Football is so awash with clichés. In the most part it’s the media that perpetuates them. Like how there’s always a condescending comment about a non-league team and their ‘builders, dustmen and dentists’ who are going to make history. So from my part, I try to avoid even saying them, because it just annoys me that I become one of them.

But yesterday’s win against Preston really was a ‘game of two halves’, wasn’t it? We were utterly dreadful in the first – a real hangover from the Bournemouth game it felt like – but in the second we dominated and ultimately I thought we deserved the win in the end, regardless of how late we left it.

The tie itself had a real ‘old school’ feel to it. The management and I arrived in Preston and had a wander over to the away pub to meet GoonerDave and all the talk beforehand was of the ghosts of games past. Preston are a club with a rich history, so when we arrived at the stadium with fog slowly descending upon it, it felt like we had wound the clock back 30 years and were going to a game straight out of the 80s. Preston would be up for this – both their fans and their players.

And so it transpired that way. Whether or not their players were buoyed by the fact that Arsène made large-scale changes to the team I don’t know, but the atmosphere in that small ground felt charged and I think had a big part to play in the way Preston started the game. I can kind of understand that, as well as the Preston players upping their game by 20%, but what I couldn’t understand was how Arsenal started. It felt to me like the players on the pitch in yellow were intimated by the partisan crowd and the noise; all four corners of the stadium were singing from what I could hear. But despite the fact that Arsène named a rotated team, nearly all of those players had played in more hostile atmospheres than what they encountered yesterday. So the noise levels and performance of the opposition shouldn’t really have affected them at all.

It was all over the pitch that things weren’t working in that first half. At the back Mustafi looked as rusty as an old brass door, whilst his defensive partner Gabriel looked like he’d forgotten the basics of tracking a forward. I lost count of the number of times the Preston centre forward made a diagonal run from centre across both of them and for one of the runs, Preston really should have been two up. 

Neither of the full backs helped either. Monreal was caught napping for the Preston goal as he failed to track the man in behind him and despite the fact it had an element of fortune about it with the ball richocheting off Gabriel’s heel, it kind of summed up how we played all half: calamitously. I actually felt sorry for Maitland-Niles, because he was so exposed at times at right full back and it was obvious that Preston had realised early on they could get at him. McGeady was tormentor in chief and at times made the poor lad look like he’d disappear down the dressing room at halftime and never return, having had his heart broken into little pieces. I don’t know what’s happened to Jenkinson. Probably the same fate. 

In midfield we offered absolutely no cover whatsoever. The Preston players had the freedom of Deepdale and although many of us Arsenal fans have wondered about the Xhaka-Ramsey partnership in the middle, that first half was enough to make us question the sanity of it, because defensively neither offered much protection. It was better in the second half as we dominated possession and also territory in Preston’s half, but when we were the on the back foot it just didn’t really work.

It was like all the confidence had been drained out of the team in that first half. The Ox looked like he’d forgotten how to beat a man, Giroud barely had a sniff and whilst Lucas and Iwobi showed small glimpses, the ghosts of Bournemouth still felt very much there.

But football is a game of redemption. So the second half offered – and provided – an opportunity for every player to show their class against technically inferior opponents. 

I think the tide of the second half changed because of the early goal. Preston had huffed and puffed to get their lead and deserved to be more ahead at halftime, but the fact they weren’t made Arsenal’s task of redemption easier, so when Ramsey scores one minute in to the half, we all knew that Arsenal would have the wind in their sails. But we’re that sort of team, you know? When things swing in our favour, we can be delightful and whilst the second half was hardly a swashbuckling display of dominance in terms of goals, it was for every other element of play. We created chances, we forced their ‘keeper in to making some good saves, we controlled possession and unlike the first half, the players were finding each other with their combination passes. Maitland-Niles deserves a lot of credit because he suddenly looked like he was happy to be on the pitch, putting some good balls into the box and giving us more width on the overlap. Monreal too offered more going forward. Mustafi suddenly remembered he was a German international and got back to what he was good at – winning the ball early when it comes to the striker. In midfield Xhaka and Ramsey started controlling possession more. Iwobi and The Ox were finding more pockets of space to wriggle their way through and Giroud did what Giroud does best at the moment, find the winning goal late in the game. He’s been so valuable this season. He really does deserve the plaudits. His goal was one which was very scrappy, but one that you get from a striker whose confidence is allowing him to sniff out those chances again and again.

But props must go to Lucas for his endeavour in the goal. I thought Lucas had a great game. His back heel in to Giroud’s path really made the goal and you could tell by the way Ollie pointed and smiled at him when he celebrated. Perez and Giroud appear to developing some kind of understanding and even with the return of Walcott and Alexis next week, if I was in Arsène’s shoes I would surely be thinking about giving the Spaniard an extended run in the team. He makes runs, he never gives up, he’s already got a great scoring record at Arsenal, he’s a fighter and he deserves a chance. I just hope the manager gives it to him.

So we advance to the next round, after some initial trials and tribulations, but what’s most important is we’re still in the competition and we don’t have another fixture to worry about.

Onwards and upwards