FA Cup Semi-Finals: Arsenal 0 – Manchester United 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 4th, 2004 • 3:06 am

It was a bitterly disappointing week-end for the Gunners, but this defeat also had the effect of bringing things back down to earth, which I hope will have a positive impact on the rest of the season and the chances of Arsenal in the two remaining competitions, the EPL and the Champions’ League.

After all, if you don’t count the lowly League Cup, Arsenal hadn’t lost a domestic game in ages. They are still unbeaten in the league this year and hadn’t lost in the FA Cup in nearly three years. It looks as if Arsène Wenger decided that, if a defeat had to happen, it had better happen in the FA Cup. Putting the inexperienced Aliadiere up front in the starting line-up and keeping Reyes and Henry on the bench was clearly a big gamble. And it might have paid off — especially if the Gunners had managed to convert their first two amazing chances, or if Pires had done better with the free header that was gifted to him later on in the game.

Instead, the fact that United somehow managed to survive the two early chances seemed to give them more strength and assurance. These misses were clearly a turning point in the game, even though they probably gave Arsenal supporters a false sense of hope.

The Gunners were simply unable to create much, and there was an air of inevitability in Scholes’ goal. Instead of starting the second half with a vengeance, the Gunners started repeated the same mistakes that have cost them so much in the past, especially in the 2002-2003 season. They became increasingly frustrated and committed utterly unnecessary fouls. The double substition bringing Henry and Reyes on did have an effect, but mostly thanks to the Spaniard’s liveliness and technical astuteness. Henry simply didn’t do much, and Reyes was abruptly stopped in his tracks by a brutal challenge from Scholes. He managed to continue, but after the game the news was not good: Reyes could be out for up to three weeks.

It was typically Manchester United semi-legal bullying, but it paid off. The last quarter of the game was simply not good enough for the Gunners to be able to draw level and force the game into extra time.

So no Treble this year then. Oh well. If Arsenal manage the double League/Champions’ League, it will still be an outstanding achievement. If they only manage to win the domestic League, then it’ll be a decent achievement. If they don’t…

The problem now is that the club’s lack of depth in players could still cost them dearly. Ljunberg was also seriously injured in this game (broken hand), and Wenger will quite simply be running out of options by the time Arsenal play their fourth game in 9 days next Sunday against Newcastle.

The player that the Gunners missed the most yesterday is probably Ray Parlour. He would have brought additional grit and sturdiness in mid-field. But there’s no denying that starting with Reyes and Henry instead of bringing them on after 60 minutes might have made a big difference too.

The bottom-line is that Arsène Wenger gambled and lost. What’s bitterly disappointing about this is that, by crashing out of the competition at the semi-final stage, the Gunners have put all this effort into their FA Cup campaign for nothing. And the final itself was far enough in the future (May 22) to give them a chance to recover from their grueling match schedule. So winning this semi-final wouldn’t have “cost” them anything in the other competitions. This final could have been the crowning achievement of an outstanding season. Instead, on May 22, Arsenal supporters will be left cheering for… Dennis Wise and Milwall. Ahem.

Meanwhile, in the Premier League, Chelsea managed to win 1-0 at Tottenham. It was not a very convincing performance and Tottenham deserved a draw — but they didn’t get it, and Chelsea are now just four points behind Arsenal. Of course the Gunners have a game in hand and are still favourites to win the trophy this year, but there’s no doubt that this week-end is a psychological blow, in addition to the physical injuries to key players. One cannot help but think that the next 8 days are going to be decisive. If Arsenal manage to qualify for the Champions’ League semi-finals and to maintain a decent cushion between themselves and Chelsea in the league after the two games against Liverpool and Newcastle, then Arsenal supporters will be reasonably upbeat about their chances. If not, then the fear that everything could still go very wrong will unavoidably creep up.

Whatever happens, it will all be televised here in Canada, where we are definitely very fortunate this year, with free FA Cup coverage on Sportnet, Champions’ League coverage on TSN, and extensive EPL coverage on Sportsnet and FoxSportsWorld. We haven’t even had to purchase a single pay-per-view game this year! Very nice indeed.

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