Pick the Bones Out of That
It’s cold, in fact it’s bloody cold in North London and as a person who sends most of his life wondering whether Southern Rail will get me to where I intend to go, it’s with a resigned shrug that I greet the news that the tube is up the creek if you’re coming in from Cockfosters, which I of course am. Eventually we get to the ground and it’s time for Bovril – it’s that cold.
When the League Cup Quarter Final Draw was made and we got Arsenal away, the spirits immediately sank as we didn’t get drawn against one of the Championship or lower end Premier League sides left in the competition. Then I thought about it and it was guaranteed that Arsene Wenger wouldn’t be picking a side bearing any resemblance to their league side as they are in their usual position of just about in with a shout of winning the league which they of course, won’t win. Also, I didn’t realise that Arsenal have not won this competition under Wenger. I remember them losing a final against Birmingham a few years back but no, they’ve never won it. Something else I didn’t realise until I read it on social media was that we’ve apparently lost in the quarter finals of this competition in each of the last 7 seasons. The reason I didn’t realise it was because it’s bullshit. as it’s only the last 2 seasons. Before that, in 2013, Pochettino tanked a game at Sunderland in the 4th Round and the season before that came an Adkins spectacular 3-0 defeat at Leeds. I found out later that the stat was actually, we have lost in our lest 7 Quarter Finals.
So, Arsenal made 10 changes from their last League game and we made 8. They brought in players like Jenkinson, Gabriel, Gibbs, Ramsay, Elneny, Iwobi, Coquelin and Lucas who I think have all played in the Premier League this season. We changed two in defence with the Portuguese dropping out in favour of Coco Martina and Maya. The midfield was completely replaced with Harry Reed and Jordy Clasie and Steve Davis making up what must be the shortest midfield ever. Up front we replaced all three again with Boufal, Shane and Sam McQueen who was detailed to play on the right. After his performance on Sunday, it was good to see Josh Sims involved again from the bench.
It's an amazing atmosphere here at the Emirates. Actually, that's not completely true. It's a really good atmosphere in our end but the other 58,000 seats may as well belong to the biggest library in the world. After a minutes silence in honour of the tragic Chapecoense plane victims, away we go and we immediately looked like the more cohesive side. Arsenal looked really piss weak in attack with Lucas Pérez who I think it cost about 16 million quid… but he is shite.
On 12 minutes, Maya picks up the ball as we play out from the back and pings are fantastic ball out to Bertrand on the left wing. He crosses low to wear Boufal hits it and sees his shot blocked and back out to Clasie who absolutely creams it past Martinez and into the net. Fuck me, we've been clinical. One shot and one goal, get in you fucking beauty.
The decibel level amongst the Arsenal fans was raised by the goal up to the level of a whisper and this is not altogether surprisingly as their team is doing nothing. I was worried about our three midgets in midfield but of course Arsenal are trying to play through them with tippy-tappy football and Reed, Clasie and Davis are really snapping around and ensuring they are not getting anywhere. McQueen is a looking a bit like a fish up a tree on the right wing but he's doing his job which is to protect Martina who still gives me the shits every time the ball goes near him but he's getting by. When we do get the ball under control and upfront, Boufal is absolutely taking the piss leading the Arsenal defenders in a merry dance. The end product isn't quite there an and invariably he loses the ball but its good fun watching him take the piss out of four defenders for a while before this happens.
A combination of Reed and Bertrand nick the ball off of Jenkinson when he's trying to play out and puts Davis away. He drives into the box before feeding Boufal on the left and he decides that it's time for some end product after all the slides a great ball across the top of the box to Bertrand who takes one touch before drilling it past Martinez and into the corner for 2-0 from our second shot. I really hope this being clinical stuff catches on.
The remaining 10 minutes before half-time are very very comfortable as we keep Arsenal at arm’s length. The referee seems to want to play as much injury time as possible but we achieve mission number one and get to half-time without having letting a goal and to be honest, we haven't even looked like letting in a goal. It's half time and I want another Bovril but I can't be arsed to go and queue up for one. Maybe it's because I'm fucking frozen solid and can’t move.
Arsenal start the second half in slightly more positive fashion as you expect and immediately Pérez has a dribbly shot which Fraser just picks up. Alex Iwobi is looking like the best Arsenal player and he bundles past a couple of tackles in midfield and the ball eventually drops to Ramsey, who I do not like at all and he chips and incredibly lame effort straight to Fraser. Apparently, Ramsey could play in any team in the world, according to his international manager. Tellingly, he didn't say he could play well in any team in the world.
With Arsenal attacking a bit more it creates openings for us upfront. McQueen seems to be adapting to playing on the right hand side and his pass to Clasie is then fed out to Martina. He for once gets in at a decent cross but Shane Long seems to time his jump completely wrong and heads it straight up into the air and it lands on the roof of the net. It doesn’t stop Shane trying a long-range effort which nearly creeps in as Martinez makes real heavy weather of getting down and pushing it wide. Despite getting one on target, it really doesn't hide the fact that Shane Long is desperately out a form and confidence.
Saints win a corner which breaks out to Clasie who absolutely smashes it but it bounces off an Arsenal defender and they are away on the break. Martina manages to spoon the ball miles up in the air when he is the last defender but luckily it falls to Lucas Pérez is very obligingly turns around and passes it straight to Sam McQueen. He moves it onto Virgil, who has clearly read all this and therefore not bothered to get back after the original corner and he sets off on a mazy past a couple of players before finding Boufal in hits a left footed shot across and it’s deflected a couple of inches wide at the far post. In comes the corner from Bertrand and Virgil goes up with the keeper who punches out to McQueen whose shot is deflected just wide. The ref hasn't given a free kick at this point but he sees a goalkeeper on the ground and decides to fucking give one for no reason whatsoever.
Granit Xhaka is on for Arsenal in place of Elneny who has done absolutely fuck all and the new man immediately creates a chance for Coquelin, who is Elneny’s partner and doing fuck all and he drills in a shot which Fraser just falls on as easy as you like. It'll go down in the stats as a shot on target but in fact, it was fucking rubbish.
Hojbjerg and Sims are on for Reed and Boufal and Saints seem quite happy to restrict Arsenal to longshots which Coquelin and Ramsey are quite happy to put miles wide. Oxlade-Chamberlain comes on for Arsenal to a massive cheer which is surprisingly considering done precisely the square root of fuck all for them in the five years that he's been here.
Saints looks so good on the break with Davis leading the charge and feeding McQueen who is now switched over to his favourite left-hand side and he gets his head up before finding Davis again who seems to get caught in between heading it and volleying it and eventually cushion volleys it over everything and once again it lands on the roof of the net. We've stopped being clinical again and no one more so than Shane Long who gets put through by lovely through ball from Davis, gets the wrong side of the defender and then just passes it wide of the goal in shit fashion. This really should be 4-0 by now.
Oxlade-Chamberlain clearly hasn't learnt how to shoot in the last five years as Arsenal create their best chance of the match with Xhaka funding him with a pass and from 10 yards he launches it miles into the stand in absolute bollocks fashion. Arsenal are beginning to put us under pressure as we get to the last 10 minutes but really don't look like scoring and Aaron Ramsey confirms my theory that he is a complete shitbag by getting tackled by Martina and then throwing himself to the floor like a complete wanker. Horrible dive and he should get booked but he doesn’t.
I really want us to score the third goal because if that happens, all the Arsenal fans will fuck off and we might actually be able to get into the tube station at the end of the game. Hojbjerg and McQueen combine superbly down the left and feed it into Sims who again takes it on the half turn and drills in the shot which Martinez does well to tip wide. There is a marvellous move down the right hand side involving Sims and Steve Davis with Sims eventually getting to the by line and pulling it back to when McQueen is steaming in but an Arsenal defender does just enough to make sure he doesn't get a clean contact on it and Arsenal smuggle it clear.
Arsenal have had enough and obligingly possible straight to Hojbjerg on the edge of the box and he has the last chance to make all the Arsenal fans fuck off and he hits a good shot shot which Martinez pushes away with a really good save. It's no good, the tube is going to be absolutely rammed. The gaming is over on 94 minutes with Alex Chamberlain angrily kicking the ball away. Yes mate, you've just lost to your old club, again.
Well that was an absolutely fucking brilliant performance. We will get no credit for it of course and it will all be about Arsenal making loads of changes but the bizarre thing is that though they've obviously got a better first 11 then we have, hence their position in the league, below that then we have more players who are ready to step in to the first team without the level of the first team dropping. There wasn't anyone who played badly today and even though I'm ready to put money on Shane not scoring for the entire season, he did work incredibly hard. His wife has just had a baby so he scored in the bedroom about 9 months ago which is roughly the same time he last scored on the pitch.
Even my mate to go Martina was semi decent today though he still scary every time he has to make any sort of decision. I have to say that there has been a marked improvement in that Maya Yoshida’s performances as the season has gone on and Virgil and Ryan Bertrand were as imperious as ever. I think that at the start of the season, we all thought the squad was a bit thin and in some areas it is but the emergence of McQueen and Sims has been a massive bonus. Tonight for example, those two breaking through meant that Redmond could have a rest. The midfield three were all excellent today though I have a slight question over Harry Reed who seems to have Clasie syndrome in not finishing any game that he starts. Another major plus today was the form of Fraser. Who looks confident in dealing with high balls and coming off his line.
On our way out of the ground whilst we were trying to fight our way past the queue for Arsenal tube station, we heard the draw for the semi-final. First choice would've been Hull, second choice would've been Manchester United and last choice would've been Liverpool and that's who we fucking got. An additional piece of bollocks was the news that the first leg is at home. After initially thinking this put a bit of a dampener on things, I got positive and thought about it. The semi-finals will be played during the African Nations Cup so whilst Boufal will not be in our squad, Mané won't be in theirs. Coutinho will still be injured and Klopp will have one eye on the League, even more so than we will as they’ll be up near the top. Are Liverpool's squad players any better than ours? I guess will find out in January.
So, still in the EFL Cup, still in the Europa League and still in the bloody Checkatrade Trophy.
Great night, great win, great Bovril. Bring on Crystal Palace on Saturday.