Thursday 27th January 2011
Travelling home from Tuesday night's match I couldn't help but think about years gone by. It only increased the width of the very broad smile that was already splashed across my face!
The mid-to-late Seventies and early Eighties was a fairly barren period for us Gooners. For me personally the beginning of the incredible success we have enjoyed for the last 25 years coincided with adulthood! The year 1987 saw us win the League Cup and I remember all the emotion that went with it as if it was yesterday.
While deep in thought on the Piccadilly Line it also dawned on me that despite visiting Cardiff more times than any other club it is a full 13 years since we last got to attend a Wembley cup final. 1993 saw us visit the grand old stadium an unprecedented five times including FA Cup semis, finals, replays and the Charity Shield. Our first visit that year, however, was once again in the League Cup, Merse and Stephen Morrow scoring to bring home the silverware.
In a Semi-Final with the bookies almost offering any odds against us going through, for long periods of this year's two-legged affair it was far from a foregone conclusion.
I am not going to mention over-used media terms for our opponents such as 'brave' and 'plucky' as for me these couldn't be more patronising or condescending. On a personal level, the fact I was suffering with a considerable degree of PMT throughout the day is enough evidence that we needed to show the Tractor Boys the utmost respect.
Strangely, come half-time I wasn't worried. I felt we looked relatively sharp and focused and if we created a similar number of chances to the first period we would be OK.
A combination of many things to do with Ipswich, our own play and of course Lady Luck meant we went into the last half hour with it all still to do. With the tension in the air becoming noticeable it took a top quality goal to get us on our way.
Jack's pass was spot on, Nicky's control, turn inside and finish were something the media would have been crowing about for weeks had it been a more 'fashionable' player.
The roof came off with a noise that was tinged with relief as much as celebration. Of course I was very much one of those enjoying the jostle that ensued but I always felt if we kept our shape and kept knocking on that door, eventually it would come open.
As is often the case, Laurent's thumping header followed a few moments later and we had one foot in the Final.
For the first time in the tie Ipswich looked a beaten side and Cesc's third meant the celebrations could begin in earnest.
"Que sera sera..." echoed into the night sky as we all enjoyed that warm fuzzy feeling only football can give you.
Going back to my earlier comments, I also recalled the scenes in Avenell Road after we had beaten Everton in the 1988 semi when the players were hanging out of the East Stand dressing room windows while we celebrated below. This time around the surrounding streets were a little bit more subdued but deep down every Gooner was feeling thoroughly chuffed I can assure you.
Good luck to Ipswich, they certainly ran us close. Let's hope it is a annual home and away fixture we can enjoy again in the Premier League in the future.
As we reach the very end of the first road to Wembley, this Sunday we turn to the next stage of the other one domestically as we take on Huddersfield Town.
Strangely given the above, our first tie on our run to winning the League Cup back in 1987 was against The Terriers, other encounters include another tie in the same competition in 1993 and more recently our only visit to their current home in a pre-season friendly where the life of a legend in both camps by the name of Herbert Chapman was celebrated on the night.
After Third-Round results and the Fourth-Round draw, only half of the last 16 can be made up of Premier League clubs. We very much need to treat Sunday's opponents with the utmost respect to make sure we are one of them.
"Wem-ber-ley, wem-ber-ley, we're the famous Arsenal and we're going to Wem-ber-ley!"
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