Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday September 24 2008
Some time during the game last night it occurred to me that this is the first time I have ever watched an Arsenal side where every single player was younger than myself. I had an even more terrifyingly phogeyish moment after Jack Wilshere`s goal. The first time I visited Highbury, Wilshere was two months old, in fact I have a nephew who is ten days Jack`s junior. Surely I am too young to be experiencing this kind of crossroads yet. The two gentlemen I attended with, Lord Lowe as ever, and Tony, both past retirement age in footballing parlance (and I`m not talking Wenger`s version of retirement age, we`re talking Stanley Matthews retirement age) told me to get used to it, because it doesn`t get any easier.
The Carling Cup is of course Dr. Wenger`s laboratory to test out his newest young Frankensteins and boy did this crop prove to be a pleasing mutant gene pool. With brow beaten world weary seniors such as Theo Walcott, Denilson and Cesc Fabregas given the evening off with their feet up, their pipes and slippers whilst they sat moaning about "the youth of today" and how in their day they could leave their front doors open without fear of burglary, Arsene`s hoody clad band of young miscreants were given centre stage to run riot well past their bedtimes. I don`t know, kids eh? The Young Guns took a little while to settle into their stride, Ramsey in particular looked a little over eager in possession. Though Sheffield United appeared to offer little threat as Arsenal found their feet. On the twenty minute mark Merida cut in from the left and played a smart ball into Bendtner, he laid the ball off to Johan Djourou foraying forwards; he turned smartly in the box and curled a shot towards the corner which Paddy Kenny just clawed away. It was the catalyst for the youngsters, who visibly calmed and the Blades could not live with Arsenal from then on. The first goal arrived on the half hour mark, Merida again cutting in from the left and playing the ball into Vela, he spun Halford easily before laying the ball off to Bendtner, relishing his role as senior ambassador he picked his spot with a beautifully precise low shot from the edge of the area. The Gunners midfield took a hold on the game from there on, Randall going about the sort of unspectacular but incredibly effective midfield patrolling allowing Ramsey to play the creative cog. It was Rambo who set up the second goal, a delightful jig past the Sheffield United rearguard left him with his back to goal in the area, but Ramsey circumnavigated any difficulty with a deft backheel to Bendtner on the six yard line, with Naysmith playing the Dane onside, he was afforded time to dispatch a cool finish.
With Bendtner putting Arsenal into the ascendancy, his strike partner was keen for a share of the limelight. Right on half time, Bendtner slid a delightful through ball to Vela in the left channel. Often in this situation, you will see a young player panic as he approaches goal. No such folly from Vela who knew exactly what he was going to do and how we was to achieve it. One quicksilver touch to get the ball into his lightning stride followed by a beautifully curled finish into the far corner. It was a goal reminiscent of an Henry-Eduardo hybrid. High praise indeed. The second half saw the young Gunners in buoyant mood, and Vela in particular looked to be leading the party. Kieran Gibbs lofted a ball forward which Vela stunningly controlled on his shoulder, looping the ball over Kilgallon`s head in the process; he spun and collected the ball in his stride, bearing down on Paddy Kenny`s goal before lifting the ball over the flabbergasted Irish stopper with an impudent lob. Seasoned pros such as Beattie and Speed looked on bewildered. (It was disappointing that Speed was roundly booed when he was substituted, he did little wrong in the game and has been an excellent pro down the years, he deserved better and Arsenal fans are better than that too). By now champagne football was the order of the day, well at least it would have been had our players been old enough to imbibe said beverage. The Gunners won a corner on the left, Ramsey`s eye was keen and his wits sharp as he pulled the ball back to the edge of the area, Wilshere collected and swept a delightful low shot inside Paddy Kenny`s near post. Before last night I hadn`t seen an awful lot of Wilshere, obviously I was aware of the hype, but having only played a handful of reserve games and a few pre season friendlies, the truth is nobody had really seen much of him outside the confines of London Colney. But what really struck me was his ease on the ball and his low centre of gravity. Much like a Hleb or a Wright Phillips, he looks as though a stiff breeze would blow him over, but try as you might, burgling him of possession appears to be a nigh on impossible task with his velvety movement and freakish composure. Arsenal had a five minute spell wobble when Coquelin, Simpson and Lansbury entered the fray, their cohesion briefly deserting them before clicking back into gear again. This was exemplified by the final goal with three minutes left, Wilshere angled another ball into the left channel, Vela raced onto it and smashed a low finish past Kenny for his hat trick. A variety of clinical finishes marking an impressive first start for the club.
The sense of pride was tangible at the final whistle as the youngsters were deservedly given a standing ovation, I had a girl of about six next to me who would not stop repeating, "can I come again Dad?" as the players trudged off. What was pleasing about the performance was the synergy, Randall and Ramsey struck up an understanding that belied the little time they have known one another. Merida and Vela were constantly interchanging between the left flank and centre forward, Wilshere played on the left and the right and looked equally assured in both positions. How delightful that such a resounding victory from Wenger`s young charges would arrive the very day Michel Platini, incorrectly, laughably and lamentably referred to Wenger as a "businessman" whilst elevating himself as an ambassador for football. Fuck you Mr. Platini, from every single Gooner the world over, fuck you. Let`s see you build a team of teenagers on a shoestring that repeatedly destroys sides like Sheffield United with a brand of play that should be revered and respected at least by every football fan. This was no one off from the young players Wenger puts out in this tournament, Everton, West Brom, Tottenham, Blackburn, Newcastle, Sunderland and Liverpool have all felt the wrath of our shadow side in the last three years and that is to the manager`s eternal credit. He must be a very proud man this morning, I know I am. The pride I felt when the players left the arena last night bordered on paternal, which at my age is, frankly, sickening.LD.
Date:Wednesday September 24 2008
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