Once again the Carling Cup is proving to be an exciting competition for Gunners fans. I think this competition has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Everyone has entirely given up hope that this tournament may ever be taken seriously, and as a result it is acknowledged as ample opportunity for the big boys to demonstrate the hidden gems in their youth and reserve sides. Given Wenger's unrivalled eye for talent, the Carling Cup has become an exciting opportunity to view the rough diamonds of our academy before Wenger shapes them into the shiniest of gems.
Past years have seen the likes of Fabregas, Senderos, Clichy and van Persie bled and bred into first team regulars. The new crop promises to be just as prosperous. The new lad Denilson impressed, he is most unBrazilian in the tackle and looks comfortable in possession, at times his decision making let him down, but this is to be expected from a lad of 18. Alexandre Song also went about his job impressively, thwarting West Brom's tenacious attacks and bringing the ball out of defensive areas with poise. Unfortunately, he will probably continue to be ridiculed by those of you who have never seen him play! In fact, he was very Gilberto like, quietly industrious, but inestimably effective. The back four coped comfortably with WBA's aerial bombardment. Djourou and Senderos have a clear understanding and both performed excellently. Particularly Djourou, who did not let John Hartson win a header all evening (though one suspects if the ball were a cheeseburger, Hartson would have won everytime!) Young Matt Connolly did o.k out of position at full back, obviously he was instructed not to bomb forward too much. Clichy was a little rusty, but he's always been a player who requires a few games to really get back into the swing of proceedings.
Walcott looked effective in patches, but was anonymous for large parts of the match. This is also to be expected for a lad of his age, I worry that Gooners expect too much from him. It's going to be a steep learning curve, but this boy has undisputed talent, and boy can he run! There are few things that surprise me on a football pitch these days, but Theo's pace has to be seen to be believed. There was a point in the first half when a ball broke loose in midfield, about 70-30 in the favour of Johnathan Greening. When Theo effortlessly showed him a clean pair of heels, I was left unconciously blurting out expletives.
But the player who really stole the show was Jeremie Aliadiere- and not just because of his goals. Ali demonstrated the promise he showed as a teenager, which injuries cruelly seem to have curtailed. But playing from a wide left attacking position, Jeremie constantly tied West Brom defenders in knots with his hypnotic dribbling. With Adebayor withdrawn early through injury, Aliadiere assumed the mantle of lone frontman with relish. Dropping deep to pick up the ball from Song and Denilson and terrifying the Baggies defence with his mesmeric ball control and lightning turns. I also think with Adebayor out for the forseeable future, Ali sniffed a real chance to get first team coverage- and on this showing he would not disappoint! It was another one of his mazy runs which drew the penalty, cutting inside Steve Watson, an experienced defender who could do nothing but haul him down in the box. Flamini, being the most experienced outfield player, picked up the ball for the penalty, but Aliadiere took it off him and cooly dispatched the penalty.
His second goal was of Henryesque technique. Walcott drilled in a low free kick, and the French striker met the ball with a sweet first time volley with the ball arriving at him at pace. Thereafter he developed another Henry trait, the swagger. He sought to saunter through the West Brom defence time and time again. Not only in search of his hat trick, but setting up team mates and creating opportunities. He chased lost causes and even won flick ons countless times against a quiet Curtis Davies. I remember seeing Aliadiere as a wee bairn in the Youth Cup winning side of 2001 and exclaiming that this was to be a star of the future. Unfortunately, lady luck was to conspire willfully against his knees! But given the enthusiasm and skill he has shown in this fixture, I certainly think he should be on the bench on saturday. I was a tad worried that frustration may have gotten the better of him with first team opportunities dwindling. But far from sulking, he got his head down and gave le boss a timely reminder of his talents.
As with every match, there were moments of comedy well worth recounting. Firstly, the considerable figure of John Hartson. He cuts a figure that would be laughed off of Hackney Marshes, he makes Frank Lampard look anorexic! The second was the match sponsor's man of the match Johnathan Greening. The announcement was met with hysterical laughter from the travelling Gooners as well as an audible groan from his own fans. Seconds before the announcement, my accompanist and I had been commenting on how ineffective he had been. In the dying embers of the game he then wildly miscued a clearance into the stand a matter of inches in front of the travelling support. Uproarious laughter ensued, with a rib tickling chorus of #man of the match you're havin' a laugh.# Greening shuffled off sheepishly, only too aware how poignant the comments were. LD.