Accused of spitting at the opposition, rowing in the tunnel and refusing to shake hands at the end: the magic of the FA Cup is alive and well at Arsenal. No-one could accuse Arsène Wenger of not taking the old pot seriously – it is just the style in which his side are doing it that raises questions.
This was a cracker of an FA Cup tie contested between two managers who evidently despise each other and between two sides from different ends of the Premier League food chain that was decided by an offside goal from William Gallas. Cesc Fabregas is not even due back in action for another two weeks but he managed to upstage his team-mates by allegedly spitting at the feet of Brian Horton, Phil Brown's assistant, and sparking the mother of all rows.
It was not quite what the founding fathers of association football had in mind when they created this venerable competition in 1871. The clash of personalities between Wenger and Brown was intriguing, the latter having clearly inherited from his mentor Sam Allardyce the distrust of the Arsenal coach. Nowhere else but English football could one manager accuse another of cheating and then complain when he does not shake his hand.
By 11.30pm, when Arsenal circulated Fabregas' response denying the spitting allegations levelled at him by Brown, all decorum had been lost. In the cold light of this morning Brown may well acknowledge that he got carried away in the aftermath of the match, accusing Wenger, Fabregas and referee Mike Riley in a scattergun attack that will surely land him in trouble with the Football Association and detract from what was a fine Hull City performance.
Until Robin Van Persie's equaliser on 74 minutes Arsenal's season looked as if it hinged on what is the fairly unlikely prospect of them winning the Champions League. Thirteen points off the pace in the Premier League title race they were going out the FA Cup to a Hull team who had dug in for what would have been their second win at the Emirates in one season. Arsenal got lucky with their disputed winner from Gallas.
Gallas' goal on 84 minutes was bitterly disputed by Brown who effectively accused Riley and his linesman Andy Garratt of cheating Hull out of at least a draw. It came from a long free-kick from substitute Samir Nasri which goalkeeper Boaz Myhill came to punch but which appeared to flick off the head of Johan Djourou before falling to Gallas, who was clearly offside. He shrugged off Andy Dawson and headed in.
In his post-match rage, Brown cried foul. Wenger, somewhat calmer, said the ball came off the fist of Myhill and therefore Gallas' goal was legitimate. The Arsenal manager even attempted a joke, although it is unlikely that Brown will be laughing. "It's not offside I'm sorry to say because the ball was deflected off the fist of the goalkeeper and because it came off an opponent it's a normal goal. Then it was a foul on Gallas. Penalty. We should have got two goals."
For periods of this game, especially the first half, Arsenal looked lightweight and unfocussed and Hull seized their chance. Then in the second half, as they laid siege to the Hull goal in search of an equaliser, Arsenal came to life with an excellent performance from Andrei Arshavin who played with seven stitches in one foot. It was the Russian who, along with Van Persie, carried the fight to Hull.
For 74 minutes of the game it had looked like a goal from the 35-year-old Barmby would carry Hull through to an FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea. He took a ball over the top from Dawson on 13 minutes and hit it on the half-volley. The shot flicked off Djourou which was enough to take it over Lukasz Fabianski and in.
There was the hint of booing at half-time and Wenger was becoming increasingly distressed at his team's inability to score. Brown had lost his influential captain Ian Ashbee to injury at half-time, which he later said would be decisive. Wenger brought on Nicklas Bendtner and Nasri out of desperation and it was the former who made Van Persie's equaliser. The Dane cut the ball back to Arshavin who teed up Van Persie for the equaliser. Arsenal were back in the game. Gallas scored with six minutes remaining, a goal which was clearly offside.
"I'm proud of my players," Brown said. "If they bring that fighting spirit to the next nine games we'll be okay in the Premier League." Hull had indeed put in a performance that matched their heroics in the same stadium in September but unfortunately for them that will not be what is remembered from this game. What will be recalled will be their manager's extraordinary attack on Arsenal and the recriminations that will surely run and run.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski; Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Gibbs; Walcott (Eboué, 81), Diaby, Song (Bendtner, 64), Arshavin; Vela (Nasri, 64), Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Touré, Denilson, Silvestre.
Hull City (4-1-4-1): Myhill; Ricketts, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson; Ashbee (Hughes, h-t); Fagan, Barmby (France, 76), Geovanni, Halmosi (Mendy, 67); Manucho. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Garcia, Folan, Featherstone.
Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).
FA Cup semi-finals: Revised draw
Saturday 18 April Arsenal v Chelsea (5.15) Live on Setanta Sports
Sunday 19 April Manchester Utd v Everton (4.0) Live on ITV 1
Both ties at Wembley Stadium
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies