Cup of dreams – Arsenal report

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Latics 1- 0 Arsenal
Carling Cup Semi-Final First Leg
Tuesday 11th January 2006

What price European qualification? Some people will be quick to let you know that it wasn’t worth £20 and the loss of 2 of our 3 remaining strikers, but I’m not so sure. I’m the last to moan about people picking and choosing games in this competition but this was a semi final, our first in a ‘major’ tournament and whilst I’m sure that the usual suspects were all in attendance I’ll have to admit that I’m surprised that a few more of our casual fans weren’t roused by this one. That said, for the first 45 they didn’t miss very much, with the players doing their best to prove the knockers right that this was a nothing game.

Both sides contributed to the no show as the game struggled to get going there was no flow and no pattern and when Jewell asked at half time whether the lads played in semi finals every week he was probably underplaying it a bit. This was more like they’d had enough of playing in finals or had enough of showing ‘top’ teams up. It did however give him the chance for the latest in his line of witticisms, telling them to do it ‘for their girlfriends or wives, or both’ even going as far as suggesting that some of them also had boyfriends.

Whatever was said, it had some effect. The second half got off to a better start and Latics started to get about the young Arsenal side and build some dominance. Then the lights went out. The power cut may only have been momentary, but it was enough to cause a 15 minute delay, and bugger up my Sky+ recording of the game. Ah well, it was more than worth it for the sight of Jimmy Bullard running around in the dark like a maniac, defrocking Arsenal players and running the ball from the half way line only to unsurprisingly blast over the empty net.

If anything we stepped it up a bit more after the restart but although we had plenty of the play, there was little in the way of genuine threat. Perhaps unsurprisingly as we’d lost both Connolly and McCulloch to first half muscle strains. Those injuries had meant a debut for Arsenal fan Paul Scharner. Despite being signed to play in defence (or so he seems to think) he took up the holding role in midfield and if his performances stay at this level for the rest of the season, you can expect plenty of blue and white striped crops in the playgrounds this summer.

In the end it was the debutant that made the difference. A quick throw from Chimbonda putting Teale in to float an inviting cross to the back post for Scharner to claim his debut goal and give us the slight advantage going into the second leg.

Personally I’m not sure it’s enough, I’d have liked to see us with at least another. That would have given Wenger a real decision to make about his team for the game at Highbury. The single goal means that he can keep the big guns on the bench. What it does mean is we can’t go down there with any thoughts of holding onto this lead, not that we would anyway. An early away goal would make the whole thing a little more interesting, the only question is whether we’ll have anyone left fit to score it.

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