Blackburn Rovers 1 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 McCarthy (84)
Such are the fine margins upon which football matches are decided. Four matches, one draw and three defeats, one goal deciding those reverses. Whilst Arsenal may not have deserved to win all of those three games, they deserved to lose none of them. However, a failure to apply the necessary clincal finishes at times when pressure has been exerted has cost the Club dear. Out of two Cup competitions and behind at the ‘halfway stage’ of the other, the media will no doubt class this as a ‘crisis’ which identifies more how much progress that the team have made over the past season and a half than the actual turn of events.
Then winning goal was a cracking strike; McCarthy finding the top corner was somewhat inevitable given Arsenal’s failings in front of goal and the expected incompetence from Graham Poll. A scrappy affair was decided by a moment of class, the surprise substitute – McCarthy surely has enough class to warrant a starting place – sealed Blackburn’s progress to the Quarter Finals four minutes from time.
I take my hat off to yesterday’s comments from Rob and LTHW (as you shall forever be known in these parts) for they were spot on. Blackburn were marginally more adventurous than the original clash but they had their chance and took it, something that the Arsenal team failed to do with theirs. I think it was Leong who commented after Sunday that you need Luck to win a Cup. If Luck equates to incompentence by officials then I am forced to agree with that assessment. Coming so soon after making a complete hash of sending Robbie Keane off at the weekend, Poll confirmed what supporters have long known, that is his complete and utter incompetence at officiating at matches at any level. Keane’s dismissal was farcical. It reminded me of a penalty Colin Todd conceded for Derby in a European Cup tie in the mid-70’s against either Juve or Real Madrid; the ball struck Todd’s shoulder – the brown ball mark on a white shirt a pretty conclusive piece of evidence in that respect – and the same for Keane; ball hitting shoulder and rolling down his body had sufficiently altered the trajectory to stop the shot and prevent a goal. Poll however decided that what little hand contact there was should be deemed to be a deliberate attempt to stop a goal.
If your host is incredulous at that decision, you do not require a PhD in Advanced Mathematics to guess my view on his refusal to penalise Blackburn for the foul on Ljungberg in the first half. Did I say foul. I should have used the plural. Not only did Poll fail to spot the ankle tap, he missed the shove and hack at the calf of the Swede as well. So what was the explanation for this?
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‘I was concentrating on the upper half of the bodies‘
If it were not so decisive, I would laugh. Seriously, I would. But it was a decisive moment and curiously enough, I do not feel like laughing. I shall be scanning the papers over the next few days to see what Keith Hackett makes of Poll’s display last night; alas we shall never know for the Thing From Tring has given his paymasters a ready-made excuse for dropping him from the Liverpool v Manchester United match on Saturday, with an apparent calf strain suffered towards the end of ninety minutes. Not sure how he suffered this but the swan dive he managed in trying to get his useless lump of an Arsenal up with the play in the build up to goal seems to be prime candidate. A shame said dive did not happen after ninety seconds. It is not that I am surprised by him missing the offences – I am not – but the excuse beggars belief. Fundamentally, his reason is spurious; Ljungberg was ahead of Emerton so why concentrate on the upper half of the body? Surely contact is more likely to be an ankle tap or stamp on the calf in that situation? I would like to say Poll was right to deny Aliadiere a penalty as well but the thought of admitting he was right is just something that sticks in my throat. It is a penalty that you have seen given on numerous occasions, Friedel probably rescued by the fact that Aliadiere appeared to have lost control of the ball.
Despite the rant, Arsenal cannot blame Poll for the defeat. It is their own waywardness in front of goal that has caused this Cup exit, nothing else. Friedel made good saves from Baptista and the Brazilian headed over when, to use a footballing cliche, it seemed ‘easier to score’. Wenger has apparently made up his mind about Baptista and prior to these last couple of games, I think he has shown enough to be worthwhile perservering with over the next few years; I sincerely doubt that he will recapture the form he showed at Sevilla – he is playing a less advanced role – but he does link the play well. His evening was perhaps best summed up by the failed attempt at a bicycle kick in the second half; great vision to see the chance but poor execution. Indeed, that could be applied to the whole of the team for a lot of the evening for a high percentage of passes seemed to go astray, by this seasons standards anyway.
It is hard to say whether tonight was a hangover from Sunday; partly it may have been but a large part of it was the number of changes to the starting line-up. Arsene commented recently that the art of squad rotation was something he was still learning – here’s a small thought for him to bear in mind; Senderos is not a right back so next time Eboue or Hoyte needs replacing, Big Phil should not be sent to the right hand side of the defence. The absence of Toure was not particularly noticed such was the performance of William Gallas – his return to fitness cannot be doubted, proof given in the instant he made ten to fifteen yards up on Derbyshire (I think) in a race over forty yards, to force a rushed shot in the second half. But it was a rare bright spot on a drab evening. If you find this overly pessimistic about the performance, perhaps you are right and maybe I’ll feel differently in the morning.
A final word on a close run second for most useless t-sser of the evening; I had the misfortune to listen to Radio 5Live for most of the first half at work – see, I told you they were IB’s that I work for – and on the way home. I close with a quote from Alan Green that caused the bloke in the car in front to fear he was about to be the victim of road rage:
‘Thirty two minutes gone. Its great that Eboue had not been involved in a ruck’
Thankfully the kids were not in the car when I heard that for the air turned twenty seven shades of blue, to such an extent that I was still fuming when I arrived home. And to think, my Licence Fee pays that ignorant *@$!%&’s wages….