Monday, 14 April 2014

Happy Ending in Saigon [Arsenal 1-1* WBA, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam]

For a moment there I was starting to think that Vietnam had become a curse of disappointing results, seeing the humiliating defeat at Goodison Park followed a draw at home to Manchester City. I was back in Ho Chi Minh City for this one.

It really looked like it wasn't going to be our day. Creatively, Arsenal were poor, cautious in their approach to every move, which resulted in an attacking performance matching the fluidity of an elephant's carcass. There were few chances for either side, but the point-blank Sanogo header into Carson's feet early in the first half should have been the goal that made things comfortable.

The comfort-ometer went in the other direction though. Mertesacker made a rare mistimed lunge on Callum McManaman in the box, and although there was a delay in the penalty taking due to Monreal's injury (double-ugh), it didn't put off Jordi Gomez from converting to put his team in front. With 63 minutes on the clock, Arsenal were one-nil down in the Semi-Final, and an all too familiar feeling was making its way to the pit of my stomach.

But, Arsenal managed to find a way back into the game as Wigan sat back to try and defend their lead. With Giroud coming on for Podolksi, there were more chances to hold the ball up in the attacking third, creating space and opening up the pitch for more opportunities. You have to give the guy credit, he may not be the most instinctual finisher, but he holds up the ball very well and he's one of the best players in the country at doing this. With Giroud on the pitch at Wembley, we were finding time for other attackers to get into space and open up the opposition's defence.

Eventually, on the 82nd minute, Mertesacker made up for his error by heading a scuffed shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain beyond Scott Carson. It was club-captain stuff. We're not talking about diving diva Arteta here, or out-of-favour (but still starting) Vermaelen, this was sheer determination and enterprise - if it hasn't convinced the Big Fucking German's peers, critics and manager that he should be wearing the armband next season, then nothing will.

Consequently the game went into extra time and penalties were looming. An Arsenal team winning two penalty shootouts in a single season was a task not worth thinking about - I personally drank seven pints of Saigon Red between the 91st minute and the 120th. The Ox hit the crossbar during this time but, other than that, there was only going to be one way to decide the match.



Fortunately for Arsenal, Fabianski, 'The Other Pole in Goal', showed his worth and denied Wigan's first penalty from Cauldwell. Arteta took the first for Arsenal, and scored one of the best penalties I've seen this season, hitting the side netting beyond the despair of Scott Jackson, who was too busy trying to orchestrate a bollywood music video with his shimmying around. Fabianski then played hero for the second time in as many minutes, guessing which way Collison would shoot. This was it, our chance. Up stepped Källström, a wise last-minute, last-ditch sub by Wenger, and he calmly tucked it away. All we had to do was keep our cool, and for the first time in a long time, we did. Cazorla scored the fourth after Giroud had netted his, and Wigan were out. Wembley here we are come!

We are now in the best position to win silverware in years. Now we just have to focus on a top-four finish. So that'll be another five cup finals then!

COYG

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