The less said about yesterday’s game – the worst I have sat through in some considerable time – the better. We started slowly, got slower, and only sped up when it was far too late.
Blackburn played the way they did, apparently, so as not to ship six goals like they in the league before Christmas. But rather than berate them for their sleep-inducingly defensive tactics, it’s Arsenal’s fault for failing to react to it quickly enough. We were dreadful for 90% of the match and 0-0 was a fair scoreline.
Evidently, their fans knew something about their team’s forthcoming tactics before making their journey south. They win the dubious accolade of being the first set of supporters to not fill up even the smallest wedge of away allocation. If there were more than 750 away fans I’d be amazed – out of a potential FA Cup allocation of 6,000.
Again though, I’m not blaming them particularly.
Football is getting too expensive, they’ve had lots of games to contend with, it was at 12.30 on a Saturday morning, it was live on free-to-air television, and they only had two days to arrange it all after our fourth-round replay win on Wednesday. There have been similar gaps at grounds up and down the country this FA Cup, and all the above reasons, plus an uninspiring draw for the most part, can be cited.
Don’t forget that Arsenal, too, didn’t fill its share of seats up yesterday either. The official attendance was 56,761 but there were huge gaps in the Clock End upper and plenty of empty seats elsewhere. It’s got to be a false attendance, because as Arsenal have admitted themselves, they measure not how many people come through the turnstiles but how many seats are sold. I’d guess it was a good 2,000 lower than that in reality, though still a fantastic attendance in the scheme of things; the kind of crowd we’d have got about once or twice a season only back in the 80s when Highbury had a similar capacity to the Grove.
What struck me more than anything else yesterday (and there was plenty of time for rumination) was that, for the first time in my memory, we are very close to having two first teams.
Just two players from Wednesday night began yesterday’s match. The cover we have, when everyone is fit, is sensational, especially when you consider how many of our players can play in more than one position.
Our squad looks healthy beyond belief. It needs to be, given the amount of games we’ve now got to play.