Euro win would ease Wembley pain

THERE’S the small matter of a semi-final with Man Utd to come, but for no logical reason, I’ve an inkling that Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final was a dress rehearsal for the Champions League decider.

If we should go on to gain revenge against the Blues in Rome, few Gooners will give a stuff about missing out on the FA Cup. The big-eared prize is the only major trophy that continues to elude the Arsenal and without it, le Gaffer’s CV, as one of the games greats, will never be truly complete.

However if we should end the season empty-handed, there’ll be more than a few knives out for le Boss, drawn by those disgruntled Gooners who felt he blew our best chance of a trophy with his team selection on Saturday. Yet Wenger was in good company.

But there was one big difference, as just about any team Utd put out had a chance of overcoming Everton, whereas we really needed our best XI to beat the Blues. Admittedly Wenger’s decisions were bound to have been influenced by the vulnerability of our decimated defence. But considering a clean sheet was never on the cards, then surely the solution was an offensive line-up capable of keeping the ball in the opposition’s half of the pitch. To beat Chelsea we needed to make the most of their recent fragility, with a team suited to scoring more goals than the number of crucial calamities at the other end.

It’s all to easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight but if Arsène does have a weakness, it’s that at times his approach is perhaps a little too scientific. O&n occasion Wenger seems completely out of touch with something as intangible as gut instinct.

My own gut instinct told me this was to be Shava’s big day. After the frustration of missing out on all the Champions League excitement, if there was one fresh-legged player in the Arsenal squad who was going to be inspired by an opportunity to shine on the Wembley stage, it was Arshavin.

Perhaps Denilson’s inclusion was more evidence of Arsène’s analytical approach, based on the boy’s impressive stats. Either that, or the Brazilian lad is Wenger’s secret lovechild. When I think back to the sort of stick Song was getting only a couple of months back, it’s hard to believe that we were all so distraught to see him left on the bench. Yet Arsène’s faith in his players is so unshakeable, that even when it was obvious to everyone present that Denilson was having a stinker, le Prof refused to react.

Myself, I would’ve much preferred a more positive 4-4-2, since if Saturday’s performance proved one thing, it’s that Adebayor isn’t suited to the lone striker’s role. It’s hard to recall Ade winning a single aerial battle and the Togonator’s first touch was so awful, that every ball seemed to bounce straight off him. Nevertheless, a more instinctive manager might’ve felt that the fact that Ade had done nothing for 80 minutes, made it that much more likely that he’d conjure up a mercurial moment in the last 10, than the more pedestrian talents of Bendtner?

I’ll be amazed if we didn’t experience some sort of hangover effect against the Scousers last night and I can’t believe Wenger was saving players for a game we can well afford to lose. Besides the possible negative psychological impact of losing two games on the bounce would far outweigh the importance of any effort to conserve energy.

Time will tell which of us will most rue the loss of our winning momentum, when we meet at Old Trafford next week. Charged on adrenaline, Chelsea and Everton certainly won’t be feeling fatigued, whereas the exhaustion was writ large across the hangdog expressions on the two losing teams.

Most disappointing was the absence of any sign of an edge to Saturday’s tame offering, that lung-busting, body-crunching vim of those pushing it to the max, as if their very lives depended on lifting that ancient trophy. Watching the trio from the ‘71 side of Wilson, Graham and McLintock appearing in Sky’s sentimental “Time Of Our Lives” series, last week’s trip down memory lane left me feeling particularly nostalgic for an era when you knew it meant as much to those on the pitch, as it did to those of us on the terraces.

Their 70 plus games a season makes an absolute mockery of the superfit modern moaning Minnies, who require resting and rotating, after less than half as many matches.

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up