Trips to the Emirates tend to be riddled with angst if you’re of a yellow and green persuasion. If it’s not being swept away by wave after wave of intricate one-touch football, and taking a shalacking as a result, it’s Wenger-mesmerised officialdom who send the blood pressure soaring.
Last night was the latter.
That’s not to say Andy Madley’s weak performance was the only reason the Gunners and not the Canaries are in the get for the quarter-finals. That can also be put down in part to City’s wastefulness in front of goal in that second half spell when it felt like going 2-0 up would be good enough for the win; Mario Vrancic in particular choking when he really should have scored.
Yet it’s impossible not to feel a little aggrieved when you watch your centre forward get wrestled to the ground just as he’s beaten the last man only for the referee reluctantly wave a half-hearted yellow. It felt – certainly at the time – like one of those 99 times out if 100 decisions and the bigger question is what would have happened if the centre-forward had been Olivier Giroud and the last man had been Christoph Zimmermann?
Some have pointed out there was still work to be done and Nelson Oliveira was some way off pulling the trigger but in different surroundings it would be difficult to see Mohamed Elneny being waved anything other than red. Did he deny a goalscoring opportunity? I’d say so.
Unfortunately it set the tone for the remainder and such was Master Madley’s apparent desire not to provoke a reaction from Arsene Wenger, when James Husband hit the deck courtesy of a friendly arm around the throat there was chance more of Ipswich stringing six passes together than there was of City being awarded a pen.
The thought never entered our Andy’s head…
But hey, it was a night of too many positives to get bogged down on the performances of two starstruck officials and with our heroes being roared on by a bank of yellow nearly 9,000 strong, there was plenty more to suggest that something really quite good is building right under our noses.
Again Daniel Farke stayed true to his belief that cup competitions are to be treated with respect and just 48 hours after the intensity and rigour of a local derby saw fit to make just four changes, with Husband, Vrancic, Josh and Oliveira coming in for Marco Stiepermann, Wes, Yanic Wildschut and Cameron Jerome. The downside of course was the physical demands it placed on this group of young men, demands that were multiplied when the game was extended to 120 minutes. Wenger meanwhile made 11 changes from Sunday.
Hopefully James Maddison hobbling off with a calf problem, Tom Trybull being riddled with cramp and others blowing out of their backsides will not affect Farke’s options ahead of Derby’s visit – but there’s no doubting it is going to be a very busy week at Colney for the medical and conditioning teams; both of whom have already done sterling jobs in getting this group in such fine physical condition.
That City were able to go for the full 120 minutes and still ask questions at the death with echoes of Portman Road still ringing in their ears was an achievement in itself and owed as much to the mental shape of this squad as it did to the physical one. The much talked about togetherness clearly extends way beyond Colney and social media and goes deep into the trenches and the running through brick walls cliché applies to each other as well as the head coach.
Yet last night was more than just a display of guts and bravery. Yes it was against a much-changed Arsenal side, and we were spared the likes of Sanchez, Özil and Lacazette, but it was still a side laced with expensively acquired talent and we took them on in a game of football (as opposed to that thing we witnessed on Sunday).
The stats show us to have been second best, unsurprisingly, but they hide the fact we were a danger on the break and in addition to the Vrancic miss, Josh and Oliveira both had chances to double the lead. As it transpired we had to be content with the one goal but that in itself was a beauty in its construction and execution; Josh clinical, Maddison inch-perfect and Trybull tenacious.
That it gave 8,800 the chance to open their lungs and rejoice was perfect and for those present it will be one of those ‘I was there’ evenings. Spine tingling. Even if a talented 18-year old by the name of Edward Nketiah was to ultimately spoil the party.
As a spectacle it was right up there, but in three days time it’s back to the grind. Derby will present a very different challenge to those faced in Suffolk and Islington and we return to the conundrum of how to win at home.
If Daniel and his team can crack that little riddle then we really could be entering a special time.