Arsenal were too good for Barcelona, but Leyton Orient are a different matter
Four days after beating the celebrated Catalans, Arsenal have to settle for a replay in the FA Cup
After the pride, the inevitable fall. Having defied logic to defeat the best side in the world in the amphitheatre of the Emirates, Arsenal arrived at tiny Brisbane Road to face an altogether different proposition.
It is, of course, the beauty of the game as whole but in particular the FA Cup, that brings together the foreign luminaries of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal with the rather more down at heel Orient, who packed 9,000 in to their cramped but compact stadium for a cup tie that had everything the purist could wish for.
At the end of a day where the haves and have-nots clich�s of FA Cup folklore were rolled out with abandon, it was impossible not to conclude with one more: the FA Cup had been the winner.
Arsenal have stayed in the hat and in contention on four fronts, albeit at the cost of an additional game added to an already mind-bending schedule. Meanwhile Orient have their moment in the sun, and the more tangible reward of a lucrative replay at the Emirates on March 2.
But it was more than that – in an era where the cup has been gradually eroded and the suggestion of doing away with replays is being taken very seriously, here was a reminder of why the old format should not be tinkered with. Why change the rules to satisfy the few at the very top, when so many at the other end of the spectrum can still benefit?
This game, however, was about a lot more that Arsenal being charitable to their east London neighbours. There was no patting them on the head at the end and saying ‘better luck next time’. Arsenal were given a game by a side who played with real zest and deserved to hold their illustrious visitors to a famous draw.
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Tomas Rosicky’s 53rd minute header looked like it would be enough for the Gunners to squeeze into the last eight and secure a little-desired trip to Old Trafford, but there was a sting in the tale.
The Orient substitute Jonathan Tehoue had already left Alex Song and Kieran Gibbs for dead once before whipping in a cross that had caused consternation in the Arsenal area, and with two minutes to go the Frenchman who arrived in east London via spells in Belgium and Turkey did it again.
This time he darted clear and had sight of Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal. A vicious low shot did the rest and the Eastenders had their replay. It was the perfect script.
For Wenger, there was plenty of food for thought. He had again entrusted his side’s progress in this competition to his second-string players, and again they had fallen short.
On this occasion, unlike in the previous rounds against Leeds and Huddersfield, there was no time to summon Cesc Fabregas from the bench.
One should not be unduly harsh on Arsenal – they were doing a thoroughly professional job until Tehoue’s late goal – but there were some worrying signs for the manager.
Players such as Denilson, Marouane Chamakh and the centre-back Sebastien Squillaci again looked short of the quality they will need if called upon to face more celebrated opposition in the next couple of months.
The first XI, seven of whom sat on the bench and one, Alex Song, who was asked to play again after his Barcelona exertions, are not too under threat from their understudies at the moment.
But there are plenty of games to go round, and Wenger wants all his players to be purring, not just those who will be recalled for Wednesday’s Premier League meeting with Stoke City at the Emirates, when Manchester United’s lead at the top can be trimmed to two points.
Rosicky’s goal, after persistent work on the right flank from Nicklas Bendtner, should have been added to thereafter by the Czech himself, denied by a fine double save from Orient’s Jamie Jones, and then Andrey Arshavin, who could not find the precision touch that had defeated Barcelona four days earlier with a late chance that he fired wide of an upright.
Arsenal, with the teenage Spanish debutant Ignasi Miquel looking composed in the centre, had defended comfortably, but with just a single-goal lead you could sense the home crowd’s expectation rise in the final 10 minutes.
They got their reward with Tehoue’s brilliantly-taken leveller, and celebrated wildly at the end as one would expect.
Wenger was magnanimous afterwards, and could possibly afford to be given that this was a draw not a defeat, and that Arsenal should progress to the quarter-finals regardless.
But a replay just three days after the Carling Cup final and the week before the return leg in Barcelona is an extra game he could do without.
His players have seen match action in every midweek since before Christmas, and there is the feeling that the number of games will take their toll.
That will probably not be the case against Orient’s battlers in the replay in 10 days’ time, but the business end of the season is approaching, and Arsenal are going to have to find that elusive ruthless streak to end this promising season the way they know they must; by winning a trophy.
Orient (4-4-2): Jones, Whing, Chorley, Forbes, Daniels, Crowe (Carroll 46 mins), Smith, Dawson, Cox, McGleish (Tehoue 62 mins) Revell (M’Poku 83 mins). Subs NOT USED: Butcher, OmozusiCestor,Kane.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Almunia, Sagna, Squillaci, Miquel, Gibbs, Denilson, Song, Rosicky, Bendtner, Arshavin, Chamakh. Subs not used: Szczesny, Eboue, Wilshere, Fabregas, Kosicelny, Nasri, Clichy.