Date:Thursday February 22 2007
With the Carling Cup final vs Chelsea only a matter of days away, we have teamed up with Vital Chelsea to get the pre-match festivities going.
Both myself and Merlin (Vital Chelsea gaffer) have posed each other a series of 'taxing' (and I use that phrase in the loosest possible way) questions as the nerves start to jingle ahead of the match.
1)How important do you feel the Carling Cup is? Not just as a Chelsea fan, but as a football fan in general?
It`ll always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first trophy we won under Mourinho and helped to establish a winners` philosophy amongst the squad. The fact that it now carries an automatic UEFA Cup qualification place has helped to establish it again as a genuine domestic trophy and as a trophy to win.
For years it almost carried a stigma as being something of a nuisance which was quite sad. I can remember, as a young boy, when Aston Villa beat Everton in a replay at Old Trafford. The game looked to be heading for a stalemate until Chris Nichol stepped forward and hit a thirty yard drive to give Villa the cup by three goals to two.
Nowadays, I still think the lower league clubs look forward to drawing a top team and thankfully the nuisance factor, namely the two-legged ties in the early rounds have been dispensed with. Also, the fact that those teams competing in Europe don`t enter until round three has assisted with those who complain about fixture congestion.
In our own case, the competition has allowed prices to be cut and tickets are priced at £25 and £15 thereby guaranteeing a full stadium and also enticing those into Stamford Bridge who are unable to get Premiership tickets.
From Milk Cup to Worthington Cup to Carling Cup, here`s hoping the competition continues to flourish.
2)Some people say that Wenger has degraded this competition by insisting on playing his youth players. Despite that fact in the last 4 years Arsenal have reached two semi finals and a final. What's your take on this?
I`d agree if you crashed out to a small team (Spurs) but your results speak for themselves. Even I laughed when you turned over Liverpool this season. The mere fact that several of your youngsters have gained valuable first team experience will stand you in good stead in future years.
Unfortunately, because you keep winning with your youngsters, people get miffed as the old jealousy factor sneaks in through the back door.
3) Which of the youngster's in Arsenal's side do you think will become the best player? (Fabregas not included because he's already awesome)
To be honest, I expected much more out of Theo Walcott in recent weeks. I saw him score twice for the U21 side and he looked to be dynamite, what`s happened since? However, I`ve seen enough to suggest that Wenger will nurture him correctly and he`ll become a major player in English football in years to come. After all he`s only young and he`s come to a big stage in Arsenal. Have to say though that it`s a hard choice. Youngsters can change so quickly. One of your lesser lights could develop into the best of the bunch and leave us all dumbfounded. But at this moment in time I`ll stick with my hunch that it will be Walcott who emerges as the best of a good bunch.
How much of a blow was it to lose John Terry last night in relation to the cup final?
It`s a massive blow, he`s an icon, a leader and epitomises Chelsea. After welcoming him back we now have to cope without him again. Nevertheless, we`re confident that Essien will slip back into the centre of defence and perform admirably if even we do lose a bit of drive in midfield when he`s not playing there. Hopefully, John Terry will make a swift recovery and join up with both club and national squads in March. We need him and our country needs him.
Will you be able to show your face on Vital Network ever again if our kids turn over your Champions?
Lol! I`ve suffered far greater embarrassments in the past and come through smiling. It`s part and parcel of being a Chelsea supporter. Despite reports to the contrary, some of us have been around longer than Roman, some of us remember cup humiliations in the past that`d make most people weep. It`s what makes us Chelsea; we`ve suffered and suffered in pursuit of a dream that finally came true up at Bolton in April 2005.
Besides, pain can be pleasure. If we lose I`ll look forward to the verbal battering and take it on the chin.
I`d love to day a free flowing spectacle but I have this nagging suspicion both teams will nullify each other and there will not be many goals in it. It may even go to extra time thereby giving us all a late return to London, nevertheless, if pushed I`ll go for a 2-1 Chelsea win with Drogba and Lampard scoring.
Many thanks to Merlin for taking the time to answer these questions.
Date:Thursday February 22 2007
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