My journey from South London was one not dissimilar to that the Woolwich Arsenal fan of 1913-14 would have been forced to make when the franchise upped sticks and moved across the river to North London. They wouldn’t have had the Victoria line on hand to make the journey swift like mine. An expert tells me the journey by foot, cart and tram would have taken some 3 days.
Having seen junior Arsenal beat Watford yesterday, I wondered if ITV would be equally as dismissive of this tie? We’ll see but I somehow doubt it. The denizens of ad land devoted a mighty 12.46 seconds to Brighton’s beautiful football before then wittering on and on and on about a transfer of a player to a team not even involved in the FA Cup. Our dander was up. To think, we used to do qualifying round previews for these people!
No matter, what a cracking game this was. Huddersfield are one of those ‘little’ clubs that younger Premier League fans sneer at and dismiss with no thought to the rich and illustrious relevance it has to their very own team. Huddersfield’s patriarch supreme and manager when winning their one and only FA Cup final was none other than Herbert Chapman, winner of not only Arsenal’s first FA Cup but also league title.
In the life of therealfacup this game was unique. It was the first that involved the complete absence of a substance called alcohol. Not that that is a bad thing, nor do we go to football just to drink. It’s just, well, it’s a day out innit? This game was a short tube journey away, a game kicking off at midday barely after opening time. It was just as well, as we were sneaking in through the back gate we had to have our wits about us.
Through the press area, past the players entrance (photo op forgotten! Doh) up a dark alley, round a corner, up some stairs, through a broken gate and into the staff seating area. Objective passed, seats aquired. It wasn’t full, we were lucky.
I was looking forward to this one because I love watching Arsenal (I know, it’s not very realfacup but I/we do actually like watching good football as well) and former Ipswich Town *ahem* ‘favourite’ and world’s-most-incongruous-alice-band-wearer, Alan Lee, was starting his 26th consecutive goal-free game for Huddersfield.
Within five minutes Nick (he held the gate open while we snuck in) and I had ticked off our first trait on our Alan Lee Bingo Card. #1 – Clumsy Tackle. Before the hour had passed we also got #2 – Blaze Over Bar, #3 – Hard Work, #4 – Toddler-Like Petulance and #5 Rare But Crucial Goal. We won!
We also quickly ticked #1 – Glorious Footwork and #2 – Wayward Finish off our Arshavin Bingo Card as we talked over an engaging game that we were disappointed lacked other former Town old boy Jordan Rhodes (injured). Aside from that we were eager to see what all the fuss was about Anthony Pilkington.
20 minutes of, largely, Arsenal possession with the occasional wide foray from Huddersfield, Niklas Bendtner fuelled the bonfire on which his perceived lack of talent occasionally gets thrown by waiting for a looping ball to drop and lashing the air through which the ball had just passed. He really hit that air though. The ball itself made no connection with boot and trundled out of play for a goal kick. The laughter from the Huddersfield fans was partly drowned out by the groans from the rest of the stadium.
30 seconds later and in a similar position Bendtner burst forward and fired a shot into the corner off Tom Clarke’s unfortunately intervening thigh. Oh Niklas, you frustrating beast.
It was fair and had been coming but Huddersfield’s five man midfield was having some joy. Another former Town old boy, Gary Roberts was hugging the touchline well, Alan Lee was huffing and puffing and both Pilkington and Joey Gudjonsson were passing well and taking up good positions. Their chances increased when Nasri twanged a hamstring that threatens to derail the remote chances Arsenal have of getting out of Barcelona on time with the tie still intact.
With 40 minutes gone things got a lot better. Squillaci blatantly blocked Hunt as he tilted dangerously towards goal. The rather erratic Mark Clattenburg rightly reached for his cards but pulled out red rather than yellow. High up in the West Stand we were rather surprised, both Gibbs and Eboue appeared to be goalside and converging on Hunt so it certainly wasn’t a clear goalscoring chance.
From now until the point at which the inevitable Alan Lee goal pulled the teams level on 66 minutes, Huddersfield were significantly brighter and more dangerous than the Gooners. But, before that, it was half time. Nick was working, I was not in the mood for beer nor sufficiently well paid to afford to eat in the Emirates. But it’s a good place to just sit and read the programme. You can’t really argue that the Emirates is a fine example of a new stadium. I’ve been here before when it was fuller and the noise of a boisterous crowd is impressively amplified by the acoustics. When it’s not full, however, the noise gets swallowed a little bit. Not really surprising with a 59,000 crowd in (hmmm … knock a few off that in reality) today was one of the latter.
Anyway, as I was saying, Huddersfield were getting on top … Anthony Pilkington was showing why he’s well thought of with some deft touches, fine short and mid range passes and a take-down on the touchline from a huge crossfield ball that, had it been performed by Nasri, people would/should have been drooling. Gudjonsson’s distribution was mostly pinpoint and economical while Alan Lee was even running the channels! Great stuff. The extra man was telling and Arsenal often, probably through complacency rather than design, had three high upfield so were getting brutally outnumbered in midfield. McCombe had two headers, one fell inches the wrong side of the post, Almunia saved a Lee flick while both he and Gudjonsson blazed good chances over.
Then came the moment that turned the game, oddly. Alan Lee rose to plant a header past Almunia into the corner and from then on Huddersfield got nervous while Arsenal got serious and brought on Fabregas to sort out the mess. He did. Fortuitously. Not before Huddersfield spent 5 minutes kicking lumps out of anything in red that breathed. The Arsenal fans got the nark but it was a small moment of niggle that didn’t reflect the Terriers general game plan.
A curling Fabregas ball across the 6 yard box was heading out for a goal kick when McCombe nudged Bendtner in the back and the Dane threw himself down. Penalty. It was unquestionably a foul but the ball was heading out so Bendtner was hardly impeded from putting the ball away. McCombe is a silly boy, he cost his side a famous draw and Huddersfield were very unlucky not to themselves be the ones getting a late winner.
Arsenal 2 Huddersfield Town 1
Damn it! therealfacup foiled again! Arse! Never mind, two good games in two days, one upset, one plucky underdog performance, two League One sides acquitting themselves well against loftier opposition and a sniff of a giant getting their ego bruised. This is indeed what the FA Cup is all about. It might not be as glamorous as the Champions League but you can’t tell me it’s not as exciting or engaging. If only someone would tell ITV that they are supposed to be covering good football, not brands, maybe more of you would actually see some of the good play the lower teams can provide.
Massive thanks to Nick for his gate opening skillz, he rushed off to interview some players and I headed for the very slow walk back to Islington to get myself a tapas lunch. When in Rome. Only joking.