If the F A had a sense of humour Graham Poll would have been the referee today. In my opinion it makes no difference who refs as the ‘lesser teams’ are usually allowed to get away with murder in ‘cup-tie’ football. It is seemingly accepted that refs are more ‘understanding’ towards the underdogs and many a vicious hack is deemed to be a miss-timed tackle by a ‘less-skilled’ player. Bollocks I say, it’s a lets stick it up em attitude so beloved of the Wimbledon of old and the Sam Alladyce school of football management. It’s what cup football is all about though, so tough shit on the likes of Arsenal when Sheffield United’s players take people out off of the ball.
United turned up in their steward impersonating daglo orange shirts which are really quite disgusting. This being a cup-tie there were no meaningless pre-match handshakes and the ball was white for a change. Montgomery on Reyes was the first free kick of the day as Arsenal kicked towards the Clock End which had been taken over for the day by the Blades fans. Cullip shoved Van Persie into keeper Kenny and the cretins in the Clock End moaned at Robin. Cesc had an early solo, fouled all the way, but his shot was saved low. A lucky break for Montgomery against Senderos won a corner from which Gray had a header saved on the line by Almunia.
Senderos went on a charge in a move that saw Dennis have his shot blocked. Toure cleared at the other end despite illegal attentions from Tonge. Cesc and Montgomery clashed heads and play was stopped. Reyes was blocked off following a great headed flick from Van Persie but no foul was given then and neither had it the time before by Neil Barry. Freddie was tripped on a run but Dennis saw his free kick headed clear. Freddie was again in the action when his tidy cutback saw Robin cut inside for another shot that was saved. Once more Freddie was involved when he found Reyes who found Cesc on a run who chipped the keeper but the attempt went well over the bar. United tried to play some football on the break but Flamini stopped their next attack.
Shirt grabbing is the norm in the Championship judging by today’s events as are off the ball obstructions. Tonge grabbing Eboue was the next United player to get a handful of shirt, so wag pointed out that shirts are exchanged after the match normally. Almunia was out to clear before Van Persie was fouled on the edge of their box after some decent build up play. His shot from the resulting free kick only found their wall. Another fast break with Flamini in control who had chances to put Eboue away but he delayed and it was Dennis who eventually fired in only to see his shot skim the roof of their net. Both sides were pushing to the half way line for goal kicks. Eboue, who played well, to Freddie in a move down our right before Van Persie had another shot that went for a corner.
Three or four Arsenal players were furious that neither Barry nor his assistants saw it and Dennis, a very incensed captain, started shoving Cullip about. One such shove appeared to catch him high on the chest. It was stupid granted and very much a ‘handbags’ event but Barry saw it otherwise and so Dennis was given his marching orders for what amounted to a push. What a fecking joke! So Arsenal were down to ten men when it should have been United who were a man short. More great refereeing! Barry further endeared himself to the crowd when Reyes was pulled back on a break for handball when it was clearly the ball that hit him. Gray continued to foul Kolo and Barry continued to make a pig’s ear of things when he awarded a Sheffield corner instead of an Arsenal goal kick.
Reyes was chopped one time too many, even for Barry, and Liddell got a yellow card. If off the ball incidents had been spotted the foul count up would have seen pretty well every Sheffield player carded, including the keeper who came out dangerously with studs up every time. When Kenny finally badly injures a forward you will know why and you’ll also know it won’t be an accident. Van Persie won a free kick before another hatchet job, this one on Flamini, saw Montgomery get a yellow card. Kolo was very nearly on the end of Cesc’s free kick.
Another Almunia catch preceded a very late tackle by Tonge on Eboue. Cesc then took his revenge on the wrong player when he took out Montgomery in a very rugged tackle and won a yellow card for his trouble. Eboue hacked the free kick clear before Gray had fistfuls of Toure’s shirt but the hapless lino flagged the other way. Halftime and Barry was the last off the pitch to a chorus of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ from the East Stand. True.
With Arsenal down to ten men and a lively Cup Tie going on it promised to be a close run thing, although it has to be said that so far Sheffield had hardly caused us any problems by way of serious goal attempts. Arsenal old boy Paul Shaw replaced Montgomery at half time.
More Arsenal corners and a Flamini cross to Van Persie for a header. More good control as Van Persie hit one on the turn that lacked power. A crap shot from Harley (?) following a half clearance from the Gunners. A clear cut penalty was ignored by Barry when Reyes stopped the ball on a run to cut inside, but Harley just scythed through him sending Jose crashing to the deck. This pissed off our Spaniard who stormed back shortly after to flatten Harley and earn a yellow card. A case of more piss-poor refereeing leading to more bad incidents. Pires replaced Van Persie, who’d had a fine match. It wouldn’t have been my call but Robin had done a lot of solo work up front since the early departure of Dennis so maybe he was knackered.
A joke free kick against Reyes was followed by some great play by both Freddie and Gael. Pires opened his account with a nutmeg before being tripped for his trouble. Clichy took out Geary to the immense pleasure of the West Stand, better yet he did it fairly. Eboue had a brilliant run and fired in a great ball that wasn’t read by anyone in a red shirt. A short but effective solo from Freddie set up Reyes for a shot that flashed just wide of the far post. Freddie then went on a charge down the middle and was fouled twice by Cullip before he was tripped. A yellow card for a player who should not have been on the pitch was the net result. Their keeper from the resulting free kick caught a powerful shot from distance by Kolo.
Freddie caught an elbow from Cullip twice in as many minutes. Bromby obstructed Reyes and a short rolled ball set up a low drive by Reyes that was saved. The pressure stayed on Sheffield as Clichy, Flamini, Pires and Reyes were all involved before Reyes slipped a ball through the middle to Flamini who’s effort might have been better but came back off Kenny for Rob to stab home. 1-0 to the ten men. Not that anyone would have known we only had ten men by the amount of control possession we’d maintained since Bergkamp’s premature departure. Francis and Forte replaced Liddell and Montgomery in a double substitution.
Clichy did well again and then Almunia managed to punch clear through a ruck of players. There were four minutes left when Cygan came on for Reyes, Pascal went to left back and Clichy moved to leftside midfield. It was Jagielka’s turn to trip Pires, this before a Pires throw to Cesc saw him fire a shot just wide from a very narrow angle. With a minute to go Sheffield pumped a ball in and a lobbed shot was stopped by a raised arm from the unlucky Senderos. Penalty, the ball had hit the arm but the arm was up so a penalty it had to be. With three seconds left on the clock Gray hit the spot kick low past Almunia. There was time for Freddie to win a corner and for Eboue to charge in like a flying wardrobe and flatten Cullip. Shame it didn’t do more damage.
This had been a proper English F A Cup-tie and maybe Arsenal could have won it if Le Boss hadn’t made a rare schoolboy error by adding an Englishman to today’s squad. 1-1 was ultimately a disappointing result but at least the many Sheffield fans who’d made the trip must have a good day out. So a replay on Tuesday the 1st March is an added fixture Wenger could have done without but at least we’d seen good old-fashioned cup game.
Want a longs odd bet for Tuesday? Arsenal at 5,000-1 to wear short-sleeved shirts in Munich!