Farnborough were shown as the home team in the match day programme, something I can't recall seeing before although surely it must have happened in the past. For me like many Gooners seeing a Non League Club play at Highbury was a first, last time it happened I believe was when Bedford Town managed a 2-2 draw back in January 1956. We've since visited Non League Yeovil twice and in both seasons, 1971 & 1993, we went on to win the trophy.
Away days to places such as Carlisle are part of the Cup's magic and like numerous Arsenal fans I would have preferred to play at their place. But had that happened, like many of our regular 3,000 'away' fans, I wouldn't have been able to obtain a ticket. So maybe the switch was for all the fans benefit for once. Which makes a nice two-fingered salute to Sky who normally force us to travel to Saturday noon kick-offs in Manchester or late Sunday games in Newcastle purely for their benefit.
Arsene's team selection was not as condescending as some would have predicted. Vieira captained the side and it was exclusively first team squad players who lined up in the blue away shirts. Taylor, Lauren, Cygan, Campbell, van Bronckhorst, Toure, Parlour, Pires, Kanu and Jeffers accompanied Patrick onto the pitch and although some were playing because they needed a game there was no doubting that with Seaman, Bergkamp, Luzhny, Wiltord and Edu on the bench the match was being treated seriously.
Farnborough had the first attack and for the remaining 90 minutes never gave less than 100% effort in a sterling and gutsy performance that put our previous Cup victims Oxford to shame.
Jeffers runs were looked good but our usual flowing game took a while to show itself. Referee Alan Wiley who has done his best to ruin many a good game in the past was turning a blind eye to many not quite legitimate challenges from the underdogs but that was to be expected. He did however flash a yellow card at Danny Carroll for chopping down Pat as the North Stand were on their 16th chorus of 'Arsene Wenger's red and white army'. The resulting free kick from Gio was saved
Jeffers had almost broken through, Campbell had headed away an awkward cross for a corner and Pennock had caught a decent Pires cross before a fine dribble by Kanu put Parlour in to have a shot saved. Charlery attempted to chip a Parlour back pass that didn't make it. A decent move by Arsenal ended in a corner from Toure's cross. A blatant shove on Vieira escaped Wiley's notice before Holloway fired over, then a foul on Pat was given the other way. Parlour tried a long-range shot, which was saved low.
Jeffers in space won a corner when a fine tackle stopped him doing more. Gio took the corner and his in-swinger was met by Campbell's head to make it 0-1 to The Arsenal. Farnborough had held out for 19 minutes. Some miraculous footwork from Kanu must have dazed the non-leaguers but they continued to play with spirit and enthusiasm. Four minutes later a Toure cross was met by Jeffers and it was 0-2 according to the big screens. Farnborough continued to play the tie in a proper cup-tie manner and 21 players could be found in our half as they still gave it a go. Kanu to Jeffers who fired over. 'We're the Clock End' 'We're the North Bank' was the usual singing contest in the north Stand and as an unbiased West Stand spectator I'd say that the Clock End edged it. This was followed by a cheap quip at the Farnborough fans 'You're supposed to be at home'
Pires had a shot from range well saved by Pennock. 'Super, super Rob' 'We won the League in Manchester' It was a decent game being played in good spirit with all the crowd enjoying it until a total fecking muppet did his level best to screw it all up. Lee was sent off for a foul on Jeffers despite Parlour's pleas for him to be allowed to stay on the pitch. But that's the porky Wiley for you, deaf as well as blind. What seemed like the entire Arsenal crowd sang 'The referee's a wanker.' Spot on. This was an appalling decision made by a brain dead automaton. It was two-nil to the Champions of England playing a game team of non-leaguers, so what ref in his right mind would want to screw up the pleasure of an entire Stadium? A tosser called Alan Wiley that's who.
The match went flat; the crowd lost interest even though Jeffers netted from close range in an offside position. Some Arsenal fans started to support the Town at this stage pleading for anyone within range to shoot. Jeffers was being booed by the Farnborough fans through no fault of his own, as he hadn't cheated. It was the ref who'd cheated the fans by not having the first clue about the true spirit of an F A Cup-tie.
Kanu was just wide with a low drive. Toure had a long range shot as Jeffers and Gregory were at it and spoken to by the no-brainer. There was another Jeffers shot before Gary Lewin was called into action, but only to provide a replacement ball. Half time and the only consolation for Farnborough was their new record home attendance record for 35,108.
The crowd were quiet, as if they couldn't be sure if they wanted to see a Farnborough come back or an Arsenal slaughter. Had there been 22 players on the pitch this wouldn't have been an issue but even Arsenal fans enjoy the occasional contest. But Farnborough's ten men were doing their Town proud, they put up more of a fight than many Premiership sides we'd already rolled over this season. Tottenham spring to mind.
Pires set up Kanu on his left peg but the shot was blocked. Vieira hit one over following some generous set-ups on the edge of their box where any one of about three players might have had a go. Watson shot and won a corner off Pires. Warner was still down injured as Town won a successive corner as a result of Toure heading away. A Farnborough free kick following a foul by Ray was headed wide at the far post. At this stage Arsenal were trying to win with the flash flicks rather than by working hard whereas Town continued to work.
Lauren slipped as he tried a shot that went harmlessly wide. Parlour's run and cross was headed away for a corner which Campbell headed just over. A poor ball from Jeffers when Kanu was on. The Clock End (full of Farnborough fans) got excited when they thought Rocky Baptiste was on his way but he was yards offside. Baptiste had a great game today, despite spending a lot of it working alone up front; he always looked lively and showed a fair bit of pace.
Dennis on for Pires, Wiltord on for Kanu. Watson's shot saved well by Taylor. A wild shot from Warner as the underdogs continued to give their all. Wiltord to Gio who took it to the line before chipping in the perfect cross for Jeffers to head home unchallenged. 0-3 Arsenal and more great positional sense shown by Francis. Shortly after a streaker appeared from the Clock End, made a quick dash around the pitch to massive applause before being taken away as he returned to the Farnborough end.
Farnborough scored a deserved goal on the break through Baptiste who beat Cygan all too easily, he saw his first effort saved by Taylor but carried on to net in front of the Farnborough delighted fans. 1-3 and I should think there were very few Gooners who would have begrudged them a goal. At the other end Dennis who looked superb set up Wiltord who's shot was blocked on the line, Ray followed up but fired just wide. A player in red and white was booked but I'm not sure who.
Great through ball by Cygan inside the full back which saw Gio sprint away and send in his third assist of the match with a perfectly placed cross which Bergkamp tapped home to make it 1-4. More Arsenal pressure followed as Farnborough began to tire. There was a big handball appeal when Wiltord put them under pressure, it looked a pen to me. A neat Bergkamp chip was saved. Watson was still going strong for Borough and hit a shot wide. Edu on for Kanu. Piper on for Holloway, it should be noted that the Farnborough players were all warmly applauded by the Arsenal fans as they made their substitutions. More Arsenal pressure followed, which by now almost continuous.
Campbell gave it away and Farnborough won a corner. Another great Arsenal break saw Wiltord's shot blocked and Bergkamp following up had his shot blocked on the line by Annon. Parlour blasted over before the two minutes of added time. Quite how it was only two minutes with six substitutions, four goals and the odd booking I'm not sure but it was time enough for Dennis to hit one just wide following a good ball from Ray. 'Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to see Arsenal win away.' Edu just wide having been set up by Sylvain. Pennock ended his day with a great save from Pat who was storming through on goal.
It's not often that Arsenal fans stay to applaud their opponents off the pitch but Farnborough today gave their all and really deserved the standing ovation they received as they departed 'The Home of Football' to return to reality. They left with the Arsenal fans singing a song that might be heard again 'We all agree Farnborough are better than Tottenham.'
One pre-match incident I've just recalled. Ian Wright was on the pitch prior to kick off and received a rapturous reception as always. He made a presentation to the latest members of Arsenal's 100 goal club Thierry and Dennis, milked the crowd as he usually does, then rugby tackled Arsenal's big green mascot Goonersaurus and hauled him to the ground. Only Wrighty could do something like that, great to see he hasn't changed and I definitely reckon he thought Wiley was a muppet as well.