Monday, February 26, 2007

Pyrrhic victories and moral victories: a weekend in Cardiff

I've literally just got back from Cardiff so sit back and relax: this may be a long one.

My first cup final and could have I asked for more? Yes, would be the answer: an Arsenal victory. But that rather obvious matter aside, it was a great day out in Cardiff; one in which I felt proud of the club, most of its players, and almost all its supporters.

Coming to the Arsenal end of the stadium was like a mini-festival. All the pubs were bulging; one had the Buzzcocks belting out as Gooners chanted our songs down the streets. Most pubs were so busy that we had to head halfway down Queen's street to find one in which we could get served in a reasonable amount of time. At this juncture I would add that perhaps its time that us Gooners stopped pandering to Spuds idiocy, and no longer chanted songs which use the 'Y' word, or songs of that nature. These chants wouldn't exist if not for the Spuds self-labelling, but I'm not afraid to say I dislike them.

It was my first time at the Millenium stadium and quite an atmosphere had brewed at the Arsenal end by the time I arrived. The stadium, despite being bigger than the Emirates, had managed to maintain a sense of intimacy much more successfully than our abode. Moreover, standing was almost mandatory throughout which further helped build the electric atmosphere throughout. No stewards telling you to sit down here.

Indeed, if the final had been decided on the fans' performance, Arsenal would have won hands down. The Chelski fans were pathetic: I didn't hear them chant til after they'd taken the lead, and their 'hilarious' celery throwing antics (we couldn't tell it was celery at the time I might add) further emphasised their lack of class. Aside from a brief lull after their second goal, the Arsenal fans were superb throughout, and we even belted out a few songs after the final whistle to our young lads collapsed on the pitch. I must admit to leaving before the presentation, but I didn't want to be anywhere near the stadium when Lampard et al. lifted the trophy.

The game itself was a frantic affair; a wonderful spectacle due to the ambition and attacking flair of our kids. Put simply, we should have been two or three up within twenty minutes. Had it not been for Cech - utterly superb throughout - we would have been, Baptista unlucky not to score with an excellent curling effort from outside the box. Theo's goal was superbly taken, and I can only hope this earns him some respite from the ridiculous criticism he's received of late. I'm happy I was there to see his first Arsenal goal.

But, despite having little possession, it was clear we were weak on our left side. Traore, our rawest player, was at left-back, and Diaby, whilst excellent, consistently drifted into the centre leaving the young defender even further exposed. It seemed apparent to me quite early on that Chel$ea would get joy if they attacked through their right-flank, but it still took a poor piece of linesmanship to gift Chel$ea their first goal.

My immediate concern was that the Chel$ea goal could knock the stuffing out of the young players. Far from it. Chel$ea didn't really threaten for the rest of the half, while we continued to stream forward; it's a credit to our youngsters that the game was still so finely poised until so late on.

The incident which changed the game, in retrospect, was the Terry injury. Us plebs in the opposite corner had no inkling as to what was going on, not even who was injured until the substitution was announced. The injury ultimately favoured Chelsea in a number of ways: it galvanised their players, slightly traumatised ours, and also removed one of their weakest performers (in the game itself) from the field.

It gradually became clear that our early energies were also being to take their toll on our players energy levels. Traore in particular seemed to be suffering, not least for the introduction of Robben, who offered Chelsea a far greater degree of creativity upfront than in the first half.

Still, we had yet more chances to seal the game. Diaby should have scored when one on one with Cech, and would have scored if almost any other goalkeeper had been playing. The major deficiency in Cesc's otherwise stunning abilities was demonstrated by his miss a few minutes later. It's an area in which he must improve.

With so many missed chances and young legs tiring, the winner had a certain inevitability to it. Denilson, who's distribution had begun to suffer as the second half progressed, gave the ball away, Robben skinned Eboue, and Drogba beat Senderos to score. The Chel$ea fans finally started singing; it never really felt as if we would get an equalizer.

All that was left was the unsightly melee. Many commentators have postulated that this rumpus almost came out of nowhere, but it had been brewing for some time. Chel$ea had put in a number of very cynical challenges throughout, hacking down players who were almost through on goal and constantly making snipey, niggling kicks. Coupled with a late goal and officials giving almost every 50-50 decision Chel$ea's way, Kolo had had enough of Chel$ea's excessively aggressive, unsporting attitude when Mikel grabbed his shirt. Adebayor was wrongly sent off, and I was astounded to see Fabregas and Lampard escape with yellows, as their little tete-a-tete seemed far more violent.

The melee also had the unfortunate effect of cancelling out any injury time that had been accrued in the game, ending our already slim hopes of a revival. The whistle was blown shortly after, and a number of our lot, including Theo, Cesc and Denilson all collapsed on the floor near our end, Almunia running from his goal to try and act as the paternal figure he'd become to the team.

Final thoughts? Another heroic defeat for the Arsenal in a final, the second in less than twelve months. A third cannot be countenanced; potential must be realised sooner rather than later.

Our team deserve all the plaudits they get from the game: they were the only one's really trying to play football. Its incredible that Chel$ea still play in their dull, long-ball, unadventurous manner, despite the money they have. Winning ugly is occasionally acceptable, but for it to become the norm for a team must sadden Chel$ea fans. At this rate they will be remembered like the Italian world cup winners of last year: winners, but nothing more; no myth of their greatness will ever be constructed in the manner of our Invincibles.

Chelsea's victory may have been pyrrhic, and ours moral, but ultimately they took the silverware home with them. I enjoyed my weekend in Cardiff immensely - but next time I want something more tangible than a moral victory to take home with me.

Player ratings to follow.


Icky said...

A third lost final won't be countenanced? By my count that was Wenger's fifth lost final -- UEFA cup and FA cup

legrandesaucisse said...

Hmmmm, Icky I think you missed the point - 3rd final in a row. Yes we lost those other ones but lets not forget about the FA Cups we have won.

Good write up Goonerboy, the lads must be feeling the pain and wanting to make amends. I hope the senior players are inspired by the bottle and battling qualities of the younger lads.

Its all part of the learning curve, lets bounce back against Blackburn

Anil said...

Yeah, great write up.

I must admit the loss of Kolo for the next 3 games is a worry though. Hopefully Ade's card will be rescinded as well.

What were your thoughts on Eboue though? - when he first burst on the scene he was a revelation. Have all of the accolades gone to his head? He really f*cks me off nowadays will his rolling around and general bad attitude.

Up the gunners.