Sunday, January 30, 2011

FA Cup: Arsenal 2 - Huddersfield Town 1

It wasn't pretty, but Arsenal got it done in the end, surviving against League 1 side Huddersfield Town 2-1 at the Emirates to advance to the next round in the FA Cup. It was, however, an expensive victory, as Arsenal Player-of-the-year candidate Samir Nasri went off after pulling a hamstring in the middle of the first half.

The Gunners dominated possession in the first half, making plenty of chances but only scoring on one, when Nicklas Bendtner, who made excellent runs throughout the match, had his shot deflected into the Huddersfield goal by defender Peter Clarke. Late in half, Arsenal were reduced to 10 men, when Sebastien Squillaci was sent off for a professional foul; he obstructed a dangerous-looking Huddersfield attack when he was the last defender.

With the numerical advantage, Huddersfield Town came out in the second half in an attacking frame of mind. They dominated possession and plainly earned the goal Alan Lee scored with his head from a corner kick in the 66th minute. Shortly after that, Arsenal brought on their talismanic captain Cesc Fabregas, who almost single-handedly retook control of the match for the Gunners. A draw and reply seemed in the offing until the 85th minute, when Bendtner was pushed down in the box by Jamie McCombe. Fabregas calmly dispatched the penalty to send the Gunners through to the next round.

The Gunners were not at their best today, and needed to display character and patience today after going down to 10 men, which they did. Huddersfield Town acquitted themselves well, playing with poise and tenacity. They look a good bet to make the jump to the Championship next season.

A word of praise is in order for the much-maligned (and not just by me) Andrei Arshavin. Although he squandered a few more scoring opportunities today, he passed the ball better and his work rate was impressive, including on defense, where his timely  intervention denied Huddersfield Town an excellent chance of taking the lead. On the other hand, Denilson continued his poor run of play for the Gunners, giving the ball away on numerous occasions and appearing to shy away from physical contact. Goalie Manuel Almunia, who was in the Arsenal line-up for the first time in several months, acquitted himself well, making one outstanding save and no obvious mistakes.

Now, all Arsenal fans will be awaiting the injury report on Nasri. It seemed a pretty obvious hamstring pull (hopefully not a tear). But such injuries are notoriously tricky to predict. He could be out a week or two months.

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