Since our F.A Cup triumph last season, the oldest Cup competition on the footballing stratosphere has taken on a new lease of life in many Gooners eyes. The silverware drought ended and that day in Wembley drowned in sunshine and glory served as a reminder of how amazing a Cup Final day can be.
With the Premier League becoming arguably more difficult to win, the Cup takes on a tad more prominence. With that in mind, the Cup draw has now turned into a highly watched lottery where we hope for a plum draw in the next round. Seeing as last season we dumped out Liverpool, spurs, Everton and the holders – we should fear no-one. nevertheless, we still have our fingers crossed for a home tie against a team with eyes on other aspirations perhaps. Step forward Middlesbrough.
As I tucked into my obligatory matchday pie at Piebury Corner with @GreeneBantern, we discussed our projections for the upcoming fixture. We both agreed that, seeing as it was a lower league opponent then we had everything to lose. A tight encounter would ensue but our skill would see us through.
We made our way to The Tollington pub for a quick dram before the game. the discussion continued. A few more were expecting a fraught encounter akin to the struggle Vs Leicester but we all agreed that we should progress. A correlation ran through every conversational strand though. We all wanted tickets if we are lucky enough to make the final again!
Not many are grounded in realism and err on the side of caution like @SuburbanGooner does, but you can understand his stance. We have all been burned when expectation runs high. If we all keep in mind the hurt and scars we’ve received, then if the worst does become tangible, then at least it won’t take us by surprise and ruin the next five weeks. Still, we all have the retention of the Cup on our mind. From the stories recanted, it sounds like a magical day.
After speaking to some wonderful, like-minded fans, we made our pilgrimage round the stadium and eventually took to our seats. They offered a great vantage point.
The match kicked off with our surprise news that Santi Cazorla would be donning the Skippers armband. Seeing as Arteta was still injured and Mertesacker was on the bench resting his ridiculously long limbs, a new captain had to step forward. Our diminutive but robust Spaniard was the surprise choice but he marshalled the troops well.
After fifteen minutes it became apparent to both of us that ‘Boro had come with a game plan. They had ditched their League style and had arrived at The Emirates to soak up the inevitable pressure they would face for as long as they could, until frustration would cause us to make too many rash choices and they could grab a set-piece and sneak a goal. Well, that didn’t work out. Gibbs was rampant down the left and he was slipped through by Santi. A first time ball to an onrushing Giroud led to our stunning Gaul to give us the lead after approximately 20 minutes.
It was nothing less than we deserved as ‘Boro were spineless in attack. We probed and pushed and we found an opening.
Two minutes later, we had doubled our lead. Seeing as we ‘never score from corners‘, this was an eye-opener. A delivery from Sanchez was put into the mix. Giroud had lost his man and ran to the front post. He flicked it on the volley and the ball crashed into the net. Giroud is fast developing a reputation for his front-post exploits and this finish is perfect evidence. A good delivery and a fine finish.
For the rest of the half, we all expected more goals. No matter that our opponent carried no threat, we all still bear the memories of comebacks that should never have been. We needed a third and if it wasn’t for some smart keeping and some wayward final passing, we would have got it.
The second half maintained the same pattern. We passed around the box but to be fair to ‘Boro, the ten men they had protecting the box certainly helped stem the flow. Aside from a save in the first half that hardly stretched the recalled Szczesny, we can’t really judge where our smoking Pole stands in terms of reclaiming his No.1 spot. What it did tell us is that a comeback was never on the cards.
Theo and Rosicky came on for a slightly restricted Sanchez and an effective Welbeck. The two combined perfectly to carve out an opportunity for the latter who produced a good finish only to be denied by the only ‘Boro player to earn any plaudits – their goalkeeper Meijas. A sprawling fingertip save drew gasps from us and all around and should be seen.
The match played out the last twenty minutes at a bit of a canter. Both teams knowing that the result was pretty undeniable.
So many positives can be taken from a regulatory victory – if there is such a thing. A clean sheet. Ozil is looking sharp and Santi once again looked effective in his box-to-box role. Welbeck showed his stamina once more and Gibbs looked hungry to reclaim his spot from Nacho.
Our debut boy Gabriel looked solid and unfazed. A lot was made of his lack of English and how it could hamper his communication with his fellow defenders but his display was assured. Even more so if you take into account the communication issues. He made sure his positioning was sure through his experience alone and the agricultural approach that amounted to Middlesbrough’s attack ethos was silenced effectively by our Brazilian debut boy. He looks handy in the air and can handle the rougher edge of the game. This bodes well.
We left The Emirates with a win and a hearty hunger due to throaty shouting for 90 minutes, despite eating earlier. We returned for a sequel at Piebury but with a takeaway twist, eating the pastry-covered treat with our bare hands like the refined gentlemen we are. Two visits to a pie shop in one day also keeps me up with my cholesterol quota as a Scotsman.
Back to the football. We are still in with a shout of winning the Cup we currently hold. The Cup Final was such an amazing occasion and we all want that again. We still have a chance thanks to this win. The draw takes place today and all eyes will be on what is essentially a game of bingo where you don’t win any money. What we stand to win though, is far more precious than that. Let’s hope we can have another day in the merry month of May.