Before the cup final I thought like most Arsenal fans that we could nick the win, and after the first 15 minutes Arsenal looked like the far better team.
Like against Barcelona in the Champions League Final, no-one had given Arsenal a chance against a far more experienced (and expensive) Chelsea team who were at full strength.
After 5 minutes Julio Baptista struck a fantastic shot that went through John Terry’s legs and needed a superb save from Petr Cech to deny Arsenal scoring the opening goal. Arsenal started brightly and made Chelsea look pedestrian, moving the ball around confidently and making all kinds of penetrating runs in the final third.
And 7 minutes later the Arsenal kids did what no-one thought they could – scored against a full strength Chelsea side. Theo Walcott controlled the ball well after an Arsenal corner and played a smart one-two with Abou Diaby before calmly curling the ball past Cech into the far top corner.
Arsenal had scored against the Champions!
From then on Arsenal grew in confidence and made some decent chances, only for Cech to make some vital saves.
And those proved to be decisive as Chelsea scored a controversial goal on 21 minutes. I was sure it was offside when Ballack played through Drogba and although it was a tight decision – how many times have we seen those close ones given? The replays showed Drogba was marginally offside but the flag stayed down and Almunia was easily beaten by a scuffed shot.
An equaliser against Arsenal in a final which was offside? This was becoming all too familiar.
The disappointing thing was Arsenal probably deserved to be 2 or 3 goals to the good at that point, but if there’s one thing you can say about Chelsea is that they’re clinical.
Despite the setback, Arsenal’s youngsters showed their confidence and desire and pushed Chelsea back, making their millionnaires look lacklustre and second best.
Arsene Wenger and his young side deserve a hell of a lot of credit for their performance.
As the second half started as the first with an open game and Arsenal contributing all of the outstanding play. Cech was once again called into action and saved well from Diaby and minutes later Fabregas saw a shot flash slightly wide of the post.
You knew then that it might not be our day.
And for me, the moment that changed the game came on the hour mark when John Terry was stretchered off the pitch. Terry went in for a diving header from a Chelsea corner and Diaby swung his boot in an attempt to clear the ball but was marginally late and caught the Chelsea captain in the face.
The game was stopped for a good 7 minutes while Terry was receiving treatment and it was clear Diaby – despite the incident being completely accidental – was severely affected by the whole thing. The young Frenchman was seen crying by the side of the injured Terry and obviously brought back horrible memories of his own tragic injury suffered against Sunderland last season.
After the stoppage Arsenal didn’t seem the same and arguably Arsenal’s best player at that point Diaby (who had easily controlled the midfield against Ballack) was not at the races anymore and was substituted (for an apparent foot injury) only minutes later.
Eboue was brought on to cope with the introduction of Robben and Hleb replaced Diaby. Arsenal didn’t have the same movement after that and for the first time the game looked tighter and this suited Chelsea.
Lampard saw his long range effort hit the bar and minutes later Arsenal had a golden chance take the lead.
Fabregas sent over a brilliant corner and picked out Toure who was unmarked in the 6 yard box. But the Arsenal captain mis-timed his header and the ball bounced off his shoulder and over the bar.
Then Shevchenko saw his effort smash off the bar.
And then on 84 minutes the tiredness showed and Denilson gave away the ball with a sloppy pass and from that Robben picked out Drogba in the centre for him to head the ball into the bottom corner.
With 7 minutes of injury time added on Arsenal looked tired and a fight broke out after Mikel’s foul on Kolo Toure. Kolo and Mikel were sent off and Lampard and Fabregas were given yellows. Then surprisingly Adebayor was also sent off – when replays clearly showed he was in fact seperating the fights that were going on! Ade wouldn’t go off and I can’t blame him really.
And I’m sure this little incident will give those idiots at Sky something analyse over and over again in the coming weeks and months…
Well Arsenal had the better attacking possession and attempts on goal and despite having a young side were unlucky not to be a couple of goals up in the first 15 minutes – and probably would have been if it wasn’t for a fantastic Petr Cech. Unfortunately he made a huge difference in the outcome of the game for me.
Like in the previous rounds, Arsenal again played some wonderful football which stunned Chelsea and the young side should be given a huge amount of credit for making Chelsea look ordinary.
Has anyone else controlled a game for large periods against Chelsea like our kids did in any of the last few seasons?
I have to say I thought the Drogba offside decision was poor and you would usually see those given. They talk about giving the attacker the advantage on those situations but throughout this season the referees have not implemented that way of thinking at all!
In the end, even though it was the Carling Cup this defeat for me is hard to take.
But I have no doubt this will add to the youngsters character and make them stronger individuals and more importantly players in the future.