Many fans were bemused on Saturday when both Arshavin and Song were absent for what was clearly our most important game of the season. We were 90 minutes away from a cup final, yet Arsene opted not to choose two of our most influential players of recent weeks.
On Tuesday night we saw what we missed on Saturday.
Song played like two players; making up for Denilson’s deficiencies. Song covered the pitch, provided support for the defence and dominated Maschareno and Alonso. Oh how we could have done with his power on Saturday.
Arsene’s explanation is that Song had played a lot of games recently. It was more important to play him on Saturday and let him have Sunday against Middlesbrough as his rest day.
The other missing player was Arshavin. On Tuesday night he was very quiet t ostart with. Most of our play in the first half was on the other flank, emphasising how busy and important Nasti is (another absentee). Then the Russian came to life. He scored a good goal in the first half, but his second was something to admire. Not quite in the Pires mould when he scored a beauty a few years back at Anfield but it was a great solo goal. His third was a poacher’s goal whilst his fourth showed his speed. He ran the length of the field, almost overtaking Walcott before he placed the ball past Reina.
Our performance on Saturday lacked the drive that Arshavin would have given us. It is still a mystery as to why he was missing. He played the previous week-end against Wigan and Wenger knows he cannot play in the Champions League, so he was not resting him for the semi-final against Manchester United. The only explanation is that Arsene wants us to finish third and avoid a tough Champions League qualifier in August.
No matter what is said, leaving these two players out of the match against Chelsea cost us a place in the Final. Wenger deep down must realise he made a mistake in the team selection.
This was a game of two halves, but in the end Arsenal overcame a stubborn Hull City to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup.
Arsenal never got started in the first half. We did not get the ball out to Arshavin or Walcott, whilst both Song and Diaby were having poor games. Vela looked out of sorts and van Persie did not look for the ball.
Hulltook the lead through a shot from Barmby that took a heavy deflection. From that moment Hull had one thing in mind, to waste as much time as possible. At every opportunity Myhill took his time, whilst their defenders prevaricated over whom should take throw ins.
The second half saw a more purposeful Arsenal. It was non stop attack. Arsenal’s corners were creating problems with Djourou and van Persie coming close, before the Dutchman hit the bar. Hull were getting desperate, in one incident with a free kick to Hull near the half way line, their goalkeeper ran to take it, then stopped and finally he got booked, then he decided not to take the free kick.
Arsenal’s fortunes changed when Nasri and Bendtner came on. The Dane started to win all the headers, he started to bring players into the game and it was no surprise he was involved in the equaliser. He chased the ball and sent the ball across the area; it fell to Arshavin, who laid it back to van Persie who made no mistake.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy and the last thing we needed was a replay. Arsenal won the game with four minutes to go when Nasri’s free kick was knocked on by Djourou, Gallas reached the ball to head it into the goal.
Arsenal had to see out the remaining minutes before securing a semi-final place against Chelsea.
It was interesting to see how quick Myhill was taking the goal kicks when Hull were chasing the game!
Bendtner showed once more that he might not be able to score at the moment but his movement and willingness to work for the team are second to none. This is a lesson for Vela and van Persie who in the first half were statues waiting for the ball to arrive, whilst Bendtner was willing to look for the ball.
The other disappointment was the crowd, 55,000, but in reality there were no more than 50,000 in the ground. This blows away the myth that Arsenal fans are desperate to see their team. Had the game been a Saturday kick-off the crowd could have been greater, but nevertheless this was the second FA Cup tie in a row that saw swathes of empty seats at The Emirates, a worry sign for the club.
What a day, Eduardo making his second appearance of the season, Walcott coming on from the bench, Eboue scoring a goal and Song dominating the midfield. Arsenal made a hesitant start to the game, but soon took a stranglehold and were never threatened by Burnley. Arsenal took the lead after Arshavin pounced on a mistake by Eagles; he played a great ball to Vela who showed us his class by skipping past a challenge and lifting the ball over the oncoming goalkeeper. This goal demonstrated what Arshavin has brought to the team, quick thinking, and creativity and for a small player he is not fearful of “getting stuck in.” Vela on the hand has tended to play out wide this season, once brought into the middle he showed glimpses of what he can achieve. The other point of the first half was the torrential rain that had most of the lower stand fans running for cover! The second saw plenty of possession for Arsenal, but interesting we saw Alexander Song in the mood, he was everywhere, he was strong in the tackle and his distribution was first class. His partner, Diaby also showed great skill and athleticism, but he tired and started to lose the ball too often. It was from one of Song’s passes that we witnessed one of the most remarkable gaols ever seen. As the ball fell to Eduardo, he volleyed the ball with the outside of his left foot into the opposite corner of the goal. Arsenal then had several more chances to extend the lead, with Eduardo, van Persie, and Walcott all failing to add to the score. It was left to our bête noire, Eboue to end the game on a high. In a great move involving Song and Gallas, Eboue found himself in the area and unleashed a shot into the bottom corner. This was greeted with rapturous cheers for a player who often has us pulling our hair out.
Eduardo is back and back with a vengeance. The fans saw what has been missing and they loved every minute. Eduardo brought mobility to an otherwise statuesque attack. His link up play with Vela was first class and to cap the night off he scored two goals. Arsenal started the game determined to put the past poor performances behind them. It was attack after attack, a header from Bendtner that went wide, Gallas’ header was well saved by the Cardiff goalkeeper, and then Vela had a cracking shot that the keeper could only parry into Bendtner’s path but his shot was aimed straight at the keeper. The Bendtner of old would have hidden, but instead he carried on trying to score and trying to create chances. Arsenal’s breakthrough came when Eduardo picked the ball up, ran at the Cardiff defence before laying the ball off to Vela, his cross was met by Eduardo, whose header beat the goalkeeper. Great euphoria all around the ground, Eduardo was back. It was his constant running into space that made the goal. Arsenal could smell blood, a shot by Nasri was fumbled by the keeper and the ball went narrowly wide of the post. Arsenal were not to be denied, a corner from Nasri was met by Bendtner and it was two nil. Bendtner had a glorious chance to make it 3-0 but his hit the post and then the goalkeeper pulled of a great save, when he was no more than 5 yards out. Cardiff showed little stomach for a fight and did not cause Arsenal any problems. The second half was a training exercise for Arsenal. The game was over as a tie when Eduardo converted a penalty. Wenger took the opportunity to take Eduardo and Nasri off bringing on van Persie and Ramsey. Soon it was the turn of Bischoff to make a cameo appearance. Arsenal continued to attack with Bischoff coming close to opening his account, but it was van Persie who made it four nil after a great through ball by Bendtner. The same combination almost made it 5-0, but his header hit the post. Overall it was a great morale boosting game for Arsenal. Every player performed well and all looks rosy once again at the Emirates. The fans can look forward to a good FA Cup run and they will look forward to the game against Sunderland where we expect to see Arshavin make his debut.