Lincoln City will travel to Arsenal in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup.
Imagine that. Lincoln City playing one of Europe’s biggest clubs in the last eight of a real competition. Even if you cheated on Football Manager, you’d feel a pang of guilt getting that far wouldn’t you? It’s barely believable, but after the Gunners win against Sutton tonight, it is a reality. Not only that, after watching tonight’s game there’s every reason to believe that if the planets align correctly, we could win the game.
Bear with me, I haven’t been taking drugs. If Arsenal put out the same starting eleven as they did tonight, and they play as they did tonight, I think we could go one better than plucky Sutton, and actually progress to the semi-finals.
Firstly, I don’t actually expect it to happen. At the Quarter Final stage I suspect Arsenal might just put another big name or two in the line up. The younger players didn’t play well tonight, and the fringe didn’t perform that well either. It was only when Sutton went off method after half an hour that Arsenal took the lead. As the part-time legs began to tire Arsenal were able to make the game safe, but only after bringing on Oxlade Chamberlain and latterly Alexis Sanchez. We wouldn’t go off method, and our players I suspect are fitter and better conditioned.
What Sutton really lacked were three things I think Lincoln City have. The first thing is the intense pressing game we play. Sutton were a little less aggressive with it than we would be. Often Arsenal were able to have five or six players facing goal with a bank of ten or eleven men in front of them, and they were afforded precious seconds on the ball. With Alex Woodyard’s endeavour, as well as wingers tracking back to the ball I think we could have some success in panicking a youthful Arsenal.
There’s also Matt Rhead. If he had been around Roarie Deacon tonight, bringing the ball down and having it stick to him for a short period, I think Deacon would have fed off him superbly. At the Emirates, if Muldoon, Marriott or Southwell can play off Rheady, maybe we could find a viable route to goal? Ospina, the ‘cup keeper’ is suspect at best, the key to success would be giving him plenty of food for thought.
Finally there’s our prowess out wide. Deacon was excellent in getting into the spaces, but the left flank didn’t see the same level of success for Sutton. Their forward play was lopsided, whereas with Lincoln City we have pace and trickery on both flanks. That could stretch the opposition defenders, and Bob’s your Uncle, we’ve got two centre forward players ready to exploit it.
We also have some of the qualities that Sutton found useful this evening. The big lads Collins and Downer were both strong, snappy and a physical presence. There’s no doubt Bradley Wood brings that to the table, and both Waterfall and Raggett would be strong presences that Arsenal might not enjoy facing.
Sutton played lots of short passes into feet as well, not afraid to go back to come forward, and that is Lincoln all over. If the route forward is crowded out we often go back to the centre halves, even Paul Farman in order to start again. Sutton used Worner tonight as well, he offered a long approach that a bigger centre forward would have made more use of.
What we won’t have is the pitch, an artificial surface that clearly did have an influence on the game. The ball ran far quicker, and I think many of the misplaced Arsenal passes were a direct result of unfamiliarity of the surface. It concerns me we still have to play Sutton and Maidstone away, those pitches could have a bearing on the title race. Dagenham, Tranmere and Forest Green have all already lost at Gander Green Lane this season, we shouldn’t under estimate the pitch’s influence.
Arsenal would be a different prospect at home too, they would be more used to the bigger stage. Tonight was an occasion they are not used to, playing on a tight recreation ground in South London. To be on the pitch at the Emirates would be far more familiar territory, and that won’t help us.
Finally Arsenal played poorly tonight, but players like Xhaka, Perez and Monreal won’t always have an off day. Even the likes of Iwobi and Reine-Adelaide should have been far more effective than they were tonight. The same eleven players should put together a far more coherent and threatening pattern of play, and in the Quarter Final I don’t expect anything less.
Danny Cowley has famously said ‘impossible is an opinion’, and therefore as a fan I’m trying to embrace this mantra for myself. I thought we’d lose to Oldham, Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley. Increasingly my predictions have got heavier (1-0, 2-0, 3-1, 5-1 respectively) and every time my team has sprung a surprise which has filled me with self-loathing at not having the faith.
So when we travel to Arsenal, and my ever pessimistic head is telling me we’ll lose 6-1, I will click back and read this blog. I will remember how the game went tonight, how Sutton were just three crucial pieces away from completing the giant-killing jigsaw, and how we have those three exact pieces saved in a drawer at home just waiting for the occasion.
Dare to dream.