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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Ribbons ready for Wembley

Most deserved goal of the season

It's more than 24 hours since we beat Manchester United and I'm still smiling about it. Thanks to the FA and BBC I missed out on being there for one of "those" occasions because of the Monday night kick-off. Having now spent a long day at work I'm just getting round to writing properly about the game. I feel delighted at Arsenal winning, but annoyed at having been unable to go to Manchester.
If anyone disputes that Arsenal deserved to win the game last night then they need to be kicked in the shins. If it wasn't for David De Gea we would have won by at least three goals. The quality of his saves from Santi Cazorla and Alexis demonstrated perfectly that he is up there with Courtois and Neuer as the best around right now - I fully expect him to be at Real Madrid next season. For all his brilliance, however, Arsenal were fairly irresistible against a poor excuse for a Manchester United team.
The media have fawned over Manchester United for years as they lived in fear of Ferguson's cold shoulder. However, last night showed them for what they are now, and have been for a long time. Even under Ferguson there was a horrible, niggling, nasty nature to their players. In Fellaini and Rojo they have two of the dirtiest performers in the Premier League. Put that together with the desire of their players to cheat by diving (and Rooney has long been an exponent of it) and Rooney's (again) constant wish to harangue the referee at every decision and you have an ugly football team. At least under Ferguson they played good football. Under Van Gaal they are slow, negative, and rely on long-balls to Fellaini hoping that he can win a header (having fouled his opponent) and maybe bring someone else in to play around the edge of the penalty area. And then there is Van Gaal the tactical genius, a man lauded by our wonderful press for changing his goalkeeper ahead of a penalty shootout at the World Cup. Last night he was exposed as the sort of idiot that moves Ashley Young to full-back just after he has roasted the recently introduced Calum Chambers, a player who is dangerously bad at dealing with a pacy winger. If Wenger had done that the press, and the Arsenal fans, would be all over him today. But that's enough about them. Let's move on to Arsenal.
The effort from the players last night was there for all to see. As at Manchester City, and unlike at Spurs, every one of them was up for the battle last night. There was the same tactic as at City of dropping off and making ourselves difficult to break down, with Coquelin and Cazorla dominating the midfield. Coquelin was too strong for Fellaini despite being elbowed by the giant oaf in the first minute (the BBC failed to show a replay of the incident having dismissed it as accidental - it's amazing how often Fellaini "accidentally" elbows people in the face). Danny Welbeck's running up front was dragging their defence around even though he was struggling when the ball reached him, though at least twice Arsenal players didn't pass to him when they might have put him in on goal. Alexis was tormenting Valencia but again refusing to go past him on the outside, but the main threat was coming from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who took Luke Shaw back to school. How Shaw was talked in to the England squad ahead of Kieran Gibbs for the World Cup sums up the way our media influences the England Manager. Shaw is terrible, even worse than Chambers, and Southampton must be laughing all the way to the bank. When a move did break down for Arsenal it was notable to me that Mesut Ozil was charging back and making tackles and being physical - the stick he was getting from Danny Murphy on the TV was an absolute joke, while Guy Mowbray's preference of Manchester United made Sky's commentators sound positively anti-Manc.
Our first goal came from a wonderful run by The Ox. It showed the effect of running at defenders, and drawing them out of position. By doing so he created the space that Nacho Monreal got himself into to bury a brilliant finish past De Gea. Watching it in slow-motion you'd never know Nacho was a full-back with the way he picked his spot. I've found it amusing today seeing all these people saying how impressed they've been with Monreal in recent weeks. Regulars to this site will know I've been praising him all season for his performances. He was getting ridiculous stick when filling in at centre-back earlier in the season when he was absolutely carrying Mertesacker, and now people are finally coming to the party. I still think Kieran Gibbs is a better player, but Monreal is in the side on merit at the moment and rarely has a goal been more deserved than his last night.
The second goal was obviously a defensive mistake, but it was forced by the hard work and pressing of Alexis and Welbeck - nobody in the squad works as hard as those two do off the ball. For Welbeck to then show his pace and beat De Gea to the ball told you what he's all about, and he had the presence of mind to steady himself down before rolling the ball in. His celebration was clearly a show from a man who felt he was proving a point to Van Gaal, and it was classless of the United fans to boo him from the pitch when he was substituted. Welbeck has proved to me that he is a far better footballer than I ever gave him credit for before he came to Arsenal, and I just wish he could add consistent goal scoring to his armoury for he'd be some player with that.
We were pretty comfortable for the rest of the game if truth be told. The referee played his part by getting everything right in the second-half. Di Maria can have no complaints and neither can Januzaj. If Mr Oliver had dealt with Fellaini and Rojo better in the first-half, and given us a clear penalty, then we'd have been even more comfortable. As it was 2-1 was enough. With a very favourable draw in the semi-final we can have only ourselves to blame if we're not back at Wembley for another FA Cup Final at the end of May. Now let's enjoy this until the weekend when we have to beat West Ham.

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