Tuesday, January 5

Kick up the Arsenal

West Ham 1 Arsenal 2 (FA Cup)

On the District line a Christian woman is handing out leaflets and shouting, “Jesus saves!” Only we have no forwards left to score the rebound.

Her leaflet reads: "On the spiritual field Jesus is the referee, the world is the pitch and the first Yellow card is a WARNING for you to prepare to meet God. The second yellow card is your final warning; a red card and you are SENT OFF forever to that place the Bible calls HELL." So it's not looking good for Tomas Repka, then?

We’re not far off Hell, being without Parker, Cole, Noble, Ilunga, Franco, Collison (whom Fraser fears has been sold if Matt’s conspiracy theory still holds), Hines, and of course Boa Morte and Dyer.

Nouble is starting up front for the suspended Franco and Daprela is in for his debut at left-back. Arsenal have most of there first choice defence plus youngsters like Wilshire and Ramsey

Yet it begins as a surprisingly even game. Tomkins makes a poor clearance and Green saves well from Eduardo. But Diamanti goes close too as Fabianski tips away a vicious curler.

The sad Gooner fans sing “You’ve only got one song!” and taunt us for being allegedly quieter than The Library. We’re competing well through the blonde midfield fulcrum of Behrami and Kovac. There's a little internal dissent when Fraser points out that Matt's praising Behrami having claimed against Chelsea that Valon would never play for us again.

Daprela gets booked and is exposed a few times but makes a couple of surging runs forward only to catche the West Ham disease of not shooting. Frank Nouble hesitates when clear twice but puts himself about well and is more nuisance value than a hobbling Franco.

On half-tine Behrami wins a loose ball and plays in Diamanti who has sprung the Gooners offside trap. The Italian fires in off the post and runs to the comer in celebration. Blimey.

At half-time we discuss where we’re going to have the Cup Final breakfast in May before taking the train to Wembley. Part-time Nigel texts “We’ll still f**k it up”. Oh ye of (justifiably) little faith.

Nouble fires just wide after an incisive passing move just after the interval. Stanislas has a shot brilliantly tipped away for a corner by Fabianski. Then we have 15 minutes of the ball always seems to fall to Jimenez whop is in the right position but always dawdles on the edge of the box. “What is it with bloody Jiminez? How can he get every decision so king wrong” complains the vicar’s son.

In the final third of the game Nouble goes down with cramp and our young side is visibly tiring. Wenger gets worried and brings on Diaby and Nasri.

Green makes a great double save from Diaby and Song. Zola starts to warm up young Freddie Sears, fresh from his Christmas tree and chocolate money, but then dithers. Too late, on 78 minutes Song combines with Vela and Vela’s swift pass finds Ramsey who fools Tomkins by turning and shooting in one movement, and it’s 1-1.

“Why did he wait to take off Nouble? Zola’s the Gordon Brown of management, he can’t make a decision!” moans the vicar’s son.

Five minutes later Vela crosses from the left and the tiny Eduardo outjumps Matthew Upson to power in a Nat Lofthouse-style header that Green can only palm into the net. Why did he learn to do that against us?

The winner takes it all, the loser feeling small, as Abba once sang. Arsenal’s win never looks in doubt, although we’ve done well to compete with such a threadbare side. We even get to see young Edgar come on.

“Oh well, at least we can concentrate on getting into the bottom three,” I mumble. “Guess we’ll just have to have a 2012 Olympics breakfast round at Fraser’s instead of the Cup Final.”

We retreat to the Central which is marginally warmer than the icy East Stand, reflecting that it will now be 30 years before we can win a trophy.

“That’s only if you discount the Inter-Toto Cup!” says Fraser. “

"And the Play-off Final!” adds Matt.

Fraser then asks us to name the line-up of the Inter-Toto Cup winning side against Metz, which proves surprisingly difficult, as we stumble on Foe, but get Marc Keller and Steve Potts.

Oh well, another pint, please. Perhaps we can still make the Europa League with a late surge…

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