The way I see it - Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers

Last updated : 16 February 2007 By Jason Hogan
That replay took place just over a fortnight after the original game had finished in 2-2 draw and at the time I worked in an office with a lovely young lady by the name of Claire. Now, long before anyone had ever heard of Abramovich, young Claire was absolutely bonkers about her beloved Chelsea and over the years, she has followed them both up and down this country and to virtually all four corners of Europe, too.

And, after being at Highbury herself to witness her team earn a replay in the original tie, she spent every working day coming over to me after that and saying "On March 25th we're gonna get ya!". She largely did it in jest but deep down I knew that she really believed what she was she was saying.

Mind you, Claire was far from alone in her conviction that the Arsenal would come unstuck down at The Bridge in that replay. The wheels were starting to come off in our defence of the Premiership title, we had been knocked out of the Champions League by Valencia and by the time the replay came round, the press and the media had worked themselves into a rabid, frenzied state at the prospect of seeing Arsenal endure further humiliation at the hands of Chelsea.

That anticipation was heightened even further that night when news broke of the Arsenal team that Arsene chose. The likes of Seaman, Gilberto, Bergkamp and Keown never featured at all and Henry was left on the bench.

In spite of that, we went on to win the tie 3-1 with our third and decisive goal coming from Lauren at a time when we had already been reduced to ten men after Pascal Cygan was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Even though we went on to win the Cup that year, our win at Stamford Bridge that night was, pound for pound, the best result we got that season for me bar none - and just for the record, Claire hardly said a word to me for a good week afterwards.

I remember reading the rags the following morning and the tone of every article I read almost had an anti-climactic, even nonplussed feel to them. It was almost as if winning the game in the way the we did and confounding everybody literally wasn't in the script that the press had and that they were so stumped they could only muster up a load of matter-of-fact waffle in it's place. But you know what? I bloody loved reading every damn bit of it all the same!

Now, when I talked about being experienced enough as an Arsenal fan never to write us off when the odds are stacked against us in my last article, it was the experience of what happened that night at Stamford Bridge that immediately sprung to my mind when Bolton had forced a replay at The Grove and were immediately considered by virtually everyone as being strong favourites to finish the job at the Reebok.

All good things are supposed to come to those who wait though. And, after three fruitless trips to the Reebok in succession in recent times and all the constant reminders from the press and the media about the fact we had only beaten Fat Sam's kicking crew once in our last eight meetings, the Gunners finally got some payback and finally ensured that Bolton's mouthy fat bastard of a manager was shown up to be not quite as smart as either he or the media likes to think he is.

How sweet it was to see Allardyce, the same James Hunt that has accused both Arsene and our club of being bad losers and having selective myopia more than anyone else, blowing a gasket both on the touchline and then in the press after the game and carping on about the referee and in particular the dismissal of Ben Haim.

Well, I'm sorry, but Ben Haim was bloody lucky that he wasn't sent off long before he upended Baptista in extra time. And let's not even go there with regards to the fact that Nicolas Anelka only got a booking for flattening Adebayor when he had about as clear a goalscoring opportunity as you can get. Anelka may have conceded a penalty in the process - but so did Philipe Senderos at Boro who got sent for doing an awful lot less.

Gary Speed then laughably tried to justify the fact that his side got well and truly beaten in the end by resorting to jumping on Paul Jewell's bandwagon in claiming that Arsenal were given favouritism over his little Bolton. You gotta love it. After all, why should anyone let a good argument get in the way of the fact that you don't have a leg to stand on? Bobby Robson once said Arsenal have to learn how to lose. Maybe, he should have a word with Allardyce and certain members of his team as it's pretty clear that Bolton don't like losing any more than we do. But then, I'm not holding my breath.

Now, you can imagine a lot of people looking at the statement I have just made and they will be probably asking themselves what is the big deal? You can almost hear the anti-Arsenal brigade saying something obtuse like, "You beat Bolton in a 4th round cup-tie after extra time; it's not as if you've beaten Real Madrid and got to the Champions League final or something".

As far as I was concerned turning this lot over in their own back yard, albeit after extra-time, WAS a big deal - a bloody big deal. You see, it's very easy to start believing things and getting a complex if you are told them often enough. It's very easy to have your mindset compromised by people who are trying to shove their warped stereotyped views of what's what in life down your throats non-stop and it's very easy to then to get frustrated at yourself for succumbing, even momentarily, to the nagging idea that they might actually be right.

For the best part of three years all we Gooners have read and heard about is our supposed soft underbelly, that we don't like it up us and that we don't like it up North particularly against Bolton.

What an example? When we went to Eastlands back in September to play Manchester City we absolutely tore them apart in general play for long periods but we missed so chances it was ridiculous.

City, of course, won the game with a Joey Barton penalty. What was the post match reaction in the press and the media? Arsenal lost simply because they got muscled out of the game.

Indeed after we had gone to Reading and put on a fabulous show to beat the Royals at the Madejski back in October, I remember Alan Hansen being on Match Of The Day 2 and reacting to our performance that day by snorting almost disdainfully that the true test for Arsenal would come when they had to play in the North West against the likes of Bolton and Blackburn.

Well, if I'm not mistaken, the game against Bolton the other night was the ninth competitive game we have played the North West region in all this season and to date we have now won, that's right, WON seven of them. Now taking into account what happened on Wednesday (a match that Hansen had no hesitation in saying that Bolton would win by the way), I wonder Hansen would have to say about a statistic, no, strike that, a FACT like that? The mind boggles, doesn't it?

Still, enough about Hansen and his like. I'm just delighted that the boys managed to get a big monkey off their backs and that once again on a cold night up North we showed the whole damn nation that there is a little more to us than meets the eye of many a detractor.

We may have made life a lot harder for ourselves on the night than we should have and it was a night when almost every Arsenal player would have his own story to tell about what went on at the Reebok. Stand-in captain Gilberto was fabulous at the back for us but when presented with the chance to kill the game off from the spot he was uncharacteristically wild. And whilst the likes of Adebayor, Hleb, Rosicky, Denilson and Clichy were particularly outstanding on the night for me, poor old Julio Baptista had one of those nights where pretty much nothing went right for him.

Still, it would be churlish of me to nitpick. It was a brilliant performance from us, a result for us to take a lot of pride and the pursuit for silverware on at least three fronts remains very much on. There are an awful lot of our detractors out there who support clubs that do not have the luxury of saying that.

Now, it's time to look forward to our 5th round cup tie at home to Blackburn.

Before we met this lot at Ewood in the league back in January, I had actually dished out some praise to Mark Hughes for the fact that he had moulded a side that wasn't all about causing aggro and that he had a team that could play a bit. That was, of course, before Robbie Savage did his little party piece and provoked Gilberto into retaliating. I must say that I was furious about the incident at the time and I still am now and I tell you why. In getting sent off that day, Gilberto picked up his second red card as an Arsenal player in five years. As far as I know, Savage, despite being certified as the number one dickhead playing in this country, has only managed to pick up just ONE red card in nine or ten years as a Premiership player. How the hell do you make sense of a statistic like that? Anyway, Savage will not be part of the Blackburn equation on Saturday as he is sidelined with a broken leg (altogether now - Aaah!). But they will still have quite a few players that we will have to watch out for nonetheless.

Both Benni McCarthy and Shabani Nonda are capable of being a real handful up front and I have to admit that I have always been a fan of the veteran Tugay. He is a canny operator who is more than capable of running a game if allowed to. And, as he demonstrated on Fabregas in the league game at Ewood, he is not afraid to put his foot in if necessary.

David Bentley should also be in the starting line up fitness permitting. He has been getting rave reviews from his team-mates and is definitely becoming a highly influential figure at Ewood Park. Whether he graduates to the full international only time will tell.

If I was him I would keep his feet on the ground and keep working hard at his game. He didn't really do that enough when it was at Arsenal, he thought he was better at the time than he actually was and that's what cost him a career with us. Still I wish him all the best for the future - after this game of course.

But for all the players I have mentioned the one that has stood out for me more than anyone has to be Morten Gamst Pedersen. Not only has he got a terrific left foot he has great movement, an eye for goal and he is pretty decent in the air too.

He would definitely be the type of guy that I would have on my shopping list if I was Arsenal boss but given that Arsene has probably forgotten more things in football than I actually know, I suppose that I'm quite happy to stick with my day job.

Fatigue is my biggest worry for the Arsenal in this game but if you are battling on three fronts it's inevitable that it's going to kick in at some stage. Mind you, the old adage is that you don't feel as tired when you're winning football matches. That's what we have been doing more often than not lately. Let's hope that the old adage rings true on Saturday.