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.

Match report: Arsenal step up a gear

Manchester City 0-3 Arsenal

For much of the week just gone I’ve been muttering – sometimes, but not always to myself – that yesterday’s match was pivotal.

Pivotal because, firstly, we’d not beaten either of the Manchesters or Chelsea for something like ten matches, which is a pretty substantial mental block for a team that has title ambitions. Secondly, simple maths tells us that had we lost, we’d have been eight points behind the leaders, leaving us a huge mountain to climb. And thirdly, for me it was a rather simple question: Is this team actually good enough to make that next step from third/fourth to winning trophies? I’ve long had my doubts, and I don’t suppose I am the only one.

Well, we passed with flying colours. And this morning, sitting in my remote northern coastal outpost, I am basking not only in sunshine but also rekindled excitement about the season ahead.

OK, I accept that sounds a bit absurd, given we were already romping our Champions League group and larking about at the top end of the league table, but I really do think yesterday’s win is a milestone – or should that be millstone – overcome.

For a while now not been bullied on the pitch – something we have been justifiably accused of in the past. What we have at times still lacked though is ruthlessness and maturity, and I think we showed more of both those attributes yesterday, particularly in the second half.

Sure, we were helped by the early red card, but it was as clear a red as you’ll ever see – despite Mancini’s protestations. What I feared could then become an attritional battle to get past a blue defensive wall in fact developed into an open, really enjoyable game. Nasri’s one-two with Arshavin was a lovely piece of football and a superb finish – Nasri scoring his seventh goal of the season.

According to today’s Times, Nasri has never scored more than seven goals in a season either for Marseilles or for Arsenal, so for him to hit that at the tail end of October tells you all you need to know about the season he’s having. He should have been man of the match (Cesc: “I missed a penalty – how can I be man of the match?”)

City, to their credit, fought hard and Arsenal racked up the yellows during the remainder of the first half fighting them off. It should have been two, mind you, Fabregas’s penalty well saved by Hart. To have already had 12 penalties in games involving Arsenal is extraordinary. Why is this? Chamakh has earned a fair few of our nine, but not all. Speed of thought and movement? Coincidence?

Fortunately, the yellowed players calmed down in the second, or else we’d have been looking at ten-man parity. When Song scored our second – a rasper – the match was as good as over and it was left to the returning Bendtner to seal it. Three goals scored, clean sheet: Bargain.

Also deserving of credit is MM* Fabianski. His display was pretty much flawless and included two or three very good reflex saves. It’s true that there’s a long way to go before we can unfurl the goalkeeping bunting, but he’s doing everything right at the moment and if there’s going to be any movement in that department in January, it won’t be him doing the moving. Long may it carry on.

With Walcott, Rosicky, Bendtner, Gibbs, Eboue and Koscielny on the bench, Wilshere back in the compound and van Persie edging towards fitness, we have options too. The squad is looking primed.

There’s no doubt there’ll be more learning curves and teething problems to come – but we’re improving and we’re in a good place.

* Much-maligned