Carling Cup: Blackburn 2 – Arsenal 3 (aet)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 19th, 2007 • 10:56 am

It was yet another thoroughly entertaining game involving Arsenal’s “second fiddle” team against Blackburn’s first eleven, and once again the youngsters delivered.

There was little doubt that this was going to be a much sterner test than the trip to Sheffield United in the previous round. And so it proved to be.

The first half was almost entirely dominated by the Gunners, and they had a more than deserved two-goal lead within half an hour. Their pace and technical accuracy were terrific, and the Blackeye Rovers were obviously shell-shocked.

But then a tactical change by Mark Hughes, combined with a lack of defensive maturity on the Arsenal side, let Blackburn back into the game with a goal near the end of the first half.

It was always obvious that the second half would be much tougher for the Gunners, and a single-goal lead was too close for comfort. The Rovers threw everything that they had, including their full arsenal of cynical fouling, of course. But the pressure was too much and within 15 minutes they had their equalizer.

Much to the young Gunners’ credit, however, they continued to press forward and believe that they could score another one. (This was, after all, a side that had leaked five goals this past week-end at Wigan.) It did not happen in normal time, and when Denilson got a straight red card for a rather ugly challenge, the future of Arsenal in the competition was very much in doubt. I know players like Dunn and Savage are far too tempting as targets for crunching tackles, but Denilson was never going to get away with that one, although of course the overreaction of the Blackburn players was totally unnecessary.

In any case, the game had to go into extra time, and it looked like the best that the Gunners could hope for was to hold on until the penalty kicks. But then Eduardo and Alex Song had other days.

Like many other Arsenal supporters, I have had and continue to have my doubts about the abilities of Alex Song, but I must say that last night he was rather excellent. He had a crucial goal-line clearance at a time when Arsenal could have fallen apart, and he kept marauding forward later on in the game instead of just sticking to his defensive duties. He effectively created a golden opportunity for Eduardo with a perfect pass, and the Croatian duly transformed with another perfect finish.

Knowing that the team was down to 10 men, playing away from home, in extra time, against a full-strength Blackburn team, this was a quite remarkable turn of events. And the Gunners actually managed to protect that lead for another 15 minutes and complete another famous Carling Cup victory.

Regardless of whom they get drawn against in the semi-final (Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea or Liverpool), there is every reason to believe that this is a team that can go all the way and improve on last year’s achievements. It certainly is very exciting to watch, and the fact that they are achieving this with so few of the first-team regulars speaks volumes about the depth of the squad that Arsène Wenger has been building in recent years.

Of course, they still haven’t won any trophies, but surely if they can keep playing like this in the various competitions that they are involved in, there will be some silverware at the end of the season.

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