Phew! Wember-ley! – Just!

Last night’s narrow win against the Tigers saw us through to the new Wembley for the first time and a semi-final against Chelsea.
For a long, long time it appeared that Hull City might yet again frustrate us at the Grove. A speculative shot from Nick Barmby took a looping deflection off Johan Djourou’s leg and over the diving Lukasz Fabianski. Whoops! We stuttered in the first half, finding it difficult to get our mojo working against a well-organised visiting defence. A Geovanni free-kick also brought a fine save out of Fabianski, diving at full stretch to his right to push over an Exocet that was heading for the top corner. Two down and we could very well have been in serious trouble.
Unlike their previous visit to the Grove, City seemed intent on wasting as much time as possible. Referee Mike Riley was too slow to clamp down on this, although he finally lost patience and booked Tigers keeper Boaz Myhill for constant time wasting at the re-starts when he delayed taking a free kick one too many times.
With the flow of traffic increasingly one way in the second half but the Humbersiders’ goal appearing to lead a charmed life, Alex Song and Carlos Vela gave way to Samir Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner with 25 minutes left. Nasri particularly had an immediate effect. Bendtner did his bit too. Finally the equaliser came as Hull started to tire, Robin Van Persie fed by my Arsenal man of the match Andrey Arshavin, fired home.
Ten minutes later Big Bad Bill Gallas nodded home. He looked offside to me and the Tigers certainly thought so. Haven’t seen a replay yet so don’t have a firm opinion.
After that there was only going to be one winner – us. Wember-ley! Finally, as far as last night goes, an honourable mention for Kieran Gibbs, in for Gaël Clichy at left-back. Another fine game from the youngster. Well played, son.
Still on last night’s game – a great big loud raspberry for referee Mike Riley. The man appears incapable of running a bath, never mind a major football match. I’m one of those who think referees often get a very raw deal from us fans. We all have a tendency to watch the match with one eye. I recall a League Cup tie at Highbury some seasons ago when David Ginola was sent off for an elbow. I was baying for him to go too. When I got home and watch the tape I had to admit in all fairness that certainly Lee Dixon and possibly Nigel Winterburn should have gone too for hacking away at him.
Riley is however the architect of his own downfall all too often. Some of his decisions last night were just bizarre. As one wag in the crowd called out last night, “We’re meant to be the ones on drugs, Riley! Not you!” He added on two minutes in the first half when Hull was constantly time-wasting, then five in the second, when they wasted less! I know there were six substitutions in the second half, but one of them was a double substitution.
The guardians of the game’s playing laws, the International Football Association Board needs to look at allowing the introduction of time-keepers for top professional leagues who want to take up the option. They’ve been used for nearly forty years now in rugby league. The referee just singles time on and time off for injuries and other stoppages. The laws should stay as they are in terms of what time is added on for; just make the referee responsible for signalling when the clock should have been stopped. It would lessen the burden on the referee and if the time to play was shown on stadium clocks, we’d all know, including the players, exactly where we stood. It wouldn’t change the nature of the game; just remove controversies about time-keeping.
I have to also mention media reports that Cesc Fàbregas gobbed at City assistant manager Brian Horton after the final whistle last night. It was also noted Arsčne Wenger didn’t indulge in the normal managers’ handshake at the end of the game. As far as Cesc goes – say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so! Whilst there was an undercurrent in last night’s game, it was never an outright nasty match. Whatever went on, there’s never any excuse for gobbing at anybody. There might be mitigation in extreme circumstances, but never any excuse for mine. Ever. I just hope it isn’t true.
As for Arsčne’s refusal to shake hands, Hull’s time-wasting was very irritating but there’s no excuse for churlishness. Arsčne’s always been a bad loser. Good. I don’t want a manager who can just shrug off a loss. I do however like to see grace in both victory and defeat from everybody connected with the Arsenal. We are, after all, The Arsenal. It’s perfectly possible to be a bad loser and show grace and good manners. Arsčne appears to be becoming more and more irascible and prone to dummy-spitting at the slightest provocation with every passing year. There’s no need for it mate and it doesn’t become either you as the intelligent, urbane man that you are nor the club you’re paid handsomely to manage. Have a word with yourself mate. You’re doing yourself nor us any favours. You’re making us all look like spoilt brats.
Before I leave the Cup, whilst I’ll enjoy my trip to Wembley, I’m one of those who think the semi-finals shouldn’t be played there. The FA is locked in to play semis there for the next 28 seasons as things stand. I think that’s wrong. Wembley should be reserved for the final and internationals.
Now we have to put the Cup behind us and concentrate on Toon at St James’s Park on Saturday. Toon are vulnerable at the moment with stand-in manager Joe Kinnear still in hospital. They’re desperate for points for all the wrong reasons, currently in sixteenth in the League and only out of the relegation places on goal difference. We too need the points big style. We need to go to afterburners in the League now to cement fourth place, leaving Villa in our wake and try and push on for third to give us automatic qualification for the group stage of next season’s Champions League. Third is a BIG ask but that must be our goal in the League.
Whilst the team and Arsčne need to keep the focus on Toon on Saturday, the rest of the Gooner nation will all be glued to the radio and television this Friday morning for the Champions League quarter-final draw. I’d like to avoid United and Barcelona, anybody else with us being home second in both the quarters and semis would be ideal. With no disrespect to Porto, they would seem to be our best bet on form as we caned then four-nothing in the group stage.
Finally, a big happy sixtieth birthday for yesterday to assistant manager Pat Rice. An Arsenal man for 41 years now as player and coach/manager. How appropriate that a son of Ulster should have been born on St Patrick’s Day!  The next time Buckingham Palace is handing out the gongs it’s about time Pat got one for his services to the game. An absolutely top man who wore the red of Arsenal and the green of Northern Ireland with distinction and who has been such a great and loyal servant to the club. I know Watford fans who also remember his short time at Vicarage Road at the end of his career with affection too.
Keep the faith!

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