Tragic for Reading, magic for Arsenal
One day Arsenal will turn up for an FA Cup tie at the new Wembley stadium. We've had four of them there so far and have been awful in every one. It is a mark of how far below Premier League standard Reading are that Arsenal merited the win despite being truly awful on the day. That isn't to say that we couldn't much have argued had Reading won the game because we were so poor. But when, until that horrendous moment, their goalkeeper was the best player on the pitch you know you were still better than they were.
I said in the preview that if we played with our high pressing game we would have too much for Reading. For some reason it just wasn't in evidence. We weren't harrying their players in possession and making them give the ball up to us. When we got it we were slow and back to the obsessive sideways and backwards passing. I can not understand what possesses players like Cazorla and Ozil and Ramsey etc to want to play the ball to their centre-halves with such regularity. It was as though we'd gone back in time about six months to when we were playing some of the worst football of the Wenger era. Who in their right mind would want to see Per Mertesacker on the ball so much? With all that attacking talent nobody wanted to go forward. Danny Welbeck was making plenty of runs but the ball kept going in the opposite direction. Similarly we refused to give width to the play as the pass inside became increasingly more familiar. To say it was frustrating watching Arsenal yesterday would be an understatement.
When we got the goal it was the one moment of truly class football we played all day. Shock horror it came from a forward pass. And what a pass. In the first-half I thought Mesut Ozil was our best player by a long way. The pass he played to Alexis for that goal gets better every time I watch it. He had nine opposition players between himself and goal and yet he picked a beautiful chipped pass in to the path of the sprinting Chilean. Then there was that first-touch from Alexis, the drag back to send the defender totally the wrong way, and the calm finish. It was a World Class goal from a combination that cost Arsenal £70m. That kind of move is why you pay that kind of money. True quality costs cash. Remember Denilson and Bendtner?
At half-time, 1-0 up, I was looking for a fast start. Get another and it would be game over, and a matter of how many we would win by. Then, five minutes in to the second-half, we got a goal-kick. Szczesny picked the ball up and strolled slowly to the opposite side of his six-yard box and took an age to take it. We were time-wasting instead of going after the killer goals. There was obviously an attitude of "this lot are rubbish, we'll take the 1-0" about the way Arsenal were playing. It was utterly ridiculous. What were they thinking? Who told them to play with that attitude? Mertesacker told us on Thursday that they knew how they'd have to play, and yet this is what we got. Yet again it was empty words not backed up by the actions on the day. It was no surprise when Reading equalised and even less of a surprise to see Szczesny throwing it in the back of his own net. He should never have been playing in the first place, simple as that.
You'd have thought that might have been the wake-up shout we'd been looking for but we just kept playing the square rubbish. And for all that we were awful we had chances, a few of them from set-pieces. Gabriel drew a magnificent save from Federici and then missed a sitter. The introduction of Giroud made a huge difference against centre-backs who seemed determined to swap shirts with him from the moment he came on. If the officials had been doing their job we'd have had about three penalties just for fouls on Giroud. Mr Atkinson was his usual awful self in charge yesterday. The man is simply not capable of officiating at any level of football. We went on, of course, to see Ramsey miss a totally open goal having seen Federici save his first effort. I'm not quite sure why Ramsey was still on the pitch. For me, and everyone sitting where I was at Wembley, it should have been him who went off for Giroud with Welbeck moving to the wing. I just don't see why or how Ramsey gets in this side. For me we have Welbeck, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Rosicky and Gnabry who should all play ahead of him on the right. If he looks to be in the middle then Wilshere, Cazorla, Rosicky and Arteta are all a better bet simply because they all work harder and tackle, quite apart from using the ball so much more intelligently.
Finally we managed to grab a winning goal. There is no doubt it was a terrible moment for Adam Federici and it is hard not to feel sorry for him. Having said that, I saw a Tweet this morning from Harlow Steve reminding us all that nobody felt sorry for Szczesny against Birmingham in 2011. I'm also not having it that his mistake meant we were lucky to win. We saw the Reading goalkeeper make a lot of saves to keep his side in the game. Shortly before we got the winner he had got away with one as a shot from Ramsey squeezed through his hands and up over the bar. Giroud would go on to hit the post as well. It's a shame for Federici as that error will forever haunt a very good goalkeeper. It was also a shame for the Reading fans who, apart from the young idiots throwing bottles at us from the podium level in to the Wembley car-park, were a credit to their club - another Royals fan apologised for the bottles, while we were also wished good luck for the final as we got in the car. I think it's worth saying that Alexis didn't play particularly close to his best yesterday, but scoring two goals is the mark of quality. Gary said in the car coming home that Henry and Bergkamp often didn't play all that well, but you'd come away from games knowing they'd scored or made the winning goals. Class is what we are talking about, and it told yesterday when it mattered.
And so we face Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final. I'm surprised that it isn't Liverpool. The media are gutted that it isn't Liverpool as they so wanted to hype up the glorious farewell of Steven Gerrard. The Villa fans can have their moments but going to Wembley on 30th May will be a far more enjoyable experience in the absence of the scousers and their particular brand of scummery. We can look forward to it now and hope that, at last, our players turn up and play properly at Wembley. There is no way they will get away with it again if they don't.