ATTN Ian: Poor ol' Blackburn in Carling Cup

Wed 19 Dec 2007 15:15

Eduardo strikes to send 10-man Arsenal through

Andy Hunter at Ewood Park
Wednesday December 19, 2007
The Guardian

Wembley beckons for the Arsenal young guard and it will not faze them if they get there. On the evidence of an exhilarating tie here last night, nothing will.

Arsène Wenger's fledgling team revealed many faces in this quarter-final. They squandered a two-goal lead to Roque Santa Cruz after an opening that bordered on exhibition football, had Denilson sent off for a two-footed lunge - the 70th dismissal of the Frenchman's imperious Arsenal reign - lost a substitute to a dislocated shoulder and yet emerged from a gruelling period of extra-time with their name in the semi-final draw.

Blackburn Rovers posed many questions during the 120 minutes but, dispiritingly for Mark Hughes's team, Arsenal answered every one. "I believe very strongly in these players," said Wenger, who led his youngsters to the final in Cardiff last season. "I'm not surprised by their performance. This was more of a mental and physical test than they have faced before and they stood up to it."

Cool, careless, cruel and clinical - the chronological tale of Arsenal's performance in a bruising, absorbing quarter-final. Hughes had noted beforehand that Wenger does not possess fringe players, instead a formidable second team, and it was a prophetic analysis as Arsenal's Carling Cup ensemble initially exploited Blackburn's fragile confidence after a run of one win in seven matches.

First to the fore were the outstanding Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby, who relished his unorthodox role on the left wing and volleyed the Danish striker's chip across the Rovers area beyond Brad Friedel after only six minutes. Combining again, the pair almost doubled Arsenal's lead moments later but Bendtner's lofted shot struck the bar.

Arsenal's movement, strength and accuracy made for a chastening first half-hour for Blackburn. "Get into 'em" came the chant from the home terraces. It was a struggle for Blackburn just to get close to them. Another piercing pass through their rearguard gave the visitors a merited two-goal lead when Denilson put Eduardo clear. Christopher Samba could not intercept at full stretch and the Croatian - one of six internationals in an Arsenal side with an average age of 20 years and six months - calmly slotted beyond Friedel.

Wenger, given a one-match touchline ban by Uefa yesterday for improper conduct after his dismissal against Sevilla, watched in disbelief on the stroke of half-time when Blackburn hauled themselves back into the contest. A suspiciously offside David Dunn crossed low for Santa Cruz to convert.

On the hour, and having been outplayed for most of it, Rovers equalised when the Paraguayan striker met an inswinging free-kick from David Bentley with a soaring leap and a textbook header past Lukasz Fabianski. Having struck three at Wigan on Saturday only to finish on the losing side, the former Bayern Munich striker appears both inspired and cursed. "Roque was outstanding again," said Hughes, whose summer signing has 11 goals for the season. "Five goals in two games and he hasn't come out on the winning side. It is hard for him and us to take."

Arsenal continued to shine on the counterattack but were now facing a side unrecognisable from that handed a first-half lesson. Santa Cruz miscued a glorious chance to seal victory in the final minute before Denilson's vicious two-footed lunge on Dunn sparked a mass melee and brought a warranted red card. It was reckless in the extreme by the Brazilian, and when the substitute Nacer Barazite dislocated a shoulder in an awkward fall a troubled night loomed for Wenger.

Once again, however, Arsenal found the right response. A sudden burst out of defence by the aggressive and commanding Alexandre Song and his measured through-ball to Eduardo caught Blackburn cold. The Arsenal striker's superb execution into the bottom corner knocked them out, though not before Samba headed against a post in the final seconds of extra-time. "We got a taste of the final last year and now we want to finish the job," said Wenger. Few would bet against them.


This communication contains information that is confidential, proprietary in nature, and may also be attorney-client privileged and/or work product privileged. It is for the exclusive use of the intended recipient(s). If you are not the intended recipient(s) or the person responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient(s), please note that any form of dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete the original communication. Thank you for your cooperation.

Please be advised that neither Kroll, its affiliates, its employees or agents accept liability for any errors, omissions or damages caused by delays of receipt or by any virus infection in this message or its attachments, or which may otherwise arise as a result of this e-mail transmission.