There were moments last season when I just knew the FA Cup was coming to the Emirates. I didn’t say anything at the time so I can’t prove it, but this is a football blog – an Arsenal blog in fact – and as such I don’t need to prove a damn thing. The moments to which I refer occurred on those wonderful FA Cup matchdays when we beat Spurs and then Liverpool and later on an in form Everton; all strong Premier League teams, all potential banana skins. More than those results however the feeling that last year was our year really came over me on days like the fifth of January when Swansea won at Old Trafford. Also February the fifteenth when the clash of the Oil Men’s Private Trophy Teams saw Man City boot Chelsea out of the tournament. I also experienced a small psychic frisson when Mansour’s little vanity project was unexpectedly put out by Wigan in the following month.
There are certain teams you hope to avoid in the draw, and if those teams aren’t even in the draw then you’d be inhuman not to at least think to yourself, ‘Hello, if we keep our noses clean we could be in here’. Now I know that there are those whose glass is perennially and proverbially in a clichéd half empty condition, and such down at the mouth ne’er do wells will point to the Jacks of Swindon, Wrexham, Bradford and Blackburn and remind us of our experiences at having the beanstalk cut from under us. It of course goes without saying that we will need to do our bit, continuing at Brighton where we left off against Hull but the results yesterday were little short of sensational. Even the teams with nothing except the FA Cup to play for failed to overcome what should have been weaker opposition, both Liverpool and Man United managing to hold Cambridge and Bolton respectively.
So now it’s our turn.
I haven’t had any premonitions this time around. I’m not here as some kind of FA Cup Doris Stokes, in fact I’m only writing this because I was ambushed on Twitter by a geographically challenged George clearly labouring under the delusion that I would be an appropriate choice as I live down south and therefore somewhere near to the venue for today’s fixture. Brighton and Hove presumably having been washed away by the waves of the English Channel and ended up on the mud bound coast of the Severn Estuary. I don’t know how the simple folk of Somersetshire will cope when the Brighton Gay Pride carnival comes to Nether Stowey nor how Norman Cook’s latest live set will go down at The Rose and Crown in Huish Episcopi but I hope Mesut Özil finds his targets better than George can find East Sussex on a map.
Talking of which, Arsène conceded that our flawless Deutscher spielmacher doesn’t like playing on the wing but may begin his rehabilitation out there. It is a mouthwatering prospect to have him and Santi and Alexis in the same squad isn’t it? Add to that Theo easing himself back to full steam, the very, very promising Serge Gnabry returning to fitness and Aaron chomping at the bit to get back into the goal scoring groove he rediscovered just before suffering another injury and you simply have to be optimistic for the second half of the season. Given the teams knocked out yesterday I think we should extend that confidence to the FA Cup. People will be nervous of over confidence and a lower league opponent boosted by the feats of Middlesbrough and Bradford, but don’t panic I’m not taking this or any other away fixture for granted, far from it. In fact I believe the results yesterday and on Friday simply serve as a timely reminder that in a sporting contest anyone can have a bad day; it isn’t science, chance plays far too big a part in football for that.
The unvarnished truth is we are in such great form, so full of confidence and with key players at the very top of their game that we have no reason to fear anybody right now. If the players work as hard as they did at The Etihad they will create the platform for our free scoring forwards to finish the job. Sounds simple when I put it like that doesn’t it? At the time of writing I don’t know who will spear head the attack but I hope it will be Chuba Akpom with Mesut and Campbell either side of him. The youngster has been in such great form he must be desperate to show what he can do and with Wellbeck still out our sexy French pugilist may well be rested for this one.
As for Brighton, I have no personal experience of the place beyond attending a funeral there once. Friend or relative of a friend. Or relative of a friend of a relative. It was back in my drinking days so I’m pretty sketchy on the details to be honest. I played a gig in Littlehampton once but that’s West Sussex so hardly counts. Unless you’re George in which case they’re probably the same place. Oh yes, the Librarian at the college where I work went to university there and is friends with a Brighton coach driver, so there you go. My credentials to comment on all things pertaining to the town and its history are impeccable. As credentials go they’re certainly every bit as impeccable as any football blog’s are to teach anyone about tactics and they’re at that all the time.
In a footballistic context the name of Brighton and Hove Albion conjures, for people of a certain generation, the unforgettable image of Clough and Taylor in green sweaters and shirt collars. For me the greatest thing they ever did while at the helm of the South Coast club was to allow Bruce Bannister and Alan Warboys to share seven goals in an 8 – 2 hammering meted out by my local team in December of 1973. Brian Clough is the only non Arsenal manager I’ve ever had time for and in a move characteristic of the man he went into the Bristol Rovers dressing room that afternoon and congratulated the visitors saying to Alan Warboys that the eye injury he suffered that afternoon must have been self inflicted as the Brighton defence had got nowhere near him. I wasn’t at the game but Brian ‘It’s up for grabs now’ Moore was and I was lucky enough to be allowed to have my dinner on a tray in the front room that Sunday so that I could watch the Big Match. A rare moment of weakness from my otherwise strict Methodist mother.
I’d be happy with a similar scoreline today but I’d also be delighted with a cut and thrust, end to end battle and a one goal margin. It’s the FA Cup after all, it’s all about entertainment and excitement and the plucky little cliché cutting the big man down to size. Let’s just hope Jack has tired of hacking at the beanstalk come four o’clock this afternoon, he has after all had a busy weekend. And while we’re at it let’s hope Liz is as forgiving as my Mum was back in 1973. I’d better finish up now, I’ve got to go and get my tray ready just in case.