18 April 2015

In which I rant against those who whinge and whine. We won. On to Wembley—again.

We're through to the final. No, it wasn't glorious, and, yes, we failed to steamroll Reading as we'd done so many times before. After having scored 16 goals in our last three outings against them, expectations were sure to soar. However, it didn't take long for the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing to set in as we struggled to break down a side that looked bound and determined to hang on by the skin of their teeth until penalties. It's almost enough to make one pine for that time a year ago when we waltzed confidently past Wigan to—oh. Right. Anyone who expected a cakewalk to the final doesn't get the FA Cup.

For big clubs like Arsenal, the FA Cup has become a bit of an albatross: win, and many shrug their shoulders, as if to say "what do you expect?" Lose, and it's calamitous. A year ago, that dynamic did change a bit as we defeated Tottenham, Liverpool, and Everton, raising the cup's profile a bit, but to even say that demeans Coventry, Wigan, and Hull, not to mention Brighton, Middlesbrough, and Reading. Players for these and other clubs earn the right to play David to our Goliath, and you'd better believe that David comes itchin' for the fight. We might deride Reading for dropping down to defend in numbers, but what are they supposed to do when facing off against Alexis and Özil? It would be suicidal of them to try to pour forward recklessly. Of course they're going to batten down the hatches. To criticise them for it is madness.

It's not as if we were begging for chances. If anything, we glutted ourselves on them. How many times did we hit the post? How many times did Federici come up with a vital save? We were picking the Royals apart time and time again, and it was only a matter of inches that denied us a few more goals.

For those in need of a deeper reality-check, consider the following:
  • Man U needed a replay at Old Trafford to see off League Two Cambridge.
  • Chelsea were dumped out by League One Bradford at Stamford Bridge.
  • Tottenham crashed out against Leicester at White Hart Lane.
  • Man City were dumped out by Championship-side Middlesbrough at the Etihad.
  • Liverpool needed a replay to overcome Championship-side Bolton.
In other words, this is not a competition in which the cream automatically, magically, rises to the top. It's one in which those who want it most—regardless of weekly-wage packets, transfer-fees, or past achievements—seize the day. Credit Steve Clarke and Reading's squad for having a game-plan and the gumption to push us to the limit. Even with Gibbs and Debuchy playing for the first time in weeks if not months, even with Ramsey again out on the wing, we found our way. It's hard to say that we earned this one, especially when we consider how that winning goal squeezed through.

We were far from our best, but we still found a way through. We've made it to the final. It might be less dramatic than the last time we overcame a Championship side to get to this point, but this is a case in which the method matters far less than the outcome. 

We know that we'll have to be far-better than this next weekend if we hope to solidify our grasp on second place and win the FA Cup.

However, I can't sign off without saying this: set aside the slating of Ramsey or Szczęsny or Gibbs. Accept instead our own expectations as just a bit unrealistic. If you want to blitz your opponents week in and week out, sod off and support Bayern. If you want to earn your results, even if this means digging in and grinding out a gritty result now and then, stick around. I have a feeling that we're on our way to earning another slice of glory. If you can't handle a bit of adversity, a bit of doubt, then you'd best bid us adieu and go support a club that can offer you some perennial pablum. I can all but guarantee you that those who support Chelsea, Bayern, Real Madrid, and Barcelona are a contented, complacent lot—but they've never known what it means to actually fight, suffer, struggle, and succeed.

We're through to the FA Cup Final. That's all I need to know.