Terrace Talk: Cups offer suitable reward for winter drudgery

The Red Army are on proper full-scale excited manoeuvres week, via massed visits to Blackburn, St Etienne, and Wembley, with the scent of silverware in spring nostrils.

A classic cup invasion, a novel Euroaway, and a final; suitable reward for some of the winter drudgery we’ve endured.

Certainly, tickets were surprisingly hard to come by for yesterday’s trip down memory lane to the land that time forgot, which one might take to be a sign of swelling enthusiasm in the fanbase, given that we had a huge allocation.

Admittedly, as far as FA Cup prospects go, some of the wind will have dropped from the sails when Reds heading back into town heard of their reward.

Chelsea away is obviously the hardest tie we could have drawn, although some nervous nellies will have been relieved not to be facing the potential all-time embarrassment of an upset against Lincoln or Sutton.

Ah, the spell-weaving non-league minnows, entrancing us all as though fairies dancing in the moonlight: Is it too soon in this column to mention ‘the magic of the cup’, then?

All our eyes are on the Arsenal match tonight, of course, as we lip-smackingly join the slightly indecent national feeding frenzy over the metaphorical corpse of Arsene Wenger.

I say “indecent” because his job isn’t actually dead yet; one has visions of him furiously brushing vampire bats away from his oh-so tempting neck. 

But rarely have I felt such an obvious and universal media desire for a possible giant-killing, which would surely be the final nail, and thus a chance for all those pundits who’ve been announcing the demise of Wenger for a decade to be right at last.

Yet just three months or so ago, you might still have fancied Arsene’s chances of outlasting Mourinho in their current jobs. 

I daresay Jose would happily give much of the credit for this turnaround to Zlatan, whose goals have flowed — and have just done for our last two opponents — and whose leadership qualities have become evident to all.

Undoubtedly, when he and Pogba finally came on yesterday, the collective sense of relieved expectation that the Big Boys had now turned up to save the game was quite tangible.

That duo now run this dressing room; no one is pining for the captaincy of Rooney.

Will the unmissed Wayne at least make it onto the pitch for a Wembley swansong on Sunday? He failed to make the Ewood squad because of a “muscle tweak”, supposedly, although some conspiracy-peddling mischief-makers on the papers are responding to this with Chinese whispers.

Cracking open this conveniently adjacent fortune cookie, I find the advice: “If you want to know what a man will eventually decide to do, ask his wife: she’ll know before he does.”

Somehow, I just can’t see Colleen welcoming a Shanghai surprise. Unless, of course, she decides to stay in the UK?

But there we drift into the realm of unfounded speculation, the next stop from which is fake news, so let’s get back to immediate concrete prospects via the trip to deepest France profonde for the St Etienne return.

Zlatan’s hat-trick has removed all the sting from the match, which now promises to be the centrepiece of a Porto ’97-style full-on jolly.

As their travelling fans showed at Old Trafford, the locals are a lively bunch, and those who are interested in such matters can definitely expect to find some “fun and games”, if they wish to go looking for it.


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