Why Portsmouth have to lose to Arsenal yet again when they face Premier League big boys in FA Cup
Pompey don’t beat Arsenal. It just doesn’t happen.
But Pompey do have memorable games and occasions which endure against the Gunners. And if that is what their next meeting turns out to be then that will be just fine.
In a season which is once again taking on the epic proportions of last term when a fatigued Blues side run out of steam, heroic failure against one of the nation’s best is exactly what’s called for.
At the current count, it’s no wins from 21 attempts against a side who despite their travails of recent seasons remain one of the game’s powerhouses - a run stretching back to 1958. There can’t be many sides the Blues shape up so dismally against.
Johnny Gordon and Derek Dougan were on the scoresheet when Eddie Lever’s side picked up a dramatic 5-4 win at Fratton Park in the English game’s top flight. It feels like a similar amount of time has passed since one of the big guns visited Fratton Park (and no, Chelsea and Arsenal’s kids in the EFL Trophy doesn’t cut it).
In fact, it’s been getting on for a decade from Chelsea (the other side we never beat) coming to PO4 and handing out a 5-0 tonking in the dying embers of the Premier League days.
So the enthusiasm which greeted being paired with Mikel Arteta’s side was perhaps understandable, as a couple of Pompey old boys in Teddy Sheringham and Glen Johnson left it late to match the clubs in the last tie of Monday’s draw, before Arsenal’s Bournemouth win.
It’s going to be an occasion to enjoy alright. Fratton under the lights with eyes on PO4 from around the nation. The club normally show up well on such occasions - we just don’t need to win.
It was Sheringham who was to the fore in one of the most memorable clashes of the modern era between the two clubs. Gobsmackingly, 17 years have past since the Premier League new boys were denied what would have been a famous Highbury victory in 2003’s 1-1 draw.
No one will need reminding how Robert Pires’ infamous dive preserved a point which was to be crucial in creating their Invincibles legend. Onlookers remember how referee Alan Wiley was fuming at being conned by the Frenchman in the wake of that game.
Renewing acquaintances with Arsenal will stir echoes of the other well-referenced landmarks in the club’s modern history.
The other two games against them in the 2003-04 season have their own images attached, of course, as Fratton Park paid homage to the Thierry Henry’s majesty in the champion’s 5-1 victory, prompting Henry to don a Pompey shirt in the 1-1 draw eight weeks’ later.
Those shots went around the world. A moment which was captured, however, was a man who was at that stage arguably the best footballer on the planet, nearly being impaled by a metal hook.
The offensive weapon was hoisting TV gear from a gantry when the operator lost control as the Frenchman conducted post-match interviews in the Fratton tunnel. Henry’s on-pitch reaction time was matched as he swerved the fast-approaching heavy-duty apparatus, to ensure a moment which really could have made very different headline news didn’t unfold.
Matt Taylor’s eye for the spectacular at the Emirates to put his side 2-0 up in 2006, before eventually drawing 2-2 and Lomana LuaLua scoring and crocking himself with his trademark somersault celebration earlier the same year also spring to mind.
For fans of a certain vintage, Arsenal’s name will forever conjure recollections of the last-minute draw and gutsy replay effort against the team who went on to become double winners in 1971. Mike Trebilcock was the man to earn a little slice of star and crescent history in front of a crowd of nearly 40,000 at Fratton.
An FA Cup effort of a similar nature will go down well next month, with the necessity to cram the drama of those two memorable fixtures into one evening with fifth-round replays binned for the first time.
In all probability, that will be where Pompey’s involvement in the famous, old competition will come to a close. And, frankly, that’s how we should want it.
A loss which doesn’t drain impetus or confidence is exactly what’s required as we head towards a minimum 59-game season. And that’s without factoring in further potential EFL Trophy and play-off commitments.
As Jackett himself highlighted last week, taken across two seasons that now takes Pompey to at least 121 games. A mammoth figure.
The fact that’s 19 more games than a promotion rival like Ipswich will play over the same period cannot be without consequence.
Pompey’s manager remains non-committal on the subject of how the volume of fixtures affected the promotion bid last term.
‘It’s one of those things you never quite know,’ he said last week. ‘Has it hampered the league form? It’s really a subjective one. I don’t look at it that way.’
The manner in which Pompey’s season dramatically tailed off pointed that way, however, with no wins in the final five and a toothless play-off effort.
And with the likes of certainly Tom Naylor and possibly Ronan Curtis set to break a century of appearances in two campaigns, there has to be questions over how fatigue could yet have an impact this term.
The hope has to be the options are now in place to handle the rigours of a season still flying on three fronts, and with six first-team players including Gareth Evans, Brett Pitman, Oli Hawkins and Brandon Haunstrup not even making the squad on Tuesday at Lincoln, there’s evidence they can do so.
So no more games, thanks, aside from perhaps a Wembley return. A brave Arsenal defeat and automatic promotion will do just fine.