Date: 21st February 2011 at 9:24am
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This was a tie I had looked forward to with some relish since the draw had been made. Brisbane Road remained the last London league ground I had yet to visit. Transport for London had very helpfully closed the Central Line for the day, after they helpfully did something similar when we played at West Ham in January; there was an element of déjà vu as we made our way to Stratford to pick up a replacement bus service. This area of the world is not yet ready to host a mad hatter`s tea party, how on earth they`re going to host the Olympics I`ve no idea. Don`t be surprised if the Jubilee and Central Lines are shut for the whole summer due to “essential escalator maintenance.” In any case, we safely boarded a bus (not by any means a guarantee in Stratford) and made our way to the Coach and Horses pub on Leyton High Road for a few pre match looseners. The establishment was packed full of baying Gooners, relishing a trip into the unknown.

As the City Notts County tie hit full time we made the short walk to the away enclosure in the East Stand. Orient were charging £5 for programmes. Just thought I`d mention that. Once we got through the cramped concourses and into our seats, it became apparent that the carrot of Manchester United away awaited the victors on the Quarter Final. I felt uneasily that this would add to the home side`s motivation to get a result. Orient is a unique ground as there are blocks of flats built into the corners of the ground, with balconies that give you a grandstand view of the pitch. (Though the visiting supporters were none too impressed, given the chants of “who`re the w*****s in the flats? And “you live in a sh*thole). That said, Arsenal acquitted themselves well and took a stranglehold of proceedings from the off. But despite dominating possession (I`m to understand Arsenal completed somewhere in the region of 800 passes yesterday), we seldom looked like being dangerous with it. The front three we have tried in the cups really just does not seem to work. With Bendtner out wide and Chamakh spear heading, it does rather look as though we were hammering square pegs into round holes for the sake of playing certain players. Likewise, the presence of Denilson and Song looked unnecessary in midfield. I suppose it was a shame Diaby wasn`t available to add some thrust and variety to the middle of the park.

Arsenal created a series of half chances, Arshavin chipped a cross in from the left but Chamakh`s looping header was saved on the line by Jones. Shortly afterwards Song played a pass into Chamakh, he teed up Bendtner, who hit his shot wide from the edge of the area. Arsenal`s approach play lacked any necessary punch with a front three operating on different wavelengths and a striker at the head of the formation who has completely lost his mojo. His lack of confidence was no more apparent than when Rosicky teed him up on the edge of the area and the Moroccan hit a tame side footed shot straight at the keeper. Orient rarely threatened, though Charlie Daniels did hit a sizzling left foot shot just over the bar from long range. But the Gunners produced their best chance on 37 minutes when Arshavin found the overlapping Gibbs from left back, his low cross fizzed across the box for Marouane Chamakh who was stretching in vain and could only toe end the chance wide. At half time it was difficult to know how to feel, Arsenal were winning their duels and dominating the match, but had little to show for it in the way of scoring opportunities.

But the Gunners kept plugging away and the goal eventually came seven minutes into the second half. Bendtner had his original shot blocked by Terrell, but the Dane had the presence of mind to collect the ricochet, prod the ball past Whing before clipping an inch perfect cross back into the box for Tomas Rosicky to head home his first Arsenal goal in nearly 14 months. Six minutes later, he nearly adhered to the London bus theory of waiting forever for one and two coming along in succession. Arshavin`s tenacity took him to the by-line and he cut the ball back for Rosicky, his first time shot was excellently saved by Jones and the Czech could only then loop the rebound into the prone keeper`s arms with a header. Orient needed to respond and they sent on Jonathan Tehoue (“A French player I have not heard of!” quipped Wenger post match) to inject some pace into their attack. His impact was instant, racing down the right and sending in a low cross which Revell turned wide. But Arsenal were still in control and you had the feeling they were playing within themselves rather, believing 1-0 to be enough. I`m not quite sure how that attitude computes when your team has, a fortnight earlier, tossed away a four goal advantage, but there you go. Arsenal should have killed the game when Orient over committed, leaving Song to pick out Arshavin. The Russian galloped towards goal, held off the attentions of Chorley, but found his shot from the angle clipped the base of the post on its way out for a goal kick.

Arsenal began to knock the ball around and try to strangle the life out of the tie. Orient had threatened only very sporadically in the game and a second goal would have killed them off. But Arsenal did not appear to want to go for the jugular. They got a stark warning on 84 minutes when Tehoue again charged down the right and sent another cross into the box for Revell and his goal bound shot was blocked full in the face by Squillaci. But it was a warning Arsenal did not heed as they continued to try and play for time. Their lack of urgency bit them full on the arse on 88 minutes. Tehoue again, who had injected the necessary life into an otherwise workmanlike forward line, showed a beguiling shift of feet to take him past Miquel and the sprawling Gibbs, he lashed a first time shot under the body of Almunia to sent Brisbane Road into rapture. Almunia ought to have saved it, but Arsenal really ought to have killed the game off long before the O`s took their chance. It was too late to try and force a winner and Orient had the replay their Chairman really wanted.

Ultimately, we treated the game too much like a training exercise, when a slight raise of tempo after the first goal for ten minutes or so would have seen us win the game comfortably. You cannot convince me that an extra game in the schedule is anything other than a horrible disadvantage and one I think we will suffer for in the long run. There ought to be some form of chemistry between that front three by now given that they have had several games together. Even in the lack of it; they should have enough to see of lower league opposition without the immense difficulty they have shown since January. The bus journey back to Stratford was all the more irritating for the kind of reverse snobbery one gets from lower league fans. (You suspect, the sort that would not have been at Brisbane Road this weekend were they playing Dagenham & Redbridge as the fixture list originally slated). For instance, the young man that yelled at us that Arsenal were “a team of foreign retards.” Young Tim`s enquiry as to which part of England Jonathan Tehoue came from was met with stony silence. (The part of England called “France” in case you were wondering). You would imagine the same sort of side should have enough to beat Orient in the replay, but then again they couldn`t beat Huddersfield or Leeds at home without Cesc coming on to cut their meat and veg for them.LD.

1.ALMUNIA(c), 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 48.MIQUEL, 28.GIBBS. 15.DENILSON, 17.SONG, 7.ROSICKY, 52.BENDTNER, 3.ARSHAVIN, 29.CHAMAKH. Unused: 4.Fabregas, 6.Koscielny, 8.Nasri, 19.Wilshere, 22.Clichy, 27.Eboue, 53.Szczesny.

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