By Randy Osae
Lightening certainly does not strike twice.
No matter how much of an obstacle Hull proved to stand in their way, the Gunners are heading to the new Wembley for once, and an all-London semi-final with Chelsea on April 18 now beckons.
Comeback fires from Van Persie and then Gallas erased Barmby’s early cause of anxiety and ensured revenge over the Tigers and Arsenal’s best return in the competition since their last triumph in 2005.
Maybe, just maybe, this could be another vintage run.
With his mind on-song after his announcement in English football on Saturday, Arshavin kept his body able to withstand the hype.
The Russian had stitches in his foot, but managed to start today along with a host of changes which saw Almunia, Denilson, Clichy, Bendtner, Nasri and Toure all relaxed for the favors of Fabianski, Gallas, Vela, Van Persie, Diaby and Gibbs.
The route to Wembley had already been foretold before the ball was kicked. But Hull had their own dreams and made it crystal-clear during the opening stages tonight. Let alone, they had fond memories of Arsenal’s ground under their belt, and you sensed if a ‘cupset’ was on the cards, Phil Brown’s men would be first to let a peek of what they had up their sleeve.
It was ping-pong time in Arsenal’s territory with 12 minutes gone, as Sagna booted a clearance onto Andy Dawson’s lashing, and it ended up with Barmby’s volley on the edge of the area which deflected off Djourou and looped over an off-balance Fabianski.
The Tigers were off to the quest indeed.
Hull were at it again, with Geovanni attempting to repeat his thunder-bolt back in September from 30 yards-out after being let off by Manucho. Then the Brazilian alerted Fabianski with a goal-bound free-kick tipped over. The visitors guided the ball home from the resulting corner, but this time, Barmby was just offside as he re-directed a long range effort past Fabianski.
Wenger’s men were still striving to pick up the pieces at this point. And Arshavin was first to pose questions – unleashing a poised shot from the left which was nearly deflected home but for a corner. Then moments before the interval, the Russian volleyed Gibbs’ blocked shot a whisker away from curling into the corner of the net.
Wenger breathed urgency into his side at break as they came knocking hard in the second-half. First Diaby headed a corner just wide off the post, Van Persie had a similar effort blocked off the line before Song’s follow-up traveled agonizingly wide.
Nothing but brilliance was asked for to break the duck. And Van Persie nearly provided that with a lowly drilled free-kick which looked net-bound until Myhill met it. At this point, Wenger had literally lost his composure on the sidelines as the visitors made every second go by with intent. The Frenchman had also lost his patience too for Vela and Song, who were sacrificed for Nasri and Bendtner.
Then came salt in the wound of superstition that it just was not Arsenal’s night. Van Persie did everything right to meet Nasri’s corner, but the ball refused to land home – smacking the face of the crossbar and out.
The writings of another Hull stunner were becoming apparent on the Emirates Stadium’s walls.
With head in hands, the Dutchman pondered as he trotted off for another chance. It did arrive when Bendtner managed to whip the ball across the pressure of Hull’s defenders and their stopper onto the feet of Arshavin who cleverly and unselfishly laid it off to a better positioned Van Persie right at the center of danger zone. And the Dutchman who had starred quite a frustrating night as stand-in captain, thumped home with his weaker foot.
It was rally time now.
But the Tigers nearly hit back like their tails had been stepped on. Geovanni raced past Djourou and shot right onto the side of the goal’s roof.
Momentum still belonged to the Gunners and they should have made it count when Bendtner latched onto Myhill’s fumbled catch. The Dane shot towards the free net, but it was blocked by a nearby defender.
Arsenal now hunted for the winner, and Walcott was replaced by Eboue. Two minutes later, they earned a free-kick from about 45-yards out. Nasri urged on and waited for a few of his gangly colleagues to go gamble in the box.
The substitute floated in a deep delivery with Hull’s stopper lurking off his line to come punch out. In the thick of the action, Myhill, Bendtner, and Djourou all collided with the ball which was parried on to vital Gallas with the empty net at stake.
And one of the controversial figures of the campaign nodded in a controversial goal, which sealed the road to Wembley.