Weekend Roundup: Gunners Show Character, United Crash Out

Hope everyone's feeling well and enjoying 2010 as it has been so far. I'm just now getting over a nasty flu that robbed me of New Years festivities. As my friend Matt informed me that the party I would have attended was chock full of dumb college chicks, I'm feeling sort of bitter. Yesterday removed the sting a bit, but not completely. Anyway, at least I'm not coughing up bits of lung anymore, so that's an improvement.

This weekend we entered the FA Cup's third round, the first in which Premiership teams participated, and there were some interesting matchups, none more so than two that were on hand yesterday, the early game between Manchester United and Leeds United, old Northern rivals who haven't played in 6 years, since Leeds were relegated from the Premiership on the way down to their current home in League One, in the aptly named Football League, and the other, a London derby between Premiership sides Arsenal and West Ham United. Both were fantastic matches, the results not completely predictable.

In the early match, Leeds traveled to Old Trafford to face the Red Devils, and while one would have to assume they would have preferred to have played at Elland Road, they seemed plenty at home in Manchester. Striker Jermaine Beckford took a long ball down, outworked his defender and hit a lovely slow roller past Kusczak for a first half lead for Leeds. Beckford made himself well-known on the day, outhustling and simply playing above the level of an admittedly diminished United back four. On the whole, Leeds just seemed to want it more, while United looked like they assumed to win just by showing up. Beckford's goal was the only one scored, despite close calls on both ends (United's woodwork was rattled several times and Beckford came within inches of a second, while Leeds escaped some close calls at their end as well). In the end, one would have to say the advancing side deserved to do so, while United have no one to blame for their early exit but themselves, no matter what Fergie has to say. By the way, things have reached laughable status when 5 minutes are added on and Fergie calls it rubbish. I know he's used to getting 7 minutes or more when behind, but the man could at least try to appear rational.

So that exciting result was already on the books by the time Arsenal hopped over to East London to take on West Ham at Upton Park. With the Gunners' injury woes and the number of fixtures at this time of year, Arsene decided to rotate the squad a bit, with youngsters Ramsey, Merida, Vela and Wilshere all getting starts alongside regulars Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Eduardo and Alex Song, playing his last match before jetting off to join the Cameroon squad for another fucking mid-year African tournament. Silvestre rounded out the back of the side. OHHHHHH BABAY!!!

Fabianski got the start in goal and was a busy man, despite a plodding pace from both sides int he first half. The Polish international looked quite good on the night I thought, bossing his box well and didn't look as skittish as I've become accustomed to seeing him... actually, he made some quite wonderful saves. Unfortunately, many of Arsenal's outfield players didn't look up for it. Passing wasn't terribly sharp and movement off the ball seemed like a chore. The players who did come to play, it must be said, looked solid, in particular Alex Song, who put in yet another outstanding shift in the defensive midfield role. I'm hopeful we'll be able to cope while he's away on international duty, although I'm at a loss for how Arsene will make up that loss given the holes in the side already through injury. I felt Eduardo looked solid up front and worked hard to create chances, although the bulk of our attack seemed to be crosses into the box from Sagna, never our greatest strength. West Ham had small difficulty clearing these away.

We didn't look much like threatening, although we were able to handle most of what the Hammers had to throw at us for the first half. But we were let down heading into halftime yet again when Gallas and perhaps Sagna appeared to play Diamanti onside, while everyone else hustled to keep the high line. Fabianski was left alone with the Hammers charging, and Diamanti placed the ball into the bottom right corner, despite Lukasz getting a touch to it. That seemed to embolden the home side, and they began the second half as they had ended the first, on the attack. Stanislas forced a nice save from Fabianski. West Ham looked like scoring a second, while Arsenal never got out of first gear.

It wasn't until Arsene brought on a pair of first-team regulars, Samir Nasri and the ever-impressive Abou Diaby, that the Gunners showed any signs of life. The two replaced the youngsters Fran Merida, who looked like a pub-teamer out there, lost and showing very little of the promise seen in his Carling Cup outings, and Jack Wilshere, who despite working very hard and making some nice attempts just never fully looked like making a major impact. Diaby's presence was exactly what I had seen as being missing from the side, a physical midfielder who could create something on his own, and at the very least open some channels for other players that had previously remained shut. With their addition, that's exactly what happened.

For about 70 minutes, this was a lethargic and uninspired effort from Arsenal, and West Ham deserved their lead. But then a few things changed. Diaby and Nasri entered and introduced a sustained attacking threat. Suddenly fewer balls were given directly back to the opposition, the urgency returned to our play. Diaby and then Song were denied by Green, but at least there was some life in the side. Green sustained a blow on that passage of play, which may have affected his performance thereafter, but he soldiered on for the Hammers in goal. Then finally, the breakthrough. Song to Vela, who held the ball well in the box, and falling down managed to knock it forward to the charging Ramsey, who had but a moment with his left foot, and...

The equalizer past Green was a thing of beauty, and I think we all jumped for joy to see Ramsey rush over to celebrate the stunner with the Arsenal supporters, who were equally elated. From disaster, hope had been restored, and the fight was on. If we could hold on, we would replay back at the Emirates. If we could get another in this one and kill it off, all the better. Kurt had remarked to me that if we could just get one, that momentum could get us forward and allow us another. He was proved prophetic moments later as Song sent it to Vela on the left wing who crossed to Eduardo...

A stunning header past Green and into the top left corner. Arsenal had taken the lead and Eduardo, who seems now to be regaining the form he's been so short of for much of this season, could celebrate what would turn out to be the late winner. Not a match that Gooners will soon forget due to the late dramatics needed to secure the win, and one which Hammer supporters will do their best to get over as they look to a tough relegation fight still ahead of them.

A quick aside, the extracurriculars following the match at Nevadas never needed to happen. Perhaps a person can take umbrage at the use of a word, but in context and coming from the party that it did, anything aggressive is just being a knucklehead (I'm being kind). I don't wish any ill-will towards the West Ham supporters, and I generally enjoy their banter... at least they genuinely support their club, which is more than I can say for the sorry excuses that Chelsea and Liverpool (and a chunk of the United support) count as fans. But this isn't the 80's, nor is it Green Street Hooligans. We're all there to cheer our team and wind up the opposition, but at the end of the day, it's all in good fun. I'm glad it went no further than it did and that Kieran handled the situation quickly and without much of an incident. But unless you can handle yourself in a civil way, with or without alcohol, Nevada's isn't the place.

So United crash out in their first attempt at the FA Cup, while Arsenal advance, and Reading forces a replay with Liverpool. The rest of the draw went like so...

Chelsea 5-0 Watford
Sheff Utd 1-1 QPR
Tranmere Rovers 0-1 Wolves (anyone else confused as to why so many teams call themselves Rovers? Are they all Pikeys? Or are these remnants from 1800s barnstorming days, in which case, maybe it's time to update? Just saying.)
Villa 3-1 Blackburn
Blackpool 1-2 Ipswich Town
Bolton 4-0 Lincoln City
Everton 3-1 Carlisle
Fool-ham 1-0 Swindon
Huddersfield 0-2 West Sandwich Albion
Leicester 2-1 Swansea City
Boro 0-1 Man City
Millwall 1-1 Derby
Milton-Keynes/Wimbledon Hybrid 1-2 Burnley
Nottingham Forest 0-0 Birmingham
Plymouth 0-0 Newcastle
Preston NE 7-0 Colchester (why the hell couldn't we have played them?!)
Scunthorpe 1-0 Barnsley
Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1-0 Luton Town
Stoke 3-1 York
Sunderland 3-0 Barrow
Torquay 0-1 Brighton
Tottenham 4-0 Peterborough
Wigan 4-1 Hull

The drawn matches will be replayed, this time at the visitors' ground. Arsenal's opponents in the next round will be Stoke City away, so we'll have drawn consecutive Premiership opponents to start the 2010 FA Cup. Well, no one said it would be easy.

On Wednesday (and that's a London Wednesday, not a Sheffield Wednesday, chuckle chuckle guffaw), Arsenal will finally play that all-important match-in-hand against Bolton, who recently sacked manager Gary Megson. The name currently being bandied about is Burnley manager Owen Coyle, which would be bad news for the Clarets, and as Coyle has proven himself to be a capable manager, it would certainly be preferable for Arsenal to play them with an interim manager in place, so hopefully those negotiations (if they have reaached that stage) will be a bit protracted. Bolton aren't a top-half side, but they're hardly the worst in the league. Still, Arsenal should have enough to take all three points in this one, and we do desperately need those points for our title challenge. Win, and we're in second above United and just a point back of Chelsea. Anything less than that and we'll have dug ourselves another hole to try and crawl back out of, without that game-in-hand cushion on which to rely.

That's all I've got for now. Yes, we're in the transfer window, but I just don't see the sense getting all whipped up for new signings when we're not terribly likely to do more than a small bit of business. Anyone who had Edin Dzeko on their Christmas list can cross that name right off; I think we all know Arsene won't go breaking the bank, however dire the need may be. I'll tell you what... in the Comments section, you tell me who you think we ought to sign, whatever the position, and I'll tell you what I think the likelihood is that we'll sign that player, 1/10 being Not Gonna Happen and 10/10 being Holy Shit, He's Holding Up a Shirt at Highbury House Right Now! While my pick 'ems aren't always dead-on, I'm a pretty good read when it comes to Arsene, if I do say so. Let's make this interesting.

And as always, until next time, you stay classy Gooners and sisters.