Before I start, I would just like to say DENILSON IS THE REAL DEAL. Just in case memory does not permit me to include such detail in my ramblings. Yesterday afternoon was one of tension and nerves, as the game drew closer a feeling of utter dread pervaded me. The staff meeting completely bypassed me as my thoughts were instantly turned to the game. I just could not help thinking that complacency might effect us, thinking we had done all the hard work in the first leg. Given that the Spuds had not beaten us since November, 1999, I felt surely this must be their time.
My fears were redoubled when the red section began to sing '2-0 and you ****** it up' with barely a minute played. The Gunners began with Aliadiere and Walcott playing wide of Adebayor in a 4-5-1, the system that had served us so faithfully in the competition thus far. But Spurs started the quicker, with Malbranque's diving header skidding marginally wide. Wenger saw the signs early and reverted to 4-4-2. Aliadiere was able to pick up the ball in much more dangerous areas and Diaby did a superb job on the left. The omission of Lennon from the teamsheet did not altogether surprise me, I felt Tottenham's best chance was to keep it 0-0 until the latter stages, possibly even until extra time and then go for the jugular. To later hear that he went down with illness at the pre match meal added a sense of comedy to Spurts tragedy. (No doubt the work of David Dein's evil wizard overlords in the catering industry). The Gunners grew into the game and should have scored when fat boy spilled Denilson's tame shot into the path of Kolo Toure, who prodded his close range effort agonisingly wide. It was one of those slow motion moments, for all the world I thought the ball was in and rose to acclaim the goal, only to see it trickle onto the advertising hoardings, with Robinson still clambering out of the dent he had created in the pitch.
Denilson began to really boss the game in the centre of the park. This kid looks to have a bit of everything, he reads the game exceptionally well, time and again he anticipated Spurs passes in the midfield and provided the springboard for attack. He persistently outmuscled Zokora in the centre, his claims of rejecting Arsenal look even more laughable now than ever. Over the two legs, I cannot recall a contribution of any significance from him. Naturally, being a Brazilian, Denilson has all the requisite flair, twinkling his toes to escape tight situations and always finding the right pass. Passport control may have to get onto this boy because he cannot be 18! Aliadiere caused panic in the Spurs defence with his running at players and I also cannot remember him being wasteful with the ball, his goal was well deserved and I will reiterate that this guy has something to offer if he can get a good run of games. Having played four or five times in the last month, the improvement in him has been palpable.
The second half began in the same frenetic fashion that the first did, both sides needing a goal to steal the advantage and it really was end to end cup football at its best. The passion of a derby was evident with little of the inherent nastiness that goes along with it. Unfortunately, the referee (whose name escapes me, the effacious little so and so who does not appear to haev a neck) was hellbent on getting his slavenly mug on the box at every opportunity, pedantically pulling up the most minor offences. Diaby really came into his own in the second half, raging at the injustice of having being hacked by Ghaly, he turned on the style on the left wing, with his, dare I say, Vieiraesque pirouhettes and crunching tackling. A double substitution was to swing the game in our favour, a nasty tackle from Defoe saw Armand Traore replaced by Hurricane Clichy, whilst Rosicky replaced the fitful Walcott. Theo is clearly suffering a crisis of confidence at the moment, and I feel we as fans must bear some of the responsibility for placing such a huge onus on him to produce pyrotechnics every time he plays.
Denilson switched to the right, where his boundless energy combined with Hoyte's excellent overlapping frightened Assou Ekotto. Rosicky went to the left and began to cut in field and feed the forwards with his kinesis. With thirteen minutes remaining it was pandemonium as the Gunners pressing bore fruit. A Rosicky strike stung Robinson's palms (it looked a bit like he was wearing two of those giant foam hands), instead of performing basic goalkeeping protocol and pushing the ball out wide, for the umpteenth time he shoved it out straight in front of him. Rosicky picked up the rebound on the edge of the area and slipped a subtle slide rule pass to Adebayor who somehow slotted the ball past Robinson's massive frame. (Anyone else think he looks like that girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? You know, the one that turns into a giant blueberry?!)
Cardiff felt close but history was to repeat itself in a gut wrenching manner. Juts as in the first leg, Denilson brilliantly used his bodyweight to turn Assou Ekotto on the right, but was pulled up by Wiley, who simply can never have played football in his life. As soon as Jenas lined up the free kick, my friend, the prophet that is John Lowe declared 'goal.' Well when Mido connected with the inswinging free kick, his prophesy was made sickening reality (no wonder he works at a bookies). An entirely inconvincing rendition of '3-2 and you ******* it up' emanated from the Spurs end as Tottenham went in search of a winner. They camped in our half and I felt revenge for Rocky and 87 was in the air. The full time whistle blew and unbelievably, Club Level emptied and people down below me cheered, thinking we had won. Who are these people? I feared that we would sit back and try to see out extra time and expected a tidal wave of Spurs attacks would be the theme of Extra Time. Most of our players looked deflated, except Denilson, who spent the short interim stretching and psyching himself up.
Extra time was all Arsenal, and we did what Tottenham really should have been doing, attacking with impunity. We were rewarded right at the end of the first period. Ricardo Rocha attempted to cut out Hoyte's cross by smothering the ball, diving on it like a last gasp hero thwarting a bomb, prepared to bear its terrible brunt for the good of his men. Aliadiere duly detonated the device by blasting it into the net. Spurs were blown away and Arsenal grabbed the clincher. Adebayor collecting Toure's ball down the line and pulling back for Rosicky, who danced past two Spurts defenders before his shot cannonned off the inside of the post and in off the hapless Chimbonda. (Who scored a scarily similar own goal for Wigan against Man United last season). The Spurts end emptied quicker than Boris Becker's nutsack and at the final whistle the Totts players suffered the indignity of applauding a plethora of empty seats.
Make no mistake, this tournament has shown a herculean effort from our youngsters, we've played away in every round at tough opposition and I think the younger players deserve to play in this final. The likes of Denilson, Aliadiere, Hoyte and Baptista should play. Hopefully, the return to fitness of William Gallas will add some spice and experience to the side. I also think that this could be a cute psychological ploy. If we elect to play a crop of the youngsters, the pressure would be placed squarely on Chelsea and they do not look comfortable with pressure just now. It would be a nice time for Wenger to break his hex on Mourinho's wallet and reward these young players with a richly deserved showpiece final. A further touch of sentiment was added to the occasion as I enjoyed an all too brief encounter with me old mate Jim at half time. Jim used to travel to away games with me back when we were at school, until stringent student financing and marriage and mortgage curtailed his Arsenal exploits. Get yourself on the red membership next year Jimbo and get yourslef down t'Grove more often! Bring the missus, what better setting for romance than the Grove? The romance of the cup was certainly permeating through the arena last night. LD.