Arsenal’s big secret, albeit a very open secret, is that we play with a fixed shape and play as a team, no matter who’s in that team on any given day. Today Pat established his midfield superiority from the off and although Downing showed a bit of style down their left flank Arsenal just became progressively more dominant. Mills was, predictably booed from the kick off and was subsequently booed, jeered or both with every single touch, and he seemed to be on the ball quite a lot. The media’s assertion that we are too reliant on Henry was made to look total bullshit based on today’s performance.
A Lauren cross to Robert was cleared, Ray had a rather wild shot and Kolo got the better of Job. Our passing was slick but Boro were back in numbers. Many thought we’d gone ahead when, after a spell of pressure Dennis played one in for Pires to steer home with a header. But the flag was up for offside. The signs were good though as we passed well and spread the play delightfully. A good long ball played forward by Edu into space on the right side of their box saw Ray chase what appeared to be a lost cause. But Ray managed to keep it in on the goal line, battering a Boro player into the advertising hordings at the same time. He recovered quickly and cut the ball back. Freddie let it run through to Dennis who was on the edge of the area and he shot home on target, with a slight deflection on the way. We were 1-0 up and cruising in the real Cup tie.
Boro soon won a corner and followed this up when they won a free kick deep on their left. The far post cross found Ricketts who headed down for Job. Job turned beautifully and powered his close range shot past, almost through, Lehmann who could do little but raise his hands in hope. 1-1 an unexpected equaliser, but a great goal.
Ashley was next to strut his stuff when at the end of a run following a sweet pass from Edu he curled a great shot with his right foot into the top corner, it was goal bound until Schwarzer flew across and saved for a corner. Arsenal were denied a certain penalty soon after this when Pires was past his man and tripped. The North Bank, West and East Stands were all unanimous in their claims but Mr Dean was still on the half way line, whilst the assistant ref, who must have and the perfect view ignored it. Apart form this blemish Dean had quite a good match.
Another bad trip on Pires, on our left, by Zenden got the free kick but not the booking it deserved. Dennis took the kick and looked for a deep ball beyond the far post which was headed back across goal by Sol to Pat, Vieira laid the ball back for Freddie. Freddie sent his man the wrong way and hit a low left footed shot past a possibly unsighted keeper. 2-1 and we had deservedly regained the lead.
Kolo cleared for a corner which Queudrue headed wide. Arsenal got in their stride as Pat and Rob combined well and Edu really looked the part. There was some snapping at heals by Boateng but nothing to bother his superiors. He seemed far better at moaning and falling over than tackling. Lauren went on a good run which won a free kick, while at the other end Downing, their only effective player, hit the side netting as Boro broke with men over. Next Sol took no chances and headed over for a corner and the rather sad ploy of trying to bait Lehmann was evident from the corner as he was shoved and jostled, mainly by the big lump they call Ricketts.
The Arsenal players warming up at half time were Stack, Keown, Clichy, Owusu-Abeyie (Quincy he shall remain) and Bentley. This seemed to me to be the sort of bench that says Arsene knew we’d win but hoped he’d be able to give a bit more first team experience to youngsters such as Martin.
Boro kicked off towards the North Bank second half. After Dennis almost put Pires through Riggott picked up a yellow card for his efforts to hang on to his man wide left. Boateng was still falling over and moaning a lot, Mills got more jeers for a wild cross before Pires put Edu through but he was on his wrong foot and it showed. Dennis had a shot saved. Pat was still powering forward keeping the pressure on and a good break saw Boro head over for a corner from Ray’s cross. Ray had a great match today and even showed us some flash stuff late on.
A great chant from the Clock End ‘You’ve got the worse player in the world! Millsy’. An evil foul by Parnaby on Pires saw another yellow card flashed and true to form Boating moaned some more. Lehmann caught one on the edge of his box, the furthest I’ve seen him out to claim a high ball. Dennis was over hitting some of his passes, probably as a result of his absence through injury. We were on top but needed a third as some black threatening clouds loomed over Highbury. Pires was shoved in the back by Mills on the edge of their box but got nothing for his trouble. He did seem to verbalise with Mills quite a lot after this, not that our Rob would want to wind anyone up of course.
A great shot from Vieira was saved as Arsenal dominated. Boateng tripped Edu. Mendieta, totally ineffectual throughout, had a hack at Cole but from the free kick Bergkamp’s deep ball in was taken well by their keeper. A great tackle by Kolo on Job was followed by great stuff by Parlour, which resulted in Dennis winning another corner. Pires took pretty well all the corners and this one from our left went over Sol and the big boys, all looking for the touch, and came through to Freddie who nodded home unchallenged with his feet planted firmly on the ground. The ball was cleared from behind the line and Kolo made sure by netting but it was Freddie’s goal. Freddie’s second, Arsenal’s third, 3-1 Arsenal.
Lehmann was required to punch away a cross but Boro were going nowhere. Another Parlour run, another Boateng trip. Mendieta tripped Cole again, Ray looked for Kolo at the far post. Pires found Kolo from a corner but his effort who was just wide of the mark. Pires from deep to Dennis for a shot. Nemeth, Maccarone and Junino came on, far too late to have any effect, to replace Ricketts, Downing and Job. Clichy replaced Pat who appeared to request his own substitution so presumably he was injured. Ray went central and Clichy on our left flank immediately roused the East Stand by closing down Mills at impressive speed.
Boro now seemed more concerned with the Mickey Mouse Cup than this game as Arsenal continued to dominate and provide entertainment with more slick moves. Edu fired just wide with his right. Jens stood up to Maccarone blocking the ball with his chest. Cole broke with Pires but was caught marginally offside for the return ball. Boateng shoved Ray over but seemed to be carded for his perpetual petulant lip as much as for the foul. David Bentley replaced Dennis and immediately took the free kick, which was saved by Schwarzer.
Bentley and Clichy combined neatly down the left as we continued to ooze class. Time left for a few choruses of ‘4-1 we always win 4-1’ and ‘Millsy, Millsy what’s the score?’ It doesn’t matter who we get in Monday’s Cup draw because home or away our 5th. Round opponents will be donning their brown trousers as soon as the famous name of Arsenal is drawn out of the hat.
As for Borothon IV they will obviously want it more than us and I doubt if Arsene will pick his first eleven, which must be an enormous relief to Steve McClaren. Who knows how it will pan out? This could be a big game if we choose to make it one. Boro and their fans will be up for it, but will we?
Here’s a little tester for you, apart from a lucky Liverpool win in Cardiff, when were we last beaten in an F A Cup tie? I’ll give you a clue, of today’s line up only Ray and Pat were in that beaten side. Answers on a self addressed envelope.