Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday January 26 2009
Having clocked up 50 hours in the office this week and with plans afoot to move house this coming weekend, the last thing I wanted was a lunch time kick off on a Sunday. But Setanta duly obliged and slammed the final nail in the coffin of my subscription. Both Sky and Setanta will fall by the wayside, there really is no reason I should keep paying these solicitous fucksticks to extract the Michael in this way. I say let the online revolution bring these horrible bastards down in the same way the internet has given record companies a deserved kick in the guts in the music industry. Well, that and my rent is about to go up! Nevertheless, it was with no small amount of excitement that I made my way to the game through engineering works at a ridiculous hour, for supporters as young as me it was something of a fillip to be able to watch a first team game on old style terracing, whilst for supporters old enough to remember standing, it was an afternoon of nostalgia. It was also another ground to tick off the list as Ninian Park enters its final season. Nostalgia was evident in the match day programme which contained a reprint of the 1927 Cup Final programme, including an amusing Marlboro advert informing us, "Trainer approved! The players know what`s good for them." The thought of Arsene Wenger handing crumpled packs of rizla and Cutter`s Choice around the dressing room was quite amusing. As we made our way to the retro Ninian Park, Cardiff`s new stadium was visible from the away terrace; it looked almost like it had been made out of stacked plastic boxes, with a confusing pattern on the outside that put one in mind of a roll of wallpaper samples. Safe to say I wouldn`t be quite as excited by a trip to Cardiff away in next year`s competition.
We were promised an intimidating cauldron of atmosphere from the Bob Bank to our left and beyond, which never really materialised. But we did get the tough, demanding game we were promised and the home side were quick out of the traps. In the opening minutes, Joe Ledley pinged in a left wing cross which evaded Toure, but Ross McCormack headed over. Toure was again susceptible in the air some two minutes later, Gyepes hooked a long ball over the top of the Arsenal defence, which Toure misjudged, leaving the ball to set itself nicely for McCormack on the edge of the area, but his volley bounced just wide. Arsenal`s inability to deal with the long ball was exposed once more, but fortunately, it was a hubris Cardiff did not look to explore again, preferring instead to probe with the ball on the floor. Admirable you might say, but possibly quite naïve. It was then Joe Ledley`s turn to head a McNaughton cross over the bar, and when Fabianski`s subsequent goal kick fell limply to Paul Parry, Bacary Sagna`s slip enabled the winger an avenue for goal but once again, Cardiff were wasteful as he blasted over. Arsenal were on the back foot and you felt with greater sang froid in front of goal, Cardiff might well have been in the lead.
But Cardiff began to run out of steam after a rumbustuous start and Arsenal ambled their way into the game, the industrious Bendtner began a move from the right and found van Persie in the centre, he turned and found Nasri in space in the left hand side of the box, but the ball wouldn`t sit down on a tumultuous surface and he fired straight at Enckelman with McNaughton having covered the goal line. It could have been a carbon copy of Nasri`s clincher at Hull last week. The away side were getting a foothold; Kieran Gibbs began a move and then punctuated it with a left foot drive which bobbled just wide. Gibbs put in an impressive shift at left back; he grew into the game and showed a lot of promise for that position. Once again, Arsenal produced a flowing move which ended in calamity, Bendtner once again began the move, van Persie once again provided the killer ball to Eboue, but he fell on the tricky surface with the ball begging to be struck. Minutes later, Eboue would tumble in the area again only to be met with a yellow card for "simulation." I have to do an almighty Wenger impression here and plead compromised vision, peering on from the Grange End terrace on the West side, Eboue`s tumble took place on the only tiny amount of the pitch that I couldn`t see, so I can`t pass comment on the severity of the dive or whether we had just claims for a penalty. Suffice to say that if he was tripped, hopefully it`s taught him a lesson on the perils of gaining a reputation for crying wolf, as Pires constantly found to his cost during his Arsenal career. The game reached something of an impasse at that point, but exploded back into life for the final sixty seconds. Cardiff poured forward and Paul Parry`s cross was fumbled by Fabianski, manchild Chris Burke hooked the ball back towards goal only to be blocked by fellow infant look alike Kieran Gibbs. From there, Arsenal roared forwards on the counter attack, van Persie slipped a neat ball into the area for Bendtner, but once again the surface proved troublesome as the Dane could not bring the ball under his spell to shoot, his attempted pull back was blocked by the imposing presence of Roger Johnson. Half time and it had been by no means a classic, but an absorbing typical cup tie.
The second half was something of a damp squib (what is a squib? I`ve never fully understood that expression). Cardiff were pretty much spent as an offensive force and the Gunners lacked the imagination or penetration to break the Bluebirds` resolute defence down. McCormack tested Fabianski with a range finder from outside the box, but the Gunners replaced Ramsey with Diaby and Eboue with Adebayor in an attempt to increase their physical presence. The decision to pick Ramsey was a poor one I felt, a kid of that age going back to his boyhood club was always going to try too hard and overplay, his scattergun passing was exacerbated by the surface and it seemed a rare instance of Wenger allowing sentiment to rule the roost. Adebayor`s introduction almost reaped instant dividends. Gibbs` searching ball was flicked on by the Togonator with his first touch; van Persie controlled smartly in the area and turned only to find his shot closed down excellently by Enckelman on the angle. However, Adebayor`s next involvement was less flattering, when van Persie turned a left wing cross over to the back post with Adebayor unmarked, but once again the surface compromised his balance and the result was that the shot was scuffed straight at Enckelman. A touch more composure would surely have seen the deadlock broken. Arsenal quickly ran out of ideas, Wilshere being introduced on the right with three minutes remaining. But the last chance fell ominously to the home side when the lively McCormack`s free kick clipped the top of the crossbar on 88 minutes. The home side then showed a bizarre lack of ambition in the final seconds of stoppage time, when Ledley enervated an attack to hold the ball in the corner flag. Had he swung even an unsuccessful cross in, Arsenal would not have had time to clear the ball and mount an attack.
Stalemate it was and we replay in eight days time; we created some threatening opportunities but were not clinical enough to claim we deserved to win the game. Cardiff put up an impressive fight and showed stamina to keep us at bay for the entire game. The creative spark was still missing, as Nasri and van Persie faded as City defended deeper. Diaby and Adebayor briefly showed signs of re energising us, but they too faded into the soporific stupour that appeared to permeate the team in the second half. Cardiff deserve credit for their efforts and nobody can deny they have earned another shot at us at the Grove. All in all, what promised to be a fun day out petered out into something less spectacular. But Cardiff are a good side and a draw is not a result we should be overly despondent about in the circumstances, I would be confident of progression in the replay and that is the ultimate aim. Any successful cup run will have its replays, that`s something you have to accept. The incentive of another home tie in the next round should give us all the appetite we need to progress and all in all, I would rather have drawn this game and settled for a cup replay at home as oppose to dropping precious league points.LD.
Date:Monday January 26 2009
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