Blackburn 2 (Santa Cruz 42, 60) Arsenal 3(Diaby 6, Eduardo 29, 104)
(Carling Cup Quarter Final)
What a fantastic cup tie that was. The match was always going to be a stiff challenge for the Arsenal kids – not only were Blackburn fielding a first choice team, but the full league side had failed to win at Ewood Park earlier in the year, and with Blackburn consistently able to frustrate flowing Arsenal sides with the physical and determined play, it remained to be seen what a shadow side would achieve.
And make no mistake – this truly was a shadow side. It was unusual even for a Carling Cup team – normally Wenger throws the likes of Toure, Adebayor, Gilberto and co into the mix to provide some experience, but this time, mindful of the game being sandwiched in between matches with Chelsea and a recovering Spurs, he made eleven changes, also resting most of the bench from Sunday.
And how they responded. With Walcott ill, Mark Randall started on the right wing, and impressed early, being involved in the opening goal by playing a clever reverse pass to Bendtner, who once again supplied an excellent delivery, calmly placed home by Diaby with his left foot. When the big Frenchman scores with a leg designed only for standing on, you know its going to be an unusual night.
For the first half an hour it was truly men against boys, but the wrong way around – the boys were dominating and Blackburn couldn’t even play their trademark crunching game because they were unable to get near the ball.
Bendtner hit the bar with a curling shot, before the inevitable second arrived, Eduardo steering home Denilson’s through ball after Samba had made a hash of the interception. It looked to be an absolute cruise.
But shortly before half time, Blackburn got a lifeline, Santa Cruz turning home Derbyshire cross after a decent counter attack. Derbyshire was fractionally offside, but regular readers of this site will know that I won’t be complaining about that – it was close enough that the linesman could be unsure, and if that’s the case he had to keep his flag down.
But it completely turned the game. Instead of going in deflated, Blackburn smelt blood, and came out in the second half with all guns blazing. Senderos was making errors, being rescued by Fabianski and Song, while their midfield had finally got into the game. The equaliser was inevitable, and it duly arrived when Bentley’s free kick was headed in by Santa Cruz, for his fifth goal in two games.
At that point, the players were up against it. But just when you would expect kids to fold, they dug in and turned the match around once again. Despite their youth, they found reserves of spirit and once the match got back to 2-2, they once again took control. Diarra was immense in the centre, while Song was repelling all that came towards him. That said, the best chance in normal time fell to Santa Cruz, who fluffed his chance of consecutive hattricks with a miskicked volley in front of goal.
Just as extra time was looming though, the match took a turn for the more difficult. Denilson, already on a yellow card, lunged in two footed on Dunn, and although there was minimal contact, the tackle was ugly and deserved the red card it duly got. Savage got booked for his predictable histrionics.
But in extra time, you couldn’t tell we were a man down, and when Song made a burst from the back, he fed Eduardo, who ignored his exhausted legs to fire a superb shot beyond the reach of Friedel. Blackburn could’ve levelled, Samba hitting the post, but in the end the win was well deserved, and yet another chapter in the incredible history of this young side.
Fabianski was solid in goal, and although he flapped at a couple of crosses he had no chance for either goal and made some decent saves. A couple of times he impressively caught shots others would’ve parried.
Hoyte at right back was assured, and made a superb late double block to ensure the win. Traore was Clichyesque, and I mean that as a supreme compliment.
The two centre backs could not have been more different. Senderos, the senior partner, had a poor game, losing out in the air and regularly misjudging the flight of the ball. He looks painfully short of confidence. Song, on the other hand, had his best game for Arsenal, and mopped up with comfort. Not only that, but he looked impressive bursting out from the back – maybe he has finally found his place.
In midfield, Diarra was an absolute monster, perfectly backing up his pleas for first team football. He was a terrier all over the park, and gave the side a bite that it requires in these fixtures. Diaby was skilled, strong and balanced, and took his goal well. Randall was decent on the right and encouragingly wanted the ball all the time, while Denilson looked intelligent on the ball until his rash red card. He will learn from this.
Bendtner may not have scored, but once again he impressed up front, delivering cunning passes and flicks, and always choosing the right option. It is easy to tell just how confident he is in his own ability, and while that might make him seem brash in interviews, it can only be a good thing. Eduardo was mixed – two fantastic finishes, his coolness even more impressive given his supposed lack of confidence, but otherwise he was quiet. Perhaps that is his game – quiet for an hour, and then kills you.
It was a truly stunning performance. Ewood Park is a difficult place to go for anyone, even though Blackburn are on poor form, but to win with a complete shadow side is nothing short of incredible.
The semi will be against Spurs, Everton, or the winner of tonight’s other tie between Liverpool and Chelsea. Spurs again is just the feeling I get, and on last night’s display our rivals will be quaking in their boots once again.