A less than inspirational performance saw us in the Welsh capital saw in the hat for last night’s FA Cup Fifth Round draw. The prize if we beat the Bluebirds in the replay at the Grove on Tuesday week would be a home tie against either the Baggies or Burnley. I’m happy with that. For those Gold season ticket holders amongst you this will be the last of the seven European/FA Cup tie credits for this season. If all goes as I’m sure we’d all like it to we could play a maximum of four further games at home in the FA Cup and Europe, depending on the luck of the draw in the Cup and any further replays. Could make next season’s renewal notice VERY tough on the wallet, assuming the club sticks to its recent policy of letting in season ticket holders for additional games “on tick” and adding the additional games to the renewal.
The pessimists will point out no doubt that there could be no extra Cup/European games to pay for if Cardiff do us in the replay and Roma knock us out in Europe. Enough of the pessimism I say! With Cesc, Theo and Eduardo all available for selection again as the season rapidly approaches the sharp end let’s all try and get ourselves up for it. I know we’re not playing that well at the moment but we’re putting a very nice unbeaten run together at the moment.
The Cup replay will be sandwiched between important League matches against the ‘appy ‘ammers at home – still only one of two sides to beat us in two and a half seasons at the Grove – and a visit to the Lane to play the Forces of Darkness. For once the re-shuffling of fixtures to suit the broadcasters works for us. The visit to Spurs being on the Sunday gives us five days’ recovery time post the Cardiff replay. We’ll have three days to re-charge the batteries after next Saturday’s game against the Hammers prior the Cup replay.
Some Gooners will be bemoaning the extra game whilst Yoonited and Chavski have gone through to the Fifth Round in one game. I’m just happy to still be in the Cup personally. A win at Ninian Park would have been nice but I’ll live with a replay. It’s incomparably better than being out of the Cup.
I love Arsčne dearly but I sometimes wonder whether all the public statements about players being tired after so many games are helpful. In any walk of life psychology is important. As the great Australian rugby league coach Jack Gibson once famously said, the most important part of a player’s physique is the top five inches. We do play a mad amount of football in this country, but telling a player he’s tired might just be the difference between a good performance and a mediocre one.
I’ve been a long-term advocate of reducing the top league in England to eighteen or even sixteen clubs. By and large it’s the players in the top division of any country who go the furthest in domestic and international cups and play the most games for their national teams. Reducing the size of the league to eighteen would reduce the number of league games to be played by four, giving the FA Cup enough room to breathe. Perhaps we could even consider introducing at least one replay at the semi-final and final stages and a second replay on neutral turf before that.
Two of my greatest Arsenal memories are the five match, three replay saga in the Cup third round against Sheffield Wednesday in 1978/9, including second and third replays at Leicester City’s old ground Filbert Street; and the four match, three replay semi-final epic against Liverpool in 1979/80. I remember arriving back with my mates from the continent, five of us having driven down to Turin for that season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup semi final second leg against Juventus, having a cup of tea then driving up to Villa Park for the second Cup semi-final replay. There was also the four match, three replay epic against Leeds United in 1990/91. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.
Much as I loved doing Yoonited at Cardiff in the 2005 FA Cup Final on penalties (the only time I can remember us taking a perfect five in a shoot-out), “one corner, one shot, one trophy” as a mate of mine said afterwards, I couldn’t help thinking we should have been going back to do it all over again the following Thursday. Both the 1993 final and the replay against Sheffield Wednesday were complete pants as football matches but I’d rather the memory of Andy “Capp” Linighan heading home the winner in the dying minutes of extra time than winning it on penalties any day.
Call me an old traditionalist if you like, but one of the attractions of the FA Cup for me is replays. It’s what is called, in modern marketing parlance, the competition’s USP (unique selling proposition). Don’t get me wrong I love big European nights and Euro away trips too. I’m no football Luddite. I’m one of those who think the Champions League format, bringing in runners’ up and third/fourth placed teams from the bigger leagues is progress. Sure, it makes the competition more difficult to win but surely that’s the point (aside from making money of course. I’m not naive)?
When the CL went to two group stages that was too much of a good thing for me. One is the right balance I think, although I’d move the group stage back one round and have the first round proper as a seeded knock-out. The teams from the less successful nations would that got to the group stage would be doing so on merit having beaten one of the bigger sides over two legs and the group winners and runners up would be going into the quarter-finals from four groups of four rather than the round of sixteen as at present. It’ll never happen as things stand as it would affect the finances of too many of the big clubs. I think it would make a good competition great however.
On the park it’s up to Goodison on Wednesday for a vital League match. We could so, so do with a win there but I think it’ll be VERY difficult.
That’s all for now my fellow Gooners.
Keep the faith!