26 February 2007

Carling Cup Final Notes

I would have liked to write an over-arching review like those for Liverpool games, but the game itself was disappointing, and I’ve got little to say that can be expressed in a coherent piece. Many of the game’s talking points had little to do with the football, anyway. However, there are a few things I want to touch on.

- Arsenal has no complaints about losing this game. Yes, Drogba’s first goal was offsides, and Arsenal was in the game throughout, but when you start a lineup where not including the goalie the average age is 21, you should not be surprised when they fail to seal the game against the two-time league champions. Just saying. Not that it stopped Wenger’s usual post-match whining, but it would have been nice to see Arsene not blame everyone else for once. The future may be bright for the youngsters, especially Diaby, Walcott, Fabregas (more later) and Traore (Denilson’s been singled out as well, but I have to say, I’m not sold), but I’m stunned Wenger kept the faith with them. It will probably pay off when a few make the first team on a regular basis, but it wasn’t going to in what was the first major final for the majority of them.

- Didier Drogba is the best player on the planet right now. It hurts to say it, and surprising given Drogba’s first season in England and propensity for falling over, but it’s the case now. He has 28 goals and it’s not even March. In addition, he’s the proud owner of Phillipe Senderos, has the deed and everything. I bet Senderos is getting absolutely sick of "marking" him.

- John Terry is a cyborg. Has to be. Accidentally kicked in the head by Abou Diaby so hard he was knocked unconscious and swallowed his tongue around the 60th minute, and back at the stadium celebrating the win a little over an hour later. Stunning. I’ve got little time for Terry as both a player and a person, but that incident was utterly horrifying and it’s good to read he was out of hospital so soon.

- It was completely unsurprising to see a full-on melee at the end. Two teams with an inferiority complex and a maturity problem, led by egomaniacs, at the end of a closely fought final. Truth be told, Mourinho and Wenger should have touchline bans as long as the players red carded. Neither needed to come onto the field, neither came out with the intention of calming things down, as each went to the other’s players and started pointing fingers, and their involvement served no more than to keep tempers inflamed. Good work, guys, class acts. Although there’s no surprise there.

But the real cause of the breakdown were the egos of Cesc Fabregas and Frank Lampard, and both should have seen straight red as well. Both came thundering in, pushing, shoving and shouting, when cooler heads and the initial parties (Mikel and Toure) separated would have ended the matter then and there. But neither would let it end, everyone ended up involved following the lead of the main players (Toure was Arsenal’s captain, Lampard Chelsea’s stand-in captain, and Fabregas thinks he’s captain). And it ended up killing off any chance of Arsenal making a game out of it at the end, as they had done against Wigan recently and Man Utd earlier. Cesc is one hell of a talent, which is why I’m singling him out, but sometimes it seems he’s gotten far too big for his britches this season.

And Emmanuel Adebayor had every right to be furious. From everything I saw, he did little different from every other player involved that stayed on the field. All it took was a couple of words from a linesman who evidently can’t tell the difference between certain players (draw your own conclusions from that) and he was off, because Ade wasn’t going to be sent off before that. I thought Howard Webb, who is a ref I (used to) have a lot of time for, was smarter than that. I still firmly maintain video replay for in-game usage would slow the game down far too much, but a fourth official at a monitor watching incidents like this, and for example, the Zidane incident during the World Cup Final, makes a lot of sense, and would keep completely idiotic errors like this from happening.

It disappoints me that I spent so much time talking about parts of this game that had nothing to do with football, but those were the talking points, it was what everyone’s paying attention to today, and, like a car-wreck on the highway, it was a spectacle you couldn't avert your eyes from.

However, if I could have picked two teams to have a contentious, ugly, and draining game, these two probably would have been my choices, save maybe Manchester United. Even though Chelsea won and Arsenal played the reserves, this game should impact the rest of their seasons. The suspensions certainly will. And Arsenal’s fixture calendar is going to start to give them problems as well.

I guess that what I’m saying, despite the spectacle, despite the quality of play, despite the result, this game did end up making me smile.

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