All’s Welb that ends Welb

 
Manchester Utd 1-2 Arsenal

Worth waiting for.

A truly lamentable record at Old Trafford was put to bed, at last and deservedly, by an Arsenal side that worked its socks off until the last minute. Can we finally bid farewell to that big game hoodoo? Go on, be off with you.

At the time, it felt as nerve-wracking as these things always do. In the first half it was a case of both sides pushing forward, chances at both ends, and if I was a Martian I’d probably say it was entertaining viewing. Fortunately – or unfortunately depending on the day – I am a blinkered Arsenal fan so I spent the entire time rabidly pacing up and down in default frazzled football fan mode.

Monreal’s goal: a lovely finish following determined Oxwork (that’s really a thing). The Utd defence was getting some grief for it but all I saw was the Ox nipping and barrelling through after a lovely Ozil pass. Shame he had to go off later in the game as I thought he caused no end of problems. Strong, direct – and now hamstrung. That’s frustrating.

Of course the lead didn’t last long, and a draw at the end of the half was probably about right. We did well in midfield, mostly held it together at the back (the steep learning curve for Bellerin continues), while Alexis and Welbeck toiled without much return up top.

We took off in the second half though, I thought. I’m not sure how much of it was down to Ramsey coming on, but he was the right replacement for the Ox, allowing us to keep up the high energy. Though Utd had more possession overall during the 90 minutes, I thought we worked so hard to win it back. Three hard-workers up front, and it’s easy to see why Wenger likes that.

Then came Welbeck’s goal, gifted by Utd on a silver platter. He celebrated, fair play to him, and so would I have done if I’d gone without a goal since December. It was hardly like he was thundering up the pitch and goading the fans or cupping his ears. The goal has been a long time coming and it was a reward for a typical Welbeck shift.

Suddenly came the hope, and with it the fear, but in the end I needn’t have worried. In their desperation to get something from the game di Maria got himself the daftest of red cards for simulation (or diving, in Anglo-Saxon) then touching the ref, then Januzaj toppled over himself and got punished. Both calls right – well played ref – especially given these decisions haven’t always gone our way up there.

We could have made it more, Cazorla and Alexis both coming close, but it didn’t come back to haunt us and the joy at the final whistle was palpable, not least from my 9-year-old who was grinning from ear to ear (and periodically lambasting Fellaini, attaboy).

It was a massive result right at a pivotal time of the season. Wembley beckons, and maybe again if we can despatch Reading or Bradford, while the confidence boost can only be a good thing as we face the final ten games of the league season and the ascent up the north face of the Champions League (might need more than crampons for that).

So yeah, I enjoyed that. Rather a lot.

Well played Arsenal.

I practically bounced out of bed this morning. And at my age, that’s good going.

Cup tonic needed. Simply add gin.

Two wins and one defeat later, and it’s Happy New Year from me. Six points punctured by the now typical blip and Wenger readily admits we’re “haunted by the ghost of what we have seen since the start of the season”.

Finding a way to exorcise these ghoulish switch-offs is crucial, but it’s going to take more than garlic to add some tempo and nous to our daydreamers.

We could issue the players with crosses to wave when the ghosts turn up, but I don’t advise it. Us and crosses – weak spot.

Nor is it the only item on our to-do list.

So it felt odd that the first thing on the lengthening January list was off-loading Podolski. I understand why it happened, to be honest, but could it not have waited until the end of the month? What’s the logic in doing that now? Was he that much of an agitator? It’s not like we’re leathering goals in from all angles at the moment, is it.

Still, Poldi has gone and good luck to him. I will be interested to see where he is played and how he does. Will the same fissures be evident (workrate, etc) or will he prove Wenger wrong? Hard to teach an old dog new tricks but it will be interesting nonetheless.

So onto the third round of the cup today, and here’s to going two-nil down then fighting back heroically. Great memories from last season, but this (as they always are after a sapping defeat) is no break from the rigours of the Premier League. There’s no room for error.

But this game comes after a gruelling schedule and I can’t imagine it will be a sparkling attacking adventure. Hull have hit some form, we’re maddeningly hard to judge but at home. Everyone’s a bit weary. Call it if you dare but I have no idea.

Theo Walcott has said “I’m blowing the cobwebs away”.

If ‘The Cobwebs’ is the new nickname for Hull City, then we’re in for a treat.

I do love the FA Cup, though, so I’m bobbling-hatting it up and heading off with the boy.

Come on you leggy reds!

The sweet foot of Aaron Ramsey sends Arsenal into dreamland

Arsenal v Hull

Arsenal v Hull


Arsenal 3-2 Hull City

It started, as all good things do, with some peri-peri chicken.

Our little gang of five merry cup warriors met at lunch, seven tortuously long hours after I woke up. Fed, we then sidled off to a house of refreshment to soak up the atmosphere, and proceeded to hoover up a few looseners. There was a fantastic atmosphere where we were – West Hampstead – with flags draped over pubs, fans of both sides mingling, an open-top busload of vocal gooners rattling past.

It’s hard to explain cup final day to someone who hasn’t been to one, but it feels so different to your average game. A mixture of nerves, excitement, anticipation. Good spirits, and in this case, very warm spring air. The kind of atmosphere that makes memories.

Up Wembley Way and into the ground we went, lapping it up. Then we mostly went our separate ways – victims of the vagaries of cup final ticket lotteries.

Wembley Way

Band of the Welsh Guards – tick. Abide with Me – tick (though unlike previous years the lyrics weren’t on the big screens, which was a shame and meant that the massed ranks of fans mumbled along like John Redwood, only breaking into song when the hymn reached its eponymous end). National anthem – tick. Nerves utterly shredded – tick-a-rama with a hey nonny nonny.

Viewers of a nervous disposition might now wish to avert their eyes for the next paragraph.

Kick-off and, hello! We appear to be a goal down, a bit unlucky perhaps, so that’s alright, keep calm now (even though we’ve not really started yet), we’ll get a grip on thin…Whoa! That’ll be two goals, some wobbly defending, and oh no, that was Curtis Davies. That’s not remotely good. There’s a frothing conurbation of gold and black bobbing up and down, rubbing their eyes and not quite believing what they’re seeing. The same shock was being felt at our end of the ground too, only with a touch less bobbing and a distinct absence of froth.

It’s nearly three! Hold me tight, but there’s Kieran Gibbs to nod it off the line. It transpires we’re not good at starting early on Saturday, and nor do we steam off like a train late on Saturdays either. Finely tuned to Three O’Clock, that’s what it is.

Fair play to Hull, they were hurting us from set pieces and in the air, and we’d not really been in the game. We were massively on the back foot and we needed a moment of magic.

It came, by Jupiter, it came. Cazorla’s free kick wafted handsomely into the top-right of the goal. It was a hell of a goal – a goal fit for the occasion and what a time it was for Cazorla to pull a rabbit out of his hat. We needed that, desperately.

The rest of the half at last seemed more evenly matched, it felt like we’d steadied the ship at last, and there was still a long time to go. The goals were all so early, there was no room for too much sniping, though I did complain a bit about Giroud’s ever-flailing arms of despair.

The pendulum was swinging, and the introduction of Sanogo, all legs and no goals, made a real difference. He’s still like a giant puppy but he’s definitely got something about him, and we needed that energy badly. There were several good penalty shouts – Cazorla’s was clear from where I was – but I can’t remember the rest, to be honest. Nervous memory blurs abound.

Then up popped Koscielny, scorer of important goals, to swivel in the equaliser. Pandemonium. Muchos hugging and slapping other chaps on the back, while baring teeth, fists pumping like a failing two-cylinder engine, swearing like a fishwife. I was sitting next to my 15-year-old godson and I’m sure on several occasions he peered over at me and wondered if his mum and dad hadn’t made a desperately bad decision all those years ago.

Gibbs then Rosenthaled one over, it went to extra time, and we finally played our trump card by bringing both Wilshere and Rosicky on. We were in control now, both having a big effect on our movement and energy.

The next paragraph is about Welsh Jesus.

Giroud – and it’s getting late in the day now – saves his best till the end with a glorious backheel. It’s happening in a flash but Ramsey just thwonks it with the outside of his right boot and wheels off in glorious delight, tailed by someone who used to be Gibbs but who now appears to be a madman, no doubt thinking “you’ve saved my bacon”. Again, absolute pandemonium everywhere.

If Alan Sunderland and his megaperm is synonymous with 1979, then Aaron Ramsey is the man of 2014. Sorry, Santi, but he just is. He scored a goal of wonderful quality, at the most crucial time, and it won the cup for Arsenal.

Naturally, we’re talking about Arsenal here and we almost conspired to Arsenal it up, Mertesacker tripping, Fabianski coming out and not quite getting there and Hull flashing a shot wide. Gibbs was back in a flash, still no doubt thinking about his miss, but still.

And that was that – the cup was ours, and you can see what it meant to the players, to Wenger, to us. Of course I feel sorry for Hull – they played their part in a memorable final (I can say that now – wasn’t thinking it for large tracts of the match yesterday) and losing is never fun. They rattled us and they took us all the way. Their fans were great.

But we made it, we won. As I write this I’ve got the game replaying on the telly, my kids are waving two of the flags that were on the seats at the ground. This is what it’s all about.

We did it the hard way, but we’re back on the silver trail and how everyone needed that.

Remember this feeling. This is what football is all about.

We’ve won the FA Cup.

FA Cup final preview: I can’t wait

“Absolutely chuffing blinding”, I said right here in 2005 as Patrick Vieira lobbed his cup-winning grenade at Utd, “it really doesn’t get better than this”.

And that, looking back, was just a year after our Invincibles season, a mere two years since our last FA Cup win, and just three years after we’d won the double.

We were serial trophy winners then, and I was still bowled over; knocked sideways. Nine years on, and who’d have thought it then – we’ve not won a pot since. Come close a few times, sure – on various stages – but fallen short. There’s not been enough of the ‘chuffing’ and we’ve been deficient in the ‘blinding’ department to the tune of any.

So yes, it’s a laborious way of saying I’m excited. The cup’s never lost its allure for me, and if Twitter is my guide (my skittish guide) then the feeling is widespread.

Of course, this is Arsenal and it’s never that simple anyway. On tomorrow rides the future perception (and maybe even the future) of Arsene, of this promising squad that’s won nothing and of the hopes of millions of angst-ridden gooners.

I look back with generally good memories on my experience of FA Cup finals. I vaguely recall Brooking’s forehead killing us off in ‘80, but luckily I was young and at that point I was more into Star Wars figures.

I watched the ‘93 final from my then abode in Paris. It got messy after that game, if I recall, which I don’t, though I think someone may have put some washing up liquid in a fountain.

The first I went to was 1998, when we were far too good for Newcastle. I was in Cardiff in 2001, when the less said about the result the better, though it was warm and sunny. I was on holiday in New York in 2002 (schoolboy scheduling error), but I was present and correct in 2003 (in the rain, under the roof) to watch Le Bob make it three cups in six years. Then there was 2005. That’s not a bad record.

That brings us to now. It’s a one-off game, and as we all know they don’t always do what you want them to. All I ask, and I don’t think we got this in 2011, is a performance where the players are focused to within an inch of their lives, and give all they’ve got.

Wenger might dispute that, putting it down to bad luck and a bad error, but I remember watching the Birmingham players before that final huddling together and immensely focused, while ours sauntered about. I had a bad feeling from the off. We can’t afford any complacency at all.

The good news is, we’ve changed a lot since then, I think, in terms of character. Look at this from the Evening Standard on Thursday, and you’ll see who we had in our squad then.

Honestly, compare then and now. Sure, we’re still a way off where we want to be, and we’ve had some right mares this season, some truly baffling cave-ins, but look at that squad and look at ours now. I think we’re going in the right direction.

I’m so excited. As excited as I was in 2006 as we thundered down the Boulevard St Michel with Oxford Matt, Feverpitch and my brother Charlie, in a pick-up truck, flags dangling everywhere, windows down, playing Riddimkilla.

I’ve not been a Gunner Since ‘79. I’d say it was more like ‘80. But if you get tired of this, you’re in the wrong business. If you prefer fourth every year to this – to the nerves, the excitement, the flags draped from houses (and from Piebury Corner), the random people coming up to you at work and wishing you well, then have a long think.

I can’t wait. It’s the FA Cup final.

Come on you rip-roarers.

Exhausted 1-1 Frazzled (knackered after penalties)

FA Cup semi-final

FA Cup semi-final

There really is no need to tire yourself out over three or four hours by running a 26-mile marathon. You can do it far more effectively by watching Arsenal these days, and in half the time. I am exhausted.

We’re through to the cup final, and that’s the beautiful bottom line. But looking round at the faces in the crowd, as I periodically did, just confirmed to me that while football can be joy, ecstasy and bliss rolled into one, it can just as equally be about as fun as a trip to the dentist. There were blank faces, ashen faces, looks of fatalism, crossed arms of doom and wails of anguish.

It was painful to watch, for the most part. Seeing the team you love struggle so badly for form, for ideas, for pace. They looked leaden-footed; a very average side.

120 minutes of largely forgettable football, followed by the lottery of penalties. Fabianski has a good record with spot kicks – does he keep his place for the final now? I’d be a bit baffled if he did, given he’s off. It’s clear this team needs to win something to believe, and it’d be very harsh on Szczesny to miss out on his first chance to etch a trophy onto his goalpost. Those are the moments that make careers, the making of teams and players. Would it be harsh on Fabianski? Not really, he’s leaving.

We always hear how winning breeds winning, and I hope yesterday (though it was kind of a draw) goes some way to infusing the players with some confidence and belief. But with Arsenal, you just don’t know. We have the look of a team that wants the season to end now.

Overall though, the rapid ageing and hypertension aside, it was a good day. I woke up with cup fever and loved the atmosphere of the day, meeting friends, the cameraderie and the walk up Wembley Way. It’s remarkably evocative for a lifeless, tatty suburb, isn’t it?

We’re in the cup final. That feels good. There was an explosion of relief, of joy, but mostly relief when Cazorla scored the winning penalty. Then we all drifted out, spent. Dragging our tired minds and bodies with us.

“Why do we do this to ourselves?” I asked as I shuffled on the spot in a state of agitation, before the penalties.

“You said those very same words at Villa Park in 1999, shuffling on the spot” I was reminded.

Humans are silly creatures sometimes. We have an amazing knack of forgetting. And of coming back for more against our better judgement. That’s football but ye gods, it puts you through the mill.

Into the valley of dearth rode the 50,000

I woke up at 6am, bright as a button, and football rarely does that to me these days.

It must be FA Cup semi-final day.

The days have long gone where this involves getting the car ready, hanging the scarves and flags from the windows and slipping @feverpitch’s mixtape into the trusty tape deck before heading off to Birmingham or Manchester.

Tube it is then.

By all accounts there will be 50,000 other Arsenal fans heading to Wembley, perhaps more, a phenomenally lop-sided game in terms of support. We might be permanently tormented by numerous anxieties but – let’s be frank here – that’s been our default position for years now. It’s never stopped us turning up in our thousands before and it clearly won’t today.

I’m excited, genuinely excited, by our tilt at the old jug. This is what it’s all about: we’re having a crack at something that really matters. It’s been far too long.

Ordinarily, a team lying fourth in the league and in the semi-final of the cup would be seen to be doing pretty well, but this is Arsenal and things are never that simple. The match takes place to a backdrop of dismal form, swathes of injured players and very real and reasonable doubts about the direction of the team and the manager’s future.

It’s a lethal combination when it comes to overall confidence, but it’s hardly baseless pessimism. We’re in a massive rut. Last season we tightened up and went on an impressive end-of-season run to secure the Fourth Cup. This year, we’ve ground to a halt and gone into reverse.

The cup though, lest we forget, has been an oasis of calm. We’ve beaten everything thrown at us with some applomb. So it will be interesting to see how the players start today. Will the shackles be off a bit, or will the nerves descend like a fog?

Forgive me for bringing it up, but I remember as I waited for the Carling Cup final to start in 2011 seeing the Birmingham players huddle in concentration, and compared it to our players who were all sauntering about laughing. That day, we were complacent and we paid for it.

I don’t think there’ll be any of that today. They’ll bust a gut. Today though it’s about dragging tired bodies and minds into some semblance of form. Not hurtling forward shapelessly. Defending stoutly. Back to basics, as Wenger has said. But above all, the players need to enjoy the day like the fans will.

Big day, massive day. Exciting day. Come on you rip-roarers!

Giroud and Ozil show their class as Arsenal head to Wembley

Arsenal 4-1 Everton

And so to our first FA Cup semi-final in five years. Ah yes, Wembley. The stroll up Wembley Way, my Kenny Sansom flat cap, a mixtape by FeverPitch, Alan Sunderland’s megaperm (I swear I do not believe that), Charlie George lying prostrate, Charlie Nicholas’s mullet, Andy Linighan’s bloody-headed header, Overmars bursting through.

(I prefer those memories to Trevor Brooking, Gazza, Winterburn missing a penalty against Luton, overpriced inedible food and a spectacular defensive howler that led to anger and mental scarring in 2011, if that’s alright with you).

I know, I know, it’s not the final – I’d prefer the semi-final to be at a neutral club ground like it always was – but the powers that be need to pay back the mortgage so Wembley it is. Wemberleeeeee.

Let’s be dramatic about it: beating Everton was huge. After the Stoke no-show, it was massive. We’re off the pace in the league, we’ve got to climb Mount Bayern without crampons, so yesterday was so important in so many ways. We’re one game from our first cup final since 2005, for a start. That’s good enough for me, but an excellent win is the kind of confidence boost we needed too. Lose that and the rest of the season would have stared us in the face, gurning. So make no bones about it – that was a big result.

I can say this now we’ve won, but it was an excellent cup tie. My brother said as the game started that he hoped Sanogo would score, as he needed a goal to give him belief. But when the goal did come – nice and early, keep it up Arsenal – it went to another player who needed one arguably even more. Questioned by many, a little off-colour, booed on international week, Ozil popped up and with one deft left foot kicked off an excellent performance that culminated in a delicious assist for Giroud’s second. An excellent performance in the spring sunshine (it’s amazing what a few gamma rays can do).

Sanogo had a shot, The Ox another, and we should really have capitalised on our lead, but the first half ended with Everton playing well and they got a tap in that set up a tense second half. As I say, a good game.

The game swerved our way with the penalty. The Ox again, this time running forcefully on the edge of the box right in front of where we sit (he must know this, he perhaps notices us, I like to think he does), was felled by the outstretched leg of Barry Gareth. Penno every day.

Here come the Arteta – he’s the lyrical gangster – and boom, cool as you like he scores. Except he doesn’t because of some perceived infringement by Giroud. What’s that all about? Annoying, because I’d already cheered heartily, pumped my fist at several innocent people and raised my son skywards. Up he comes again though, same coolness, different direction, goal.

Then the denoument, two goals from the excellent Giroud thanks to more good work from Ozil and the energy of Rosicky. It is perhaps an unfair comparison, but seeing Giroud next to Sanogo makes you appreciate the stuff he does that Sanogo cannot yet do. He finds space, holds and distributes the ball, and is deceptively quick-footed. For me, a fit and firing Giroud is key to any kind of momentum for us between now and May. When he’s good, he’s very good (18 goals this season is not too bad at all). Sanogo is willing but not ready. As for Bendtner – I have no idea where he’s got to.

So a great win and a needed shot in the arm. Now for Munich…

As an aside, I took my 5-year-old to his first game yesterday and not surprisingly, he loved it (despite a few wriggles of boredom in the first half). He may be too young to remember it in years to come but I now have the photograhic evidence to prove it… One thing that did make me laugh though is something he whispered in my ear during the ding-dong second half. “Daddy, is it true dodos are extinct?” Kids are so wonderfully random and hard to fathom.

A bit like Arsenal then. But it all came together yesterday and you could see what it meant to fans and players alike.

Czech mate

Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham

There was me worrying – silly old worrying me! In the end it was far from the toughest of derby days for Arsenal, but in terms of enjoyment it was right up there with the best of them. Hoarse? I’ve practically got hooves this morning.

We bossed it, fair and square, and even with ten men, when we understandably found ourselves on the back foot, we looked comfortable defending what we had. If I’d been able to script the derby, I’d have done it something like this (well OK, I wouldn’t – I’d have made it 7-0 with a sprinkling of reds, but this will do thanks).

At various points in the game I kept on piping up that “Wilshere’s having a great game” or “Rosicky’s got the bit between his teeth” or “Hands up, I was wrong about Gnabry” to which my brother responded my reminding me that the whole team was having a good day at the office, and he was right. We defended well, Fabianski was untroubled, we bossed the midfield and Theo caused all manner of danger as the lone front man. It was our best and most fluid performance in some time, and what a time to pull it out the hat. Impeccable.

The 5.15pm kick-off wasn’t as foolish as I’d feared and made for a great atmosphere – it was as loud as it has been in ages. In general terms the atmosphere has been better all season than it’s been over the last few years – we’re playing well, simple as that – but when you add the local derby ingredients (and a few extra hours in the pub) then the timid old place goes a bit haywire. It was great fun being in and among it all. And bundling, hugging, shouting, clapping. There’s life in the old dog yet *rubs aching back*.

Yes, I’ve watched all the Vines and seen the Instagrams and Flipboarded and Snapchatted* and Whatsapped my way through the entire aftermath, and I’ve read all the reports and I’m going to head off to hoover up the blogs next. It was that kind of game.

*I haven’t snapchatted. I’m too old to snapchat, I think. Or scared.

What else did I learn? Well, Wilshere is back on form and plays far better in the centre of the midfield than he does on the wing. Accommodating him in that role with Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Rosicky, Arteta and Flamini was always going to be a balancing act, but in truth it’s not that hard – Wenger now has the luxury of being able to rotate in that key area with seemingly few side effects.

Gnabry – well it’s hard not to agree with Arseblog on this issue. I thought he’d struggle in a game of this importance and intensity but he did the opposite of struggle (elggurts?). I know it’s only one game but on that kind of form we have yet another option on the wing – a proper option – and that’s without the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain. The ebbs and flows of football are amazing in that regard – a few months out has given one player a few chances and left another a little further down the pecking order. Football really is all about form and fitness and confidence.

And Walcott – what a menace. It seems a long time ago now that he was umming and aaahing about a new deal and plenty of people were writing him off as not good enough. He’s integral now – a pocket dynamo – and his return to the team just at the time Ramsey and Giroud hit dips was a piece of luck. Fingers crossed his knee is not overly mauled. He was in the wars a bit yesterday (hard to know how seriously) so we shall see.

So, onto the 4th round of the FA Cup. I love this cup and hate how every year its importance seems to diminish, purely because of money. The day we start saying the cup is not worth the bother is the day we should take a long hard look at ourselves and ask: what’s the point of football, if not to win stuff?

Half-Arsednal

Arsenal 0-1 Blackburn

So I voiced my inner fears in yesterday’s preview with these words:

“The effects of a disjointed performance and a cup exit on the players, the fans, on pretty much everyone, do not bear thinking about.”

Well we’re now having to bear thinking about it, because a disjointed performance is exactly what we got, utterly blunt and operating at about 60% of the required urgency until it was too late. Let’s file this away with the rest of the season-definers: Bradford, Norwich, Swansea, Schalke – there are more besides, all hewn from the same rock. This tweet from Orbinho sums the situation up, really:

And that’s just it: It’s the same mistakes happening again and again and again. For every cautious step forward we take (Stoke, Sunderland), we then proceed to fizzle out. You got the feeling after about ten minutes yesterday that the players thought it would be easy to win it.

We had a dozen corners in the first half, only one of which was dangerous. As Tim at Arse2Mouse pointed out, Blackburn soon twigged that conceding a corner was the safest option because we wouldn’t do much with them, and so it proved. The other chance we had fell to Gervinho, who predictably scuffed it wide. He often gets into decent, advanced positions on the wing but he can’t cross and he can’t shoot. As Adam Ant once said: ‘What do you do?’

Rosicky had a cracking effort that came back off the bar moments before he was subbed off, but then came Blackburn’s only shot on goal, from which they scored. A bit jammy, but Szczesny should have done better. After that there were a couple of point-blank saves thanks to a belated cranking up of the tempo but it was too late, and we spent far too much time in our favourite desperation zone, just in front of the D, passing left and right across the goal like a caged animal pacing round its enclosure. Only, this animal had no bite.

Fair play to Blackburn and all that, because riding your luck a bit is what makes cup football the unpredictable beast that it is. But the last five or ten minutes aside, it’s not like they were throwing bodies across the line.

When Arsenal have a day like this – ponderous, lacking ideas, lacking forward motion – they are terrible to watch. When the crowd is flat, it is flat because there is nothing to feed off from the pitch. Yes, it goes both ways, but this in the Mirror rings true:

The energy and the drive has to be generated by the players and what this occasion proved was that too many players are lacking those qualities.

If there were a smattering of boos at half-time, they had turned into a cascade at full-time. The feeling of gloom was capped off by a rousing rendition of ‘We want our Arsenal back’ outside the tube station.

I’m not sure that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The camel’s got several bales of the stuff in its saddle-bag already.

Making so many changes backfired. Leaving it until the 70th minute to inject something into the side was too late.

We are back to square one. The knives are out – rightly, though I don’t approve of the malice or the spite – for Wenger. Something has to change. But will it?

Somewhere in Bavaria, there will be chuckling.

Wenger’s double cup juggle

I might as well just wheel out my ‘I love the FA Cup’ article again, mightn’t I? I do love the FA Cup. Did I ever mention that?

And now we’re approaching the business end of it – win today’s fifth round and it’s the quarter-finals. That has the word finals in it. Maybe at this point I should throw in a gem of a stat, one that you’ve not heard before. How about: We’ve not been in a cup final since 2005, which incidentally was the last time we won a trophy! Come back again, you’re welcome.

Not that I have an especially fond memory of the quarter-finals. We lost at that stage rather tamely to Man Utd two seasons ago, 2-0. I just re-read my match report and it’s a model for despondency, so I won’t link to it. And one of my first (unhappy) memories of the quarter-finals was losing to Watford in 1987. My guess is that we hadn’t been that far for a few years because I was massively giddy about it, but Luther blooming bloody Blissett scored a controversial late winner and that was that.

I also remember a few years later, in 1991, we were taking on Cambridge Utd at the same stage and a whole bunch of us – about ten, because you could do that then – rolled up at about 2.15pm but it was a lock-out and we couldn’t get in. So instead we went ten-pint bowling at Finsbury Park. It was chaos by about the fifth pint.

Anyway, I’m waffling. This is a big game for us for all the reasons I don’t need to remind you of, but of course it comes just three days before a more prestigious game against Bayern. Like it or not, that’s the hierarchy and I’m sure Wenger’s team will reflect that. I wouldn’t risk players who are not 100% fit like Jack Wilshere – especially given his overall importance – but I’m not sure I’d rest too many, really. I think we have to go for both but I do accept it’s a balancing act. But the effects of a disjointed performance and a cup exit on the players, the fans, on pretty much everyone, do not bear thinking about. It would undo all the good work of the last few weeks.

Blackburn have a new manager, only their third of the season, and he seems to brought some stability to a club that desperately needs it. They’ve not lost since 19th January so we take them lightly at our peril.

The looming presence of the Champions League does worry me though. On the one hand I love it and those nights are always memorable. You’re on a global stage. But on the other, its shadow looms over the games either side of it.

Focus gents, focus – and come on you rip-roarers.