Well, we got there in the end and, despite some pretty decent concerted effort from Portsmouth in the first half against The Arsenal last night, the job was done and we are into the bowl for the next round of the FA Cup.
It wasn’t easy though. Far from it in the first half and in the cold light of the next day it’s easy to draw parallels with the Leeds game at the Emirates in January. We never really got going in the first but controlled the second to see the game out.
And with quite a bit of rotation too. Arteta went with a pretty much universally changed side – Luiz and Saka apart – and that meant starts for Martinez, Sokratis at right back (I’ll come back to that), Pablo Mari in for his debut, Lucas Torreira, Guendouzi, Nelson, Willock, Martinelli and Nketiah up top. It was a youthful looking side and now that we’ve obtained safe passage to the sixth round you have to be pleased that the youngsters have once again delivered.
Sadly for Lucas Torreira though his night was short lived. I’m not sure what planet Mike Dean lives in but if scissoring you’re opponent isn’t a little dangerous and reckless but not worthy of a serious card, whilst sarcastically putting the ball down on the floor is a yellow, then maybe the games gone mad.
Actually, we all know that it’s Mike Dean that is the problem, as well as the fact that he continues to be allowed to referee any kind of top-level match.
So with an incompetent ref against us, it was important to stay professional and deliver the goods, with a vociferous home crowd cheering on their charges. And Portsmouth did just that – charge – in the first half. They had more of the ball in our half than we did theirs, they were able to drive us back towards our own box and at times we looked a little fragile. Our passing combinations weren’t coming off and we had nobody to take the game by the scruff of the neck from a football ability. What I mean by three is the kind of calm composure and clever/incisive balls in behind a Portsmouth defence who could be got at if we picked the right player. But we were ponderous on the ball and it all felt worryingly similar to the Olympiakos game.
Players were just taking one or two touches too many and that slowed the game down and meant we barely got a sniff in the first half. In fact it was the one bit of good play from Nelson on the right hand side whipping the ball into Sokratis on the stroke of half time, that was the difference at the break and I have to say I think that goal was massive. Portsmouth went in with heads down and we had a little cushion. Football is about psychology as much as anything else and I think that dealt the Portsmouth players and fans a blow.
And so it transpired because from the kick off in the second half we were in control of the game. Ceballos pulling the strings in the middle of the park was excellent I thought and when Nketiah bundled the ball in from another good Nelson cross the game was – with the benefit of hindsight – over. That’s three goals for Nketiah now and they’re all poaching finishes. He’s getting into positions that Laca just doesn’t and at this stage right now I’m thinking it’s better to have somebody like Nketiah prowling than it is to have Lacazette and his lack of form stinking up the joint. It’s a question that Arteta will need to ponder ahead of this weekend’s action against West Ham.
He’ll also have to consider who has done enough to warrant a genuine look in the first team. Martinelli was good once again, Nelson getting back to fitness is a blessing and Ceballos continues to impress. I love the way he strikes a pass to his teammates; so composed and controlled. It’s a stroke of the ball and we need more of that control when in possession. He wasn’t as influential in the first half but he certainly was in the second.
Pablo Mari did ok too. Nothing spectacular but if he makes defending look effortless all the time then I’m a-ok with that.
The only player that I thought didn’t do himself justice was probably Willock. His decision making at times as poor and he seemed to stumble quite a few times. You could see he was a little irritated when he cane off and I put that down to being frustrated at a game in which he hasn’t had the best performance in the world. Chin up lad, you’re still learning, and us Gooners are behind ya.
The other slightly weird situation is that of Maitland-Niles. Last night Arteta once again preferred Sokratis at right back and whilst the Greek performed admirably, it’s obvious he isn’t a right back. Maitland-Niles should be in that role but it’s clear that Arteta just doesn’t fancy him and with Soares soon to come in, the future looks bleak for the lad. It’s a strange old situation because I thought Arteta was improving him when he first arrived at the club but now he seems completely frozen, playing just two minutes at the end last night. If he’s at the club for the start of next season I’d be surprised.
So what next for The Arsenal and The FA Cup? It’s our favourite competition to win but there’s not an easy route being carved up. We’ve still got Liverpool, Chelski, The Tiny Totts, Man United, Man City and Leicester all still in it. That will be down by one for the next round as Chelski and Liverpool play each other, but with just eight teams that will go into the hat and five most likely to be teams above us in the league, this is going to be a very difficult competition to win.
But that’s a conversation for another day. For now we’re in it still, the dream is still alive, so it’s a focus back on the league on Saturday.
Catch you peeps in a bit.