CARLING CUP SEMI-FINAL (1ST LEG)
WEDNESDAY 24TH JANUARY, 2007
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (2) ARSENAL 2 (0)
Baptista (o.g), 20
Baptista, 63, 77
Referee: - Graham Poll
Attendance: - 35,485
Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson (Capt.); Chimbonda, Dawson, Gardner, Ekotto; Lennon, Huddlestone, Zokora, Malbranque; Berbatov (sub Keane, 17), Defoe (sub Mido, 80)
Subs not used: - Cerny; Lee; Ghaly
Booked: - Defoe
Arsenal (4-4-2):- Almunia; Hoyte, Toure (Capt.), Senderos, Traore; Walcott, Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby (sub Hleb, 55) (sub Flamini, 80); Baptista, Aliadiere (sub Eboue, 60)
Subs not used: - Poom; Randall
Booked: - Baptista, Toure, Traore
It’s half time in this Carling Cup Semi-Final, and with the teams level, all is there to play for. However, there can be no question that Arsene Wenger’s “League Cup Side” gained a great psychological boost tonight, when Julio “The Beast” Baptista continued his goal-scoring form in this competition, with an own goal for Spurs, and two second half goals that made Spurs’ excellent two goal start a distant memory.
Why exactly did Spurs surrender a precious two-goal lead that might have been enough to secure them a path to Cardiff for the first time in 5 years? Well, firstly, even before going two up, Dimitar Berbatov was replaced not by Mido, but by Robbie Keane, eliminating the ability for Spurs to retrieve and hold up Robinson’s persistent long clearances. More importantly, after going two up, it seemed that Spurs were playing with a diminished incentive and desire, failing to attack in the force or numbers that they had in those early minutes. The young Arsenal team never let their heads go down, and played with the vigour of a team in great form, just two weeks after beating Liverpool 6-3 at Anfield. Yes, Senderos had been drafted in to partner Toure in central defence, and Diaby had been given a start, but this was essentially the same team that took Liverpool by storm.
Spurs had done exactly that, right from the off, and it looked as if we might finish the game with a dream lead to take to The Emirates Stadium next week. After two minutes, Zokora’s pass was taken forward by Chimbonda and Lennon, who skipped to the bye line and crossed. The ball was half cleared to Zokora, who hit a shot outside the post. Next up came a one-two between Berbatov and Defoe on the left side of the area, before Berbatov’s shot hit the side netting just behind the post. There was a bit of a scare from Arsenal after 7 minutes, when Fabregas worked his charms in the middle and got the ball into the box, where Spurs managed to force it out wide, ending in a harmless cross.
Ekotto passed inside to Berbatov, whose shot across goal was deflected for a corner, from which Michael Dawson’s header was cleared, possibly by a hand, but the appeal for a penalty fell on Mr Poll’s deaf ears. Spurs took a 12th minute lead with a quick ball from the right by Jermain Defoe, headed home from close in by Berbatov, who might have got a strain in the process, needing to be replaced soon after. Hopefully, this was a precaution, and if he has to be rested for the Southend game, we need him fit next Wednesday. Berbatov’s contribution was not quite finished though, as he had a shot blocked before Malbranque fired over.
Malbranque and Lennon had been so vital to Spurs early domination, playing at pace and with penetrating passes to put the Arsenal defence on the back foot constantly. Sadly, another factor behind Spurs relative demise was the drop in energy from both these players. In the second half, too many of Lennon’s balls went to an opponent, and I even noticed times when he did not chase and close down enthusiastically. Huddlestone was doing well, getting a foot in and often coming out with the ball, but as the game wore on Spurs became less and less creative and the clearances just kept rolling back in a red and white tide towards the Spurs goal. Spurs went two up after 20 minutes, when Huddlestone’s low driven free kick (aren’t they all?) was turned into his own net by Baptista with a clever back heel!
Baptista then became the first name in Mr Poll’s book for a challenge upon Zokora, before Toure got booked for a cynical challenge upon Lennon who otherwise would have broken the Arsenal defence. Late in the game young Armand Traore also saw yellow for a similar foul on Lennon. Spurs were unable to take any advantage from these offerings, whereas they conceded too many corners and too many free kicks at close range, making the pressure upon themselves even worse. In added time, Dawson headed over a Huddlestone cross, and at the other end Baptista failed to connect with a Fabregas ball into the middle.
Straight from the second half whistle, there was good play down the right featuring Chimbonda and Lennon, whose cross was aimed for Robbie Keane, who failed to make connection. Arsenal broke out at speed, and Aliadiere hit a shot wide. Wenger started to wheel on one or two of his big guns, and Hleb replaced Diaby, with Eboue replacing Aliadiere, and playing on the right side of midfield to good effect. Hleb and Fabregas became a more direct threat down the middle and the channels upon the Spurs area.
After 61 minutes, Fabregas curled a free kick that Robinson tried to punch clear, without success, and Michael Dawson had to head clear. Then, from yet another free kick, Baptista’s shot was deflected, and Fabregas’s follow up was saved. Arsenal’s first goal followed, from an Eboue cross, which Baptista was free to slot home at the back post. Robinson made a good save after 75 minutes from another Fabregas shot, after Hleb and Eboue had been involved in the build up. However, two minutes later the scores were level, as Arsenal attacked the Spurs left flank. Robinson raced to the edge of his area but was just beaten by Hoyte’s cross, leaving Baptista with an even easier finish.
Spurs suddenly realised the need to lift up a gear, and any attacking was done down the right flank. The trouble was that Arsenal could always defend and attack in numbers, whereas Spurs ran out of steam in their opponents half for most of the time. Once again though it was Lennon and Chimbonda’s work that led to the full-back’s cross met by Defoe, for once not called offside. Almunia closed down Defoe and made a great save, when Jermain tried to place the ball past him Mido was finally brought on, but the only chance he might have had would have been if he could have reached Lennon’s late cross. At the other end, Paul Robinson had been beaten by another Arsenal cross, which World Cup Tourist Walcott fired outside the post, with the keeper struggling.
So, we take 5000 fans to The Emirates for next week’s second leg. Whilst Mr Wenger might keep an even bigger gun such as Henry on the bench next week, I suspect that he will keep faith with the team that performed so well for him tonight. A team that can play with skill at pace, for 90 minutes, and which showed just how far Spurs have yet to progress. After all, this was Arsenal’s second stream team. It was a “beastly” draw for Spurs fans, but it is still only half time!
· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
· Read the preview for this game.
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