Same old story in Emirates test
The inevitability of the comment was such that I was actually sitting waiting for it. Sure enough, the little epithet duly arrived from the TV commentator during the first half of the extra 30 minutes of Saturday evening's FA cup semi-final between Arsenal and Wigan: "The only person likely to be happy with extra time is Sam Allardyce, whose West Ham United play Arsenal on Tuesday evening".
If only things were that simple.
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There's no doubt that the penalty shoot-out pressure would have taken something out of the Arsenal squad, but it's equally likely that the boost in overcoming Wigan Athletic and making an FA Cup final -- that they are now confidently expected to win -- will revitalize a Gunners side that had seemed to have run out of steam in the last few weeks. The promise of a cup final will surely provide an incentive that will see them as difficult to beat as ever. For although the Hammers have provided Arsenal with a good number of shocks over the years -- last team to win at the old Highbury, first to win at the Emirates and, of course, that win back in 1980 -- all too often the north London side, who can call on better players in a larger squad, have bested the Upton Park outfit quite considerably. There have been one or two defeats over the past few years that have figured among the season's worst results for the Hammers.
I'd imagine Allardyce would have gleefully noted how Arsenal struggled to break down a resolute Wigan team and have hopes of emulating that, but even with the pressure off in the relegation dogfight -- although not mathematically safe, Swansea and Aston Villa would seem to be the teams now looking over their shoulder -- the Hammers would view even a point as a good result against a team still trying to make sure of Champions League qualification.
Normally at this stage of the season supporters would be hoping to see one or two new faces coming in from the development squad but -- true to form -- it's good to see the injury crisis that regularly strikes the senior squad is burgeoning at youth level too. It's comforting to know that youngsters are being shown only too well what is likely to happen if they go all the way in their careers at Upton Park.
Striker Jaanai Gordon, bought from Peterborough earlier this campaign, is out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury while Elliot Lee, who has just signed a new two-and-a-half year contract extension, has also been ruled out for the campaign with ankle ligament problems. Elsewhere, Leo Chambers has a muscle tear, while others considered on the edge of the squad: George Moncur, Paul McCallum, Blair Turgott and Sean Maguire are all out on loan until the end of the season.
So, don't expect too many surprises at the Emirates; Big Sam will set the team up to defend in depth, hit on the break and try to disrupt the Gunners rhythm in midfield. In other words: same old, same old. Ironically, the only question will actually be: have Arsenal's semi-final exploits taken anything out of the team?