Arsenal’s kids had a night to remember as they booked a Carling Cup semi-final berth after a thrilling 3-2 extra-time win over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
Abou Diaby opened the scoring in just the 6th minute, volleying home cleverly from a Nicklas Bendtner cross and Arsenal were 2-0 up within half an hour when Eduardo da Silva punished Christopher Samba’s failed attempt to cut out Denilson’s through pass.
Blackburn pulled one back just before the break when Roque Santa-Cruz fired in Matt Derbyshire’s cross and the home side pulled level on 60 minutes when the Paraguayan striker scored again, this time heading home David Bentley’s free-kick.
There were plenty of chances but no more goals in the last half-hour of normal time, but Blackburn received a huge boost going into the extra period when Denilson was sent off for a reckless two-footed challenge on David Dunn in second-half injury time. But despite the setback Arsenal again went ahead in the first period of extra-time when Eduardo expertly finished from Alexandre Song’s assist.
Blackburn had several clear chances including a late header from Benni McCarthy that hit the post, but a combination of resolute defending, excellent goalkeeping and more than a little luck allowed Arsenal’s ten men to hang on for the win.
There aren’t many Carling Cup ties that leave supporters absolutely satisfied but the fans who did turn out at Ewood Park were given a real treat by two very good sides. As is the norm for games in this competition, Arsene Wenger gave his younger players a chance to impress and he was not let down. Understandably, he was delighted with the result.
It was not a perfect performance by any stretch – on another day Blackburn may have even won the match – but the quality of the football and even moreso the determination and sheer bottle that the youngsters displayed was absolutely wonderful to watch. A few points to take away from this one:
Lukasz Fabianski looked superb. He was 100% blameless for the goals, pulled off some truly outstanding saves and was completely dominant in the air. The list of reasons why Jens Lehmann could ship off in the summer continues to grow.
Eduardo showed again what damage he can do when played in his natural position up front. He has a real presence in one-on-one situations and I feel that as long as the fans stay on his side his confidence will continue to grow and he can still play a big part in the second half of Arsenal’s season.
Denilson’s tackle did deserve a straight red. Hopefully Wenger will have a word to him because he was already on a yellow andit was a stupid challenge to make given the circumstances. It seems he may have just been wanting to make a point after these pre-match comments, but either way he will need to learn from this.
On the flipside, full credit to Blackburn’s Dunn for not rolling around in fake agony after the challenge and the referee for still awarding the send-off despite the absence of any simulation. I hate the fact that players feel they need to exaggerate contact to ensure the correct punishment is given and this was a clear example of why it is not always necessary to do so.
I really hope the kids can go on to win the tournament. They’ve been getting closer and closer each year and are now only two wins away from the trophy. It’s interesting because at the start of each Carling Cup campaign the young players all know that as soon as they get knocked out they lose the window of opportunity to impress Wenger to a certain extent. You would think this would put some pressure on the youngsters but the way they have played so far against Newcastle, Sheffield and now Blackburn suggests they are handling it in style. I have to say that it’s very encouraging to for the future.
A superb day for Arsenal was also capped off with the news that UEFA have decided not to extent Wenger’s touchline ban and he will be free to roam the side of the pitch against Porto/Barca/Real/Milan/Inter. Huzzah!
What do you think?
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