Bill Oddie Bill Oddie,
Rub your beard all over my body,
Geoff Bailey Geoff Bailey,
Rub your beard all over me daily.
I wonder if we’ll get a replay of last year’s FA Cup semi final. I watched it again as a part of my preparation for Saturday afternoon and it was a real nail biter wasn’t it? I’d forgotten just how close that day in April came to being one of our most infamous. Had we lost none of us would have loved the manager and players any less of course but having said that winning through to a Wembley final was infinitely preferable. Imagine the ignominy of being the butt of a semi final joke which would have reverberated around the country and which we would not have been allowed to forget.
Part of me would be delighted with a repeat of the thrills and spills of that match. Football is after all first and foremost about entertainment. Not results, not big names, not money and palatial stadiums. Excitement and entertainment are the reasons we watch and if you take those away then this blog might as well be about knitting. I can’t stand the mantra that the win is the only thing that matters. A win can make up for a poor performance and is the perfect cherry upon the icing of an exciting game, but if I’m going to look forward to a match all week and then sit glued to it for two hours, well, I want to enjoy the experience.
Having said all of that you won’t hear me complain if we blow Reading away. Looking back at the highlights of our last three meetings (or at least the last three available on Arsenal Player) we have scored sixteen goals to Reading’s eight which (at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious) suggests a precedent for high scoring games. I don’t know how closely the current Royal’s side resembles the one of that vintage but ours has seen a few tweaks all of which have improved the squad immeasurably. Which brings us neatly to the team prediction. I expect to see Wojciech Szczęsny in goal with ten players in front of him and a handful of substitutes on the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few regulars rested but wholesale changes are extremely unlikely given the importance of the game, and that’s as much tea leaf gazing as you’ll get from me.
The only connection I have with Reading FC is my mate Johnny Trombone, a Madejski regular who would treat us all to a drunken rendition of the Bill Oddie song every time he’d passed the tequila event horizon. John is a fantastic musician and an all round decent cove and if he is typical of the beard loving Reading supporter then the opposition can be relied upon for some civilised and enjoyable banter this evening. Aldershot Town fans may well disagree, so my apologies to any of you who are closet Shots.
I don’t know if the build up to this weekend’s semi finals has been particularly muted or not. I am aware some people have been saying it has, but as the transfer speculation season kicked off a couple of months earlier this year I’ve had to begin my media and social network embargo earlier than usual. If there has been an absence of the usual hyperbole I wonder if it might have much to do with the assumption that the line up for the final is a foregone conclusion and as such folk regard the semis as mere formalities. If so they are not only doing both Reading and Liverpool a disservice but demeaning the achievements of the other two clubs should they prevail.
We know all too well how a so called lesser side can battle. From where I sit I cannot recall anyone giving us a time quite as hard as that which we endured from Burnley last week and they look very much like they’ll be a Championship side before too long. If Clarke’s players can apply themselves with the same boundless energy and unquenchable enthusiasm then our lads will need to remain focussed for the entire game. I think Burnley’s effort was almost superhuman. They appeared to have three players to our one all over the pitch for large periods of the game. However we not only resisted them, we overcame them and towards the latter part of the match we were taking the fight to them. Aaron in particular grabbed the game by the scruff as the second half progressed and I am quietly confident that whatever the score after seventy minutes we have the players to boss the final twenty once again.
Barring a miraculous Chelsea collapse (for which I am fervently hopeful) the FA Cup, our FA Cup, represents our last chance at another trophy. A trophy which I might add is nothing more than our esteemed manager deserves. He doesn’t deserve it simply because of the the years in which he has had to compete with squillionaires while holding nothing but a broken piggy bank. He doesn’t deserve it merely as an opportunity to put up two fingers to the revolting so called Arsenal fans who have heaped so much scorn and abuse on our greatest ever manager. He doesn’t deserve it just because I love him and wish every possible good thing to happen to him. He especially deserves it this time because just as he has got close to the kind of squad of which he has only been able to dream throughout the austerity years that squad has been ravaged by a variety and number of injuries with which our competitors would simply not have coped.
Only one man had the confidence, the belief and the humility to drag a patched up endlessly changing side back into contention at the top. Can you honestly see a spoilt brat like that graceless oaf in Fulham persevering with the same quiet dignity had he seen players re-injured each time they returned, seen players crocked at the same time as their replacements were out and watched as a player played himself into form only to be injured the moment he looked to be back to his best? Imagine the sympathy he would have received from the entire football establishment and imagine the childish whining and bleating we would all have had to endure from the man himself.
I want to get to the final again, of course I do. I want the team to win the thing again, of course I do. I want the players to do it for all of you who have remained faithful regardless of the result, who have remained positive regardless of the braying from the brain dead and the hateful. Most of all I want the players to do it for the man who has built this club up to where it is today, the man who’s wisdom, knowledge and love of Arsenal dwarfs any passion we may have for the club. More than anything else I want them to do it for Arsène.