Stepping out onto Holloway Road three hours before kick-off it was evident just what this game meant to the good folk of Lincoln. Families bedecked in red and white stripes were everywhere. In the pub more familiar faces gathered to witness the first-half of the rugby before decamping to the stadium.
The small matter of an FA Cup quarter-final followed, and an unusual one at that. The hosts were literally on a hiding to nothing against their non-league opponents, and the first half almost turned into a nightmare. We created chances, as expected, but one by one they came and went. Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott had a couple each, from memory, but we were also on our feet to applaud Cech for an excellent save to deny Arnold.
Had that gone in the game might have taken a very different turn. Lincoln were disciplined, defended in numbers, and killed time in much the same way we see so many Premiership clubs do at our place. In Lincoln’s case it was seen as more heroic, and why not?
The loss of in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with another hamstring problem saw a recall from the bench for Mesut Ozil. His impact wasn’t immediate, but he made the team purr after the break. Just as we were dreading a half-time stalemate, and all that would include, Walcott produced a shot that found it’s way into the net via a couple of deflections.
That strike proved to be the trigger for the opening of the floodgates. The second-half had barely warmed up before Hector Bellerin teed up Olivier Giroud for the second goal. Although that strike gave us breathing space it did nothing to quieten Lincoln’s nine thousand fans who were making the most of their big day out.
A third goal arrived when Gibbs broke free down the left and his cross was diverted past his own goalkeeper by the unfortunate Waterfall. Lincoln’s plan to break the match up into ten minute segments might have been seen to have worked in the first-half, but they were losing all of the second-half segments 1-0.
The fourth was worth waiting for. Alexis found space in the way he so often does to hit a beauty from the edge of the box. By this time I had become fascinated with who was celebrating with who when the goals went in. Maybe we read too much into things like this, but the team doesn’t look as united as it appeared not so long ago.
Alexis turned provider for the fifth, almost walked into the net by Ramsey. The only regret this scribe had was that Lincoln were unable to fashion a consolation that would have lined the pockets nicely. Instead a number of us stayed to give them a standing ovation as they soaked up the last moments on the big stage.
What this victory will do for the Arsenal’s form and confidence is anyones guess. All the boys could do was to win this match, and they did it well enough in the end. Sterner tests await, including a potentially huge FA Cup semi-final.
We’re going back to Wembley!