Some evil looking dark storm clouds gathered as we awaited kick off in the crappiest away end in the Premiership. Quite what facilities we were paying for is beyond me. Portaloos, an open terrace and narrow seats. Strangely they had a blue frog like creature as their mascot, the name ‘Frogmore’ was on its back, perhaps it was French but we asked it ‘Are you Teddy in disguise?’ and it just waved it’s arms around. My first four pages of notes are damp but it merely rained, the heavens didn’t open thankfully, or there might have been 3000 plus drowned Gooners floating back up the M3.
We started brightly; Cole to Henry, down the line, on to Freddie who set up Reyes who rattled the cross bar with a great shot. Cole saw his decent cross headed clear by Primus and two corners followed. Mornar was caught offside and then had a low lazy shot before Freddie, playing down the left combined with Cole to win another corner in front of the Intercash Stand. The one that was full of the travelling Gooners. We looked ok early on but hadn’t found our rhythm or won the battle to play our football. Pompey won a free kick to the right of our area when Kolo battled with Smertin, but it came to nothing. Jeff Winter played advantage when Henry was upended, but quite how it was an advantage to Freddie who was looking for the one-two is questionable. Winter did try to let the game flow, mainly by ignoring Mornar’s frequent dives, plus all the shirt tugging from the boys wearing the Beanie bear’s logo. He might have booked about four under a previous regime but did well to keep his cards in his pocket, even though it was at the expense of numerous free kicks not being given. But hey, this was a Cup tie and Portsmouth didn’t close up shop, they gave it a go. Some helter-skelter stuff followed.
Faye was the next to trip Henry. Sol was required to hook away a clearance but also managed to get forward for a shot soon after. Quashie hacked down Edu. Cole found Henry with a long ball as Arsenal pressed. Reyes did well down the left and cut one back shortly before Edu fired one over. We were cranking it up as Freddie found Jose, who won a corner. Then another corner which Reyes hit sweetly for Vieira to head just wide. Mornar was totally incapable of standing upright and his frequent dives were so obvious even Winter wasn’t fooled. Berkovic and Freddie were at it, as were Sol and Yakuba and soon after that Taylor and Henry, it was a proper Cup tie. Sol was far too good for Mornar on a break and he was frustrated enough to take it out on Cole, a bad foul but they shook hands anyway.
Cole broke and found Henry who almost put Reyes in. You could sense it coming, and it did. Henry fired it in with his left from close range after Freddie hit a ball to Reyes that was intercepted, how unfortunate for Portsmouth that it broke to the best player in the world. Less than half an hour gone and we’d nosed in front, 0-1 to the Arsenal. Henry broke, then Henry had another run and set up Edu who looked sure to score but his shot was blocked. Portsmouth slung one in from their left at the other end but we looked resolute at the back with Kolo and Sol in control. Henry won another free kick and the end result was a scramble that Edu toed wide. Berkovic and Mornar continued to fall over. Freddie broke and Thierry won another corner. Primus did well to break up an attack, especially as this one involved Henry and Reyes. Soon after however Edu played a great one-two then, slipped a peach of an angled ball for Freddie, it was laid on a plate for Ljungberg to fly in and bang home for our second 0-2 Arsenal. ‘You might as well go home’ ‘We love you Freddie because you’ve got no hair’ rent the air.
Our speed and movement, fast breaks and slick passing were now in top gear, although Jens was called upon to catch from a corner. Henry found Jose deep with a low corner, who clipped it on for Sol and it seemed to be half cleared but Kolo turned on a sixpence and shot home low through a crowd of legs to make it 0-3 just before the break. Stunning stuff and an emphatic half-time lead.
Had we been Tottenham fans with a 3-0 lead at half-time I suspect we’d be changing into brown trousers. But we were not, and we all knew that Pompey ‘Might as well go home’. They didn’t though, they made a game of it and their fans turned in a second half performance off the pitch that was almost as good as Arsenal’s performance on it. It made the game special and kept the boys in blue going till the end, without the continued support it could easily have developed into a total rout.
Stone replaced Berkovic at half time, but Arsenal set off in the second half as we’d finished in the first. Freddie laid one back for Henry to take early, he clipped a low shot past Hislop from range, it was inch perfect in the corner but looked saveable from the other end of the ground. 0-4 Arsenal. The Portsmouth fans were briefly stunned into silence so ‘Shall we sing a song for you’ was followed by ‘When the Saints go marching in’. Mornar preferred the grass to standing upright in this half as well. Lauren had a run and a shot on target that was deflected for a corner. We briefly threw in the kitchen sink and an overhead scissors kick but Pompey won a free kick. Freddie found the net again but the offside flag was up.
A blatant shove on Reyes in the box was ignored by Winter who clearly thought he should handicap the Arsenal at this stage. Two hundred or so passes later Freddie had another shot. Kolo picked the ball up going forward, no one closed him so he extended his run and set up Freddie with another chance. His shot was deflected past Hislop for our fifth. We were rampant and Freddie was totally back in the groove. ‘I’m Portsmouth till I die’ was countered with ‘You know you’re Nationwide’. Sol blocked off a cross and Primus headed over from the corner.
Yakubu had a header onto the bar, although he looked offside from my poor angle. Gilberto and Taylor were at it. Portsmouth pressed, but when we countered both Henry and Freddie went close. Quashie was replaced by an ex-Arsenal youth player called Richard Hughes. Reyes continued to run and fight for every ball, his language problems have been overcome by his spirit and beautiful play, he looking the part today and his runs were like everyone else’s, brilliant. Pat, Thierry and Freddie were replaced by Bentley, Kanu and Cygan. It’s not often, if ever, away from home that our substituted players are applauded off by all four sides of the ground, but they were tonight.
Kanu was fouled with his first touch. Bentley tried a solo down the right and Sherringham replaced Mornar to rapturous applause from the Gooners as pigs flew over Fratton Park. Smertin had a shot blocked and Taylor hit the post, all of which was academic. Kanu, Reyes and Gilberto continued to counter attack. Lauren beat Sherringham to set up Reyes on a run. Sherringham then had a shot that was hopelessly off target and the Gooners sympathised profusely as more pigs flew over. Then the **** scored to make it 1-5. A deserved goal for Portsmouth simply for not rolling over and dying, a goal earned by their fans. Hughes also fired one over but we didn’t care, we were already through to another F A Cup semi-final.
With four goals against Leeds, four against Boro, two against Chelski and now five against Pompey it seems we are pretty serious about retaining our trophy. I think that’s about 118 games we’ve now gone unbeaten in the Cup. Most Gooners will already be deciding which pub to drink in at Cardiff, but it’s a funny old game and we’re not there yet. Mind you it will have to be either Manure at Villa Park or someone else at Old Trafford and I’d fancy either of those. I just hope we haven’t peaked too soon, but that’s not the impression the players are giving. We have an entire squad, with one ‘injured’ exception who are totally up for it. So am I!