24 January 2014

Arsenal 4-0 Coventry: The Return of Podolski

Two first-half goals from Lukas Podolski ensured that Arsenal will advance to the FA Cup's fifth round, and late goals from second-half subs Giroud and Cazorla flattered Arsenal a bit on a night when Coventry, even if overmatched, showed determination and even flair in stretches.

It's a far cry from last year's fourth-round win, a squeaker of a win over Brighton & Hove that seemed to foretell the debacle to come in the fifth round against Blackburn. It started with a strong line-up, with a good number of first-teamers or other regulars and no real debutantes to speak of, unless we mention Gedion Zelalem—the first Gunner to be born after Arsène became manager.

Announcing his return with some authority was one Lukas Podolski, who opened up the scoring in the 15th minute, gathering a soft pass from Özil, rounding the keeper, and slotting home from a rather-tight angle. From there, one might assume that Coventry would pull up the tent-stakes or at least park the bus; instead, Baker danced around and unleashed a corker of a shot that Fabianski did well to tip over. This wouldn't be the only time that Coventry threatened; thankfully, Fabianski was up to the call each time.

In the 27th minute, Gnabry sent in a very good corss, which Per flicked through from the front of the six-yard box, and Podolski was there to nod it home at the far-post. That seemed to settle the outcome of the match if not quite stifle Coventry's fight.

There was of course the 35th minute protest as Coventry's away-fans held up their "Why?" signs to announce their displeasure at having to travel 35 miles to Northampton for their home-matches, such as they are, and credit them for taking full-advantage of the televised match to air their grievances. There may have been some kvetching about a Friday-night match, but the Sky Blues away-fans have shown time and again that neither distance nor inconvenience will stand in their way. I have to admit, from the relative safety of having advanced, that a part of me was torn between wanting Coventry to win in spite of their owner's crass attempts to run the club into the ground and wanting Coventry to lose to further shame those owners into actually running the club properly. In either case, it's further testament to the need for financial sanity. So it goes.

This wouldn't be the last time Coventry would come calling, as Leon Clarke, running onto to a clinicaly pass from Baker, very nearly pulled one back were it not for Fabianski making a bit of a lucky save. As it to one-up himself, Clarke drilled another shot that just may have dented the woodwork. Even if it didn't find its way home, it was another strong declaration that Coventry would not go quietly.

In the 61st minute, the "Keep Cov in Cov" movement again announced itself, marking the 1961 hiring of Jimmy Hill and the beginning of the "Sky Blue Revolution". The fans' "When?" signs asked when will Coventry again be allowed to play in Coventry? Finally, a Coventry fan (presumably) invaded the pitch wearing a "Sisu Out! shirt. To the stewards' credit, they allowed him his moment before escorting him off. Much as we've gnashed our teeth about the role of Abramovich at Chelsea, for example, Coventry offers a painful counter-point to the risks of cold, remorseless ownership.

Despite my own calls for Bendtner to come on and bag a brace for himself, it just wasn't his night, and he did more to highlight the need for reinforcements than he did to assuage our concerns. It's not for nothing that Giroud, subbing on for him in the 78th minute, scored a few minutes later from an admittedly feeble cross from Gibbs that somehow squirmed past a pair of defenders. By that point, the traffic was all one-way, and Cazorla's goal to make it 4-0 felt a bit like pouring on a bit in a way that might make more sense in a competition in which goal-differentials mattered.

I wish Coventry nothing but the best and hope that the result bolsters the fans' attempt to overthrow Sisu/Otium in favor of a wiser, gentler owner that might restore a bit of success and pride to a still-proud club.

As to us, we're through to the fifth round, of course, and have to prepare for Tuesday's clash with Southampton. All the best, Sky Blues, in your campaign to oust Otium and to win promotion this year and the next.