3 goals yesterday against Middlesboro for Bryant Gumbel’s new best friend, Arsenal’s Thierry Henry in the Gunners’ 7-0 clinic. The Telegraph’s James Mossup is a little light-headed from the display.
When all the right notes are struck and the rhythms are perfection, there can be no finer sporting entertainment than football. As Highbury rocked to the fluency of an inspired Arsenal, there was a virtuoso performance from Thierry Henry to go with the compelling extravaganza.
The third goal of his unforgettable hat-trick took him level with Cliff Bastin’s record of 150 league goals for the club. The win also equalled Arsenal’s best in the Premiership and Henry’s name rang out from all sides of the 93-year-old stadium. Henry says he wants to stay and enjoy life when they move to a new ground next season. Manager Arsene Wenger should handcuff him immediately.
Henry, Jose Antonio Reyes and Freddie Ljungberg worked magical patterns across the pitch in a match that should be recorded on DVD and set to music. You could only sympathise with Middlesbrough, who had Guidoni Junior Doriva sent off late in the game.
If pure skill and understanding can amount to a brutal execution, this was the occasion, with Frenchman Henry applying the guillotine. Boro’s defenders could not read his runs, flicks and feints and their goalkeeper, Brad Jones, had the ultimate close-up of a global star going about his business.
Despite Manchester United being held by Burton Albion and Liverpool’s close call against Leyton Orient, color the Guardian’s Paul Wilson unimpressed with last weekend’s F.A. Cup drama.
So, have we just seen the best FA Cup third round ever? The BBC can be forgiven for presenting it that way, and there are certainly grounds for suspecting we have just witnessed the best-covered third round of all time, yet despite some lively encounters, a couple of nagging doubts remain.
First, no giants were actually slain. The non-league clubs merely lived to fight another day, which is creditable enough without quite being the stuff of legend. Leyton Orient provided the only big shock, with respect to Leicester City, and Fulham crashing out at home to League Two opponents from across London hardly set the Richter scale quivering.
Second, without wanting to take anything away from the achievements of teams such as Burton, Leeds and Huddersfield, who all impressed in different ways against teams from leagues above, you can never have a classic year for the Cup if leading managers treat it as a lesser priority than the league. The weakened side Manchester United sent to Burton may well have given the Conference team a chance, as Nigel Clough pointed out to his players when the teamsheet arrived, but it also diminished their potential glory. Had Burton won, as they could have done, the headlines would have all been about the folly of Sir Alex Ferguson’s selection and not the bravery of the minnows, and in terms of the Cup’s proud tradition, that cannot be right.
What do four of the top six have in common? Manchester United, Arsenal, Wigan and Blackburn also form the last four of the League Cup, the (white) elephant in the room as far as FA Cup discussions are concerned. Why does no one ever point out the obvious fact that all FA Cup nostalgia harks back to a golden age when the other knockout contest was either not around or in a formative stage? Let’s put it like this: the League Cup is the FA Cup’s biggest problem, even bigger than the growth of the Champions League. Were there only one cup tournament, one Wembley final and one source of upsets, replays, fixture congestion and all the rest, no club would field a weakened side, no tie would ever be less than fiercely contested, supporters would not stay away and the magic would be back.