We are through to the FA Cup final!
No matter what you thought about our performance in Saturday night’s semi-final, the most important thing is that we’ve booked ourselves another date at Wembley. A cup final to look forward to, come the end of the season.
Putting aside our league form for a moment, this really has been some run in the Cup. The draw was not particularly kind to us, but we’ve dealt with the likes of Spurs, Liverpool and Everton with a certain degree of comfort. Add to that list the current cup holders and you have to admit that we more than deserve our place in the final.
Some will no doubt question the manner of our victory and I would, of course, have appreciated a straightforward convincing win inside the 90 minutes. But that would have been surprising given our recent results, so we had to settle instead for a nervy 120 minutes, with a shootout as the icing on the cake.
It was nervy alright, but I thought we were clearly the better team throughout the match. However, our cautious mentality served us poorly and it was only after we switched to 4-4-2 and a rather un-Arsenal long ball approach that we started to look more threatening.
After Per Mertesacker redeemed himself with the equaliser, having conceded the penalty for Jordi Gomez’s opener, I truly thought we were going to get the winner and avoid the shootout. We nearly did when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the bar, but credit must go to Wigan for their disciplined defending that repelled all of our subsequent attacks.
If taking the game to penalties was Wigan’s plan, then it was rather strange that their choice of penalty takers played into our hands. Choosing a defender who hadn’t started a single match all season to take the crucial opening kick may not have been in the Latics’ best interests, but it gave us the best possible start when Lukasz Fabianski swatted Gary Caldwell’s attempt away.
That must have gone some way to settling our nerves as our players put on an absolute masterclass in scoring from 12 yards. Take note Man United – THAT’S how to perform in a semi-final penalty shootout.
You could see the delight and relief in our players’ faces when we clinched the victory and you can hardly begrudge them this moment of celebration. We’ve been through a rough few weeks so let’s celebrate that we’ve halted our dismal run of results and put ourselves one match away from a first trophy in nearly 10 years.
Having said that, we’ll need to switch frames yet again and refocus on the league and the battle for fourth spot. My immediate worry falls on our match against West Ham just three days after such a gruelling test. We’re going to have loads of tired legs and not many fresh legs to replace them with.
Off the top of my head, I can see Wojciech Sczcesny, Kieran Gibbs, Kim Kallstrom, and Olivier Giroud coming straight in, but the rest of the team is going to have to soldier on. Still, I have full faith that the lads know the task ahead of them and the efforts required to bring home the points we need to catch up with Everton.
It’s not going to be easy against a physical side like West Ham, but then again it’s not going to be easy in any of our remaining games. Many will say that the cup final shouldn’t be a distraction at this point but I would offer this point instead: the strongest possible finish to the league season would be the most ideal preparation for the finale to our season at Wembley.
Otherwise, the only other thoughts about May 17 should be in the minds of my fellow Gooners: Save the date, make no other plans that evening, and let’s end the season in style. Come on you Gunners!!