teams in front of us is an all Premier League affair. No lower league teams to face, no plucky resistance to shatter when our Premier League class eventually tells amidst sapping energy levels.

If we want to lift the cup again and rescue this season from ignominy, we will have to do it the hard way.

That is predominantly how we normally like to do things, but with both Manchester teams and Chelsea still in the draw, we will need to overcome some rather large hurdles.

Still, that is how memories are made. No one expected us to win in 2017, but in what will forever be known as the “BFG Final” we prevailed thanks to a masterclass of defending from the retiring Mertesacker – and yet another cup-winning goal from Aaron Ramsey.

The FA Cup represents a chance to get our hands on some serious silverware again – something our neighbours can only dream of and have frantically attempted for a number of decades now. Go all the way, and we make history once again.

Our Europa League adventure ended woefully and prematurely. We only have this and our remaining Premier League fixtures left of the campaign. We cannot forget about our slim opportunity to qualify for Europe through the league, but in terms of rotation, if we have a chance to preserve the legs of our top players for the cup, then we have the squad to do so – and do so we must.

Finishing in the top four will be prioritised by the club hierarchy as the monetary gains that come from the Champions League far outweigh the purse that comes with walking up those famous Wembley steps and lifting the cup.

But from a fan perspective?

Nothing beats a cup final day.

 

Arsenal Revive the FA Cup

Manchester United’s participation in the Club World Cup in the early part of this century was widely reported to be the reason for the FA Cup’s demise.

The club decided to prioritise the tournament instead of the oldest cup in the world, and the devaluation of our domestic cup was such that it was put on the back burner in terms of importance for clubs.

The influx of money has seen the tides shift yet again though, and now, with the dial of competition firmly ramped up to 11, the once-derided FA Cup has now risen, phoenix-like from the ashes.

It’s now seen as a saviour from ignominy. The Champions League is a pipe dream for most clubs, the Premier League is a trophy that requires a huge slice of luck with injuries, as well as top level consistency.

It means that clubs need to maximise every opportunity to lift silverware – and the FA Cup is a genuine chance to keep supporters on board and keep the club relevant when it comes to transfer targets.

Success breeds success, so having your name etched on the cup means that next season gets a firmer foundation to build from. It also makes the lustre of the club a little more alluring for any potential new players.

Our own relative woes have exacerbated the FA Cup’s rise to prominence once more. Winning the Cup in 2014 against Hull, and in such dramatic circumstances that really turned heads at other outfits.

Then, when we won it the next year by smashing Aston Villa, we not only regained it, we yet again saved our season with the lifting of the old cup.

Two seasons ago was perhaps the best example. We slipped out of the Champions League places for the first time since 1996/97, we also slipped below our hated neighbours for the first time in over two decades, but the fact we won the FA Cup, meant we had silverware in our trophy cabinet.

The ‘drought’ we suffered between 2005-14 may seem a long time, but as the top teams get better and the gap becomes more disparate, decades between cup wins will become commonplace for most.

It means any cup win should be embraced – just look at City and United in recent years when winning the League Cup. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are considered to be among the leading lights of world football management – and lifting this cup meant a fair amount to them.

The FA Cup is a grand old competition, and our previous wins are amongst our most glittering. The recent cup wins are among them. The 2014 final snatched from the jaws of defeat especially seems vivid upon recall. The Cup matters hugely.

Being knocked out by Nottingham Forest last season smarted a fair bit, and FA Cup fixture weekends without our club – the most successful side in FA Cup history – seemed a tad remiss.

We can glow with pride at the fact we’ve won this famous cup more than any other side – but we can also take a little satisfaction that we’ve reminded other clubs that the Cup is well worth winning indeed.

It grants you a European place, it gets you a slot in the Charity Shield – but it also gives us fans a memorable day – and those memories are what binds fans to a club.

Forest Vs Arsenal FA Cup Preview

With our league hopes suffering a battering of late, we welcome the return of the FA Cup as we take on Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round.





We are the holders, and as we also hold the record as the most successful FA Cup team – ever – we need to make a good stab of defending it. The first hurdle is this tricky tie.


Our recent Carabao Cup tie against fellow Championship outfit Norwich shows that we cannot afford to take Forest lightly, as we only just squeezed past the Canaries thanks to a brace from Eddie Nketiah.


Forest aren’t in a good place however. They recently sacked their manager, Mark Warburton, and it will be caretaker manager Gary Brazil that will oversee their attempt to cause an FA Cup upset.


Their last game was an admirable draw with Leeds United, but they are languishing in the bottom half of the Championship table and even at this halfway stage, they are in danger of either having nothing to play for – or getting sucked into the relegation mire.


They have some quality in their ranks in Michael Mancienne, Eric Lichaj and Liam Bridcutt and they also boast top flight experience, but Gary Brazil could opt to rotate his squad and concentrate on improving his side’s standing in the league, crazy as that may seem.


Rotating is something we must do, after a frenetic run of games recently. It demands we rest some of our men as there are a fair few that have played the majority – and some of our fringe players who have played precisely zero minutes and are gagging for some action.


With Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Ozil, Alexis and a few others having the lions share of the many minutes of gametime in offer in December – we played nine games in all – some of our lesser lights with much to prove have a great opportunity to send a timely reminder to Wenger that they are still of use.


David Ospina should come into the side to take the gloves, and in defence there will be changes too. Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny and Per Mertesacker are three that could comprise our backline, but it is all dependant on whether we play three or four at the back.


Reiss Nelson could take a full-back spot, and in midfield, Francis Coquelin and Jo Willock could do a job in containing Forest and put out any fires.


In attack, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi are suffering from a dip in confidence, so a full game and plenty of chances will do them the world of good.


Make no mistake, we all expect a comfortable win, but however we achieve it will be welcome. If it is another tight game but we achieve safe passage to the fourth round, then I’ll take it.


It’d be great to give players like Ben Sheaf, Josh DaSilva and Eddie Nketiah a good runout, but with our chances for silverware hanging on by a thread and only one bad match from disappearing in each competition, we need to prioritise. Cups need to be put 

in the front of our view, as well as our Premier League position.


Basically then, we need to concentrate on every match. This is what our poor form has done. We have no breathing space, and every game must be given our utmost attention.


Forest must feel the force, and our second string must do the job, otherwise our first teamers will be suffering from exhaustion far quicker than we expect.


Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Debuchy, Elneny, Mertesacker, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck


Predicted scoreline – 2-0 to The Arsenal

Arsenal Win The 2017 FA Cup!!! 

The FA Cup is back in the rightful possession of Arsenal for a record 13th time, as against all odds, the Gunners pulled a virtuoso performance out of the bag and bested favourites and champions Chelsea.








Few would have given Arsenal a chance before kickoff, and the bookies agreed. They couldn’t be blamed though, and Gooners who were looking upon this Final with a bleak realism were merely taking all things into consideration.


First choice goalkeeper Petr Cech ruled out through injury, and backup keeper David Ospina rusty. Our defence was down to its bare bones, with Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs ruled out before the game. Uncertainty hanging over not only star players Alexis and Mesut Ozil, but also our manager.


Not to mention the most disappointing league campaign in the last two decades.


We were going into this game with our backs to the wall. Chelsea had won the Premiership on the back of an incredible run of results. They had seen off all comers and were going into the game looking to complete the Double in Antonio Conte’s first season at the club.


It went from bad to worse when Per Mertesacker was named in Arsenal’s starting XI. The German defender had not started a game in 13 months, and despite his knowledge, defensive nous and leadership qualities – his lack of match sharpness against Costa, Hazard and co would surely cost the Gunners dearly?


Not this time.


Mertesacker and Arsenal emphatically answered doubters and dragged Chelsea from their pedestal with aplomb. From minute one to minute ninety four, Arsenal were superior in every department across the lush Wembley turf. Our ramshackle defence kept Costa stifled. Hazard, Pedro and the other Blues widemen were too busy taking part in defensive duties to go rampaging forward. 


When they did wriggle free, Monreal, Bellerin, Oxlade-Chamberlain stuck to them and never allowed these dangerous players that inch of space to turn and create havoc.


Then there was our midfield of Xhaka and Ramsey. It seems it has taken this performance for all to recognise what the Swiss star offers. He was robust in the tackle, astute in his positioning and always available for the ball. Ramsey provided the bridge between defence and attack, and he was absolutely tireless. He was also the goal hero as he was in 2014. 


Mesut Ozil never stopped probing and he was as busy as anyone has been this season. The German deserves plaudits for his inspiring performance, and Alexis did what Alexis always does.


It really underlined how important it is to keep them for next season.


The first half of the game was the pattern of the whole game. Chelsea struggled to keep a grip on the movement of Arsenal, and the best opportunities went to the Gunners.


The first real chance resulted in the deadlock being broken, and it was inside five minutes. The ball looped over the Chelsea defence and Ramsey was well offside. He left it for the onrushing Sanchez who put it past Courtois, but it took referee Anthony Taylor having a confab with the linesman before it was awarded.


Then, Sanchez put through Ozil, who saw his effort cleared off the line by Cahill, as Arsenal started to roar up the gears.


Then, Welbeck met an Ozil corner well with a header, but it hit the post, before Ramsey hit the post with the loose ball. Chelsea were on the ropes and Arsenal were throwing flurries to finish the fight.


Then, a neat move saw Welbeck through on goal, but a combo of Courtois and Cahill again saved Chelsea and it meant that for all of Arsenal’s superiority, we were still only a goal up. We had read this script before.


There had been a few sniffs at goal for Costa, but Mertesacker’s positioning was perfection each time the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard threatened.


A crucial moment came early in the second half, when Victor Moses couldn’t cope with Welbeck on the flank and wrestled him to the ground, earning a booking. This would turn out to be more than a mere booking. Minutes later, Bellerin found space and his low effort was well saved by Courtois. The same pattern was emerging, Arsenal were on the throttle, with Chelsea scrabbling for purchase.


Then, Chelsea were on the attack. Moses twisted and teased Oxlade-Chamberlain out on the right before attempting to cut in. 


The Ox went with his man but was sensible in his harrying. Moses went down in the box like Piers Morgan’s career, and lo and behold – previously anti-Arsenal referee Anthony Taylor again utilised common sense and booked Moses for diving – thus Chelsea were now a man down.


Arsenal were clearly on top of things, and they now had a man advantage. Things were looking rosy – but all Gooners know that nothing can be taken for granted.


And so it proved.


A ball in the air was chested down by Costa in the box, and it gave him an inch of space to fire in a volley. Ospina had been on top of everything so far in the game, but his weak effort to save it was not enough and it gave Chelsea parity when it seemed the game was walking away from them.


Welbeck came off to a deserved ovation and was replaced by Olivier Giroud – and the Frenchman wasted no time in getting busy.


He found himself in the box and he squeezed in a cross. Ramsey had ghosted in between two defenders and headed it into the net – and Arsenal had regained the lead just two minutes after giving it up.


This Arsenal side had let themselves down so many times in the league, but this performance needed to be finished with a cup win – such was the level of excellence from each and every Arsenal player.


Bellerin nearly capped off the game but put the ball wide, and then Chelsea got a chance to again equalise undeservedly. Diego Costa barged in and volleyed from close range, but Ospina saved well. Ozil then was in acres of space, chopped inside his man and opted for the near post, but the post denied him.


It was enough though.


Arsene Wenger’s men had left it all on the pitch, and it meant this was Arsene Wenger’s seventh FA Cup win – which makes him the most successful manager in Cup history. Arsenal are now also the most successful Cup team in history.


This was perhaps the sweetest win from the last three though. We defeated a powerful opponent, defied all odds and we didn’t just scrape the win – we ensured Chelsea couldn’t handle us.


Let us enjoy this. Let this be a reminder that despite us missing the Champions League next season, despite our shaky league form – we are capable of being the team that we have seen in the past. We are capable of being the great team that our players want us to be.















So, the FA Cup is back home. Arsene Wenger has masterminded another Cup for us and another placard for The Emirates.

Forget the speculation that will engulf us in the summer, just for a moment. Let’s wallow in this.


This win is exactly what we will remember in years to come, and tell our kids and grandkids about. 

FA Cup Final Preview 2017

Kickoff – 1730hrs GMT

So, the chance to offset Arsenal’s Premier League disappointment is upon us today, as we go to Wembley for the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.

This is Arsenal’s 20th FA Cup Final appearance, which is a record. With an unlikely win here, we would also hold the record for most FA Cup wins, with 13.

I say it is unlikely, because we have navigated through a season without an injury crisis for the first time in years, and now before the biggest game in this campaign – and the last – we are plagued with injured defenders.

Laurent Koscielny foolishly received a red card in our last PL game last weekend against Everton and so the Frenchman is suspended. In the same game, Gabriel busted ligaments in his knee and looks to be out for two months, and we may be without Shkodran Mustafi who is still struggling with concussion. 

Who does that leave for our three man defence? Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding will take two of those slots, but we may have to rely on Per Mertesacker – who has not made a single appearance this season. People who are suddenly doubting the lanky German would do well to remember his pedigree and his talent. What is concerning with the potential utilisation of Mertesacker is the lack of match sharpness he will suffer from. Against the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, that could be fatal.

Kieran Gibbs is nursing a thigh injury and may miss out, and if he is absent, then the 3-5-2 we have been using may be put on the shelf for this game. It doesn’t end there either. Petr Cech suffered injury in training, so perennial backup Davide Ospina will likely play his last game for the Gunners. If you want an omen, Lukasz Fabianski also bowed out of Arsenal on a high too after playing in our 3-2 Final win over Hull in 2014……

There are rays of optimism to hold onto though. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is fit and should come straight back into the team after his useful showings at right-back in our new formation. Alexis Sanchez is also declared fit, and this could well be the last time we see him in an Arsenal shirt.

If that is the case, then the least he could do is leave us with a breathtaking performance and a cup win!

Another dilemma for Arsene Wenger – who also may be involved in his last Arsenal game – is who gets the striker spot. Danny Welbeck has been getting the nod of late, but Olivier Giroud is far more prolific. The England striker has been pretty dire in front of goal in the last few games, but his workrate, linkup play and pace may get him the shirt ahead of the bearded Gaul. 

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has no such worries and will have a full squad at his disposal. His only headache will be who to play, and in particular, who of Pedro and Willian will get one of the flanks. Pedro had been preferred for the Premiership, where Willian has played in every round of the Cup. 
We are certainly up against it, that’s for sure. With our defence looking almost unrecognisable, our backup keeper taking the gloves and our opponent looking to complete the Double, our chances are certainly impacted. A Cup Final is certainly a leveller though, as form usually falls by the wayside.

KEY PLAYERS

Rob Holding

Much will fall on this young mans shoulders. His recent form spells out a bright future, but being bereft of Koscielny and possibly Mustafi will leave no margin for error for the inexperienced but talented Englishman. Can he step up and pull a performance out of the bag, and show what he has learned?
Granit Xhaka

The Swiss star has had a mixed bag in his first season. Much of the negativity has spawned from a mis-labelling, as the midfielder is not simply a DM. His long-range passing is probably his biggest strength, and we will need his radar to be on point to spring Alexis and Welbeck away when we are under pressure. 
Alexis

The Chile star is odds on to be at a new club in the summer. He has given nothing less than 100% so far this season though, and his talents could hold the key to unlocking a tight Chelsea defence. 
KEY STATS

Seven of the last eight FA Cup ties between these two teams have resulted in Arsenal wins.

The last time the teams played was a semi-final win for Chelsea in 2009. This is the only time Chelsea have beaten us in the Cup in 70 years.

We are unbeaten at Wembley since 2011. That includes seven games. 

Chelsea have won the last four Cup Finals they have appeared in – all by single goal margins. 

Antonio Conte as manager has had only one Cup Final. This was in 2012 as Juventus boss. He lost the game 2-0 to Napoli. 
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal!!

Arsenal Vs Manchester City – FA Cup Semi-Final Preview

The green shoots of recovery were on show in our battling 2-1 win over Middlesbrough on Monday. 

The performance was hardly fluid, but our desire to win the game was enough to see off a desperate Boro team, and this will hopefully be enough to remind our players of what they are capable of before we travel to Wembley for the Cup Semi against a dangerous City side.

This tie must be treated with the utmost of importance as the Cup is intrinsically linked to Arsenal. We have won it more than any other team – we are tied with United on 12 Cups – and this season has been so desolate in terms of high spots, we could really do with a Cup final to hold onto.

A lot of the talk on our win over Boro was Wenger’s apparent switch to a 3-man defence – and he will have to look at this option again as Shkodran Mustafi is again injured. David Ospina is still out along with Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez. 

Pep Guardiola may just have young Brazilian saviour Gabriel Jesus back in the ranks after hsi rapid recovery from a broken bone in his foot. Sergio Aguero should again lead the line, but watch out for a possible cameo from the youngster. John Stones is still out, so Nicolas Otamendi will again partner recently fit Vincent Kompany. 

There are some interesting stats to grasp onto that may give us all a strand of optimism. We have faced City four times in the FA Cup. The last time was in 1971, when we went on to win the Double. The last time we faced City at Wembley was in 2014, when we won the Charity Shield 3-0. So it may be in the stars. Let’s hope this run continues!

The league games this season have been tight affairs, with City winning the first 2-1 and the second game ended in a 2-2 draw. If we are to stand a chance in the face of City’s attacking talent, we will have to be at our best at the back, so a lot hinges on young Rob Holding – the kid has impressed in his first season but this is surely his biggest match to date.

Our club has made the most appearances in the Cup Semi-final, and a win here would really act as a salve for us Gooners, we really could do with something to cheer! 

There is also the small matter of the game against Leicester City in midweek, so rotation will be key. Granit Xhaka will likely play, but who will partner him? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was effective on the right against Boro, but he has also played well in the centre so The Ox is an option. Ramsey may well be first choice though, but with the games coming thick and fast, we will need every player. Theo Walcott missed out in our last game and he may well be utilised.

Both Managers need this for vastly different reasons, and players will want the chance for silverware. This game should not need more motivation for the players. 

So, the stage is set. Let us hope we have a great game to watch, and the result matches the entertainment value. 

The Importance of the Cup and the Underdog

For the first time since 1904, a non-league club has upturned all expectations and reached the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup.

Lincoln City are the team which have destroyed the odds to stand on the precipice of a visit to Wembley, with a semi-final spot up for grabs when they took on Arsenal. The match had the media frothing, as visits to the modest home of the Imps served to highlight the contrast in stature between the two clubs – just as they had done after the Imps had beaten Burnley.

It wasn’t only Sincil Bank and its stripped back appeal which had so enamoured the press. It was the possibility, even the remotest, that this ragtag bunch of chancers could create history and make the bookies cry once more. The match at The Emirates did not allow the media to have the moment they so craved as Arsenal showed their superiority, but the match captured the imagination at least. 

You see, everyone loves an underdog. In sport though – and especially football – the underestimated who succeed are immediately and for eternity encased in footballing amber. These lesser-spotted instances of insurmountable odds being cast aside are used as references and reminders that magic still exists. As fans, we are constantly inflicted with slideshows of when David overcame Goliath.

Wrexham defeating Arsenal in 1992. Sutton dumping Coventry out of the Cup. Even heroic near-misses constantly utilised, cut and edited to fit into yet another footballing montage. A prime example would be when Stevenage Borough came agonisingly close to embarrassing Newcastle United.

The bigger the opponent who stands in the way of this fairytale being complete, the grander the plot. When Arsenal recently visited Galders Green Lane to take on Sutton United, the spotlight which shone on the occasion was bigger than a Premier League match. If the home team had done the unthinkable and snatched a result against the Gunners, there would have been several cases of spontaneous human combustion in the press room.

Sadly for the majority of neutral fans, it wasn’t to be. Arsenal won comfortably without truly kicking into gear. They had picked a strong side for the fixture and ample respect was shown. The artificial pitch was a great leveller for the hosts, but there was just enough in the Gunners’ first gear to canter over the line.

For an upset to occur, the settings have to be just right. A home draw is usually a mandatory requirement, and the shabbier the dressing room for the visiting primadonnas, the better. Then, you need a sprinkle of the Premier League manager underestimating their opponent. Mix in with a liberal dash of a weakened team and you have the perfect storm for which to concoct a devilish result.

Above all else, there will always be a smidgin of an opportunity when eleven men take on eleven men. A wicked bounce of the ball, a swirling wind, a few players who just aren’t at the races. Any small variable can help the underdog battle for the most unlikely of results.

The difference between a round progressed in the FA Cup can make all the difference to these clubs who ply their trade in non-league. With Sutton and Lincoln getting so far and the media attention that has been on them, the clubs coffers can afford to be loosened a little. Surviving just below the top four divisions is no picnic, so one hundred thousand pounds here or there is enough to ensure a club can plan for the future.

An epic run to the third round and a plum draw against a mighty enemy is what every player, manager and Chairman in the non-leagues dream of. Every season the chance arises, and with so many rounds in place before this stage, the chances of reaching this threshold and then drawing a desired team are nearly as long as defeating a Premiership team.

The oft-referenced  ‘magic’ of the Cup is revived each time a minnow manages to swim far enough upstream and then finds itself in the company of the big boys. Without these ties, then the divide between the have’s and the have-not’s would fracture the game as we know it. 

The FA Cup holds football together. We often lose sight of this as the heat and relentless nature of the Premier League and Europe blinker us all. The FA Cup needs to thrive in order for the majority of clubs outside the top-flight to survive.