FA Cup – Fabianski blunder puts Chelsea in final
The Ivorian latched on to a long ball and scored an open goal on 84 minutes after the goalkeeper made an ill-advised excursion from his penalty area.
Hiddink’s men came into the game having conceded seven goals in their last 110 minutes of football, and it did not take long for their recent defensive frailties to resurface.
Arsenal’s fans took great pleasure in the fact that the decisive touch came from the defender who left them so acrimoniously in 2006 but Cech, who has endured a torrid time in recent matches, was arguably more guilty.
The Chelsea goalkeeper would at least have derived some cheer from the escapades of his opposite number Fabianski, still deputising for the injured Manuel Almunia.
Almunia is solid but will never be a world-class keeper – yet Fabianski’s antics made the Spaniard look like Dino Zoff by comparison.
The Pole set the tone for an error-strewn display when he raced inexplicably out of his box to intercept a long ball, but was beaten to it by Drogba who headed towards the empty net.
Fabianski was bailed out by the alert Kieran Gibbs, who raced back to clear off the line.
The Pole’s positioning was frequently questionable and he instilled little confidence in his defenders, especially right-back Emmanuel Eboue.
Eboue was left for dead by Malouda on his way to scoring his equaliser, as the Chelsea winger jinked easily in from the left and rolled a right-footed shot inside the near post.
The oft-spouted cliche that a goalkeeper should never get beaten at his near post is clearly nonsense – but Malouda’s shot had little power and should have presented little problem for Fabianski.
The keeper’s 24th birthday nearly got worse a few minutes later, when he appeared not to pick up a Nicolas Anelka shot from the edge of the box, and watched helplessly as the ball pinged back off the base of the left-hand post.
The quality was not helped by the Wembley pitch, which continued to spew up great clods of turf every time any pressure was applied to it.
It seems remarkable that the world’s most expensive stadium cannot boast at least a serviceable playing surface.
If the errors were plentiful, both sides also produced some fare that was more pleasing on the eye.
Walcott continues to mature into a fantastic player and Cesc Fabregas‘s passing was as crisp as ever; although neutrals were left distraught when it emerged that Arsene Wenger had left the magical Andrei Arshavin and the impish Samir Nasri on the bench.
However, the second half produced little of note as both sides stifled each other’s creativity.
The moments of greatest excitement involved the referee, who opted not to give a penalty for handball against Mikael Silvestre, and was very lenient in only booking Denilson after the Brazilian pushed him in the chest.
But Fabianski had yet to produce his greatest mistake, and his colossal error of judgement left Drogba with the simple chance of locating the empty net and ensuring Chelsea return to Wembley for the final.