Sunday, February 04, 2007

Carling Cup Semi-Final

It Never Really Looked Like Happening for Spurs

Arsenal 3 Spurs 1 (aet) [1 - 1 after 90 minutes]

While we all made optimistic noises that it was only half-time and that Spurs could still win the 2nd leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at the Emirates Stadium to become the first visiting team to win there, in reality, on the day it never looked like happening.

At no point during the two hours did it feel that Spurs had the upper hand and were really putting Arsenal under such pressure that they would be able to re-gain the advantage in the two-legged tie.

Spurs' opportunity had gone a week earlier when Berbatov, the scorer of their goal, went off injured. At that point Spurs were one goal ahead and putting the Arsenal defence under such pressure that they were in considerable disarray - so much so that from the free-kick shortly after Berbatov left the pitch, Baptista conceded an own goal. That unfortunately was as good as it got for Spurs.

The re-organisation when Robbie Keane came on, while the Spurs' management maintain it was 4 - 3 - 3, in my opinion, it became 4 - 5 - 1, with Defoe as lone striker and Keane wide on the left, gave Arsenal time to re-group. While Spurs continued to have the better of the first half, this change allowed Arsenal to get back into the game and where they had looked ragged, they started to settle and made some forays on the Spurs' goal from which they could have scored.

However, after half-time Arsenal came out and took control and could have won the game - Spurs had lost that early dominance and momentum and were glad to hold on for a draw. As Arsenal brought on players with greater experience, Spurs had no response.

Similarly, in the second leg, while Spurs competed all round the pitch, they didn't look like taking the initiative - it was all about holding on and not giving Arsenal anything. Robbie Keane missed an early scoring opportunity when through one - on - one against the goalkeeper but didn't look like he was going to score.

Spurs' cause was not helped by the continuing absence of Ledley King, and Berbatov and then Aaron Lennon who took ill just before the game, so close to kick-off that he had to be included on the substitutes' list even though he would not be able to play. Spurs' game was all about containment, even though a draw would not take them through because of the away goals' rule. When Arsenal scored late on in the game it looked as if it was all over but Spurs did rally and for a few moments one wondered if Mido was going to become the unlikely hero. It is well known that Spurs had been trying to sell him during the January transfer window and he has been pilloried incessantly by supporters but he managed to score to level the game and in the final moments another shot just went the wrong side of the post. It wasn't to be!

After that, in extra time Spurs were a spent force although it was Spurs' usual unforced error against a top side that brought about their demise. Arsenal went ahead with the last kick of the first half of extra time when new signing Rocha tried to head a ball that was inches from the ground. He had come on to replace Gardiner and his missed clearance fell nicely for Arsenal to take the lead.

After that although a second Spurs' goal would have taken the game to penalties, they never looked like getting it and another Arsenal goal confirmed the defeat.

Spurs still have a long way to go and while they competed and gave it everything, apart from the opening quarter at White Hart Lane, they never looked like progressing to play Chelsea in the Final at Cardiff. Spurs can't afford to play wthout their three top players - King brings solidity to the defence, Lennon brings pace and creativity to the midfield and Berbatov brings a touch of class to the strike force. Elsewhere, while they were fully committed - the Spurs' players came up short - too many couldn't make any impact on the game - Keane and Defoe rarely had a sight of goal, Jenas and Zokora who had looked so pacy and energetic against Southend at the weekend just couldn't raise their game when faced with higher class opposition while Ghaly and Malbranque were mostly anonymous. The defenders stood firm but those around them were unable to give them relief from the Arsenal pressure which eventually bore fruit.

Spurs are still in the FA Cup and UEFA Cups but if there is to be any success and silverware adorning White Hart Lane this season, they will need to have all their best players recovered from injury and available because the others just aren't capable of raising their game to sustain a challenge at the highest level when faced with the top teams.

Spurs haven't won a League game since Boxing Day and need to put together a run of results in the Premiership to lift them from their current mid-table position, to be able to challenge for European place next season - that starts with this afternoon's game against Manchester United, no easy task following the disappointment of the mid-week defeat.


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