Losing the plot

Carling Cup Final – Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2

I’ve refrained from commenting on Sunday’s Carling Cup Final until now because I’d wanted to gauge the media reaction to what was – to put it mildly – an incident-packed game.

The cynic in me always suspected the focus would inevitably fall on the final couple of minutes of what ended up being a 102-minute match.

Sadly, the cynic in me was proven right.

We should have been talking about how Arsenal’s “galactikids” – average age 21.6 – had given the full-strength Premiership champions a genuine run for their (considerable) money. Indeed, for much of the first 50 minutes or so, they were the better side (certainly they were playing the more aesthetically pleasing football).

We should have been talking about how Theo Walcott – supposedly out of form, low on confidence and needing a season-ending shoulder operation – demonstrated his appetite for the big stage by scoring his first senior goal for the club in his first domestic final. And what a well-taken goal it was too: one part Thierry Henry, one part Michael Owen.

We should have been talking about John Terry’s immense bravery and the sickening contact Abou Diaby’s boot made (inadvertently) with his face. And we should have been praising the speed at which Arsenal (but also England) physio Gary Lewin raced on to the pitch to deal with what was potentially a life-threatening situation. Get well soon, JT.

We should have been talking about the difference a truly world-class striker like Didier Drogba can make. (And who really thought the words “Drogba” and “world-class” would be used in the same sentence even seven months ago?) No question in my mind, Drogba was the single biggest reason the ribbons on the Cup were blue rather than red.

We should maybe even have been commenting on Cesc Fabregas being pelted with celery by (some of) the Chelsea fans. Yes, I know it’s related to a song they sing. Why does that excuse it? If I make up a witty terrace chant about Britney Spears’ shaved noggin, does that make it okay for me to throw razor blades at opposing players?

We should have talked about all these things.

However, the events of the closing minutes of the match changed all that. And it has been the focus for perhaps as much as 80% of the press coverage I have read over the past four days.

Let me make myself clear. What Kolo Toure did was inexcusable, no matter what was said, no matter what injustices he perceived. The rabbit punch which Emmanuel Eboue apparently threw at Wayne Bridge was the act of a player who, sadly, has rightly earned a reputation for petulance and cheating which overshadows his prodigious talent.

There are no excuses. Well, except perhaps for Emmanuel Adebayor who, it seems, was spotted punching Frank Lampard by one of the assistant refs. Which is odd, given that Lampard himself has come out and confirmed that nobody punched him. (The FA has subsequently sought to “clarify” that the decision to send off Adebayor had nothing to do with Lampard. Cough, splutter, cover-up, anyone?) Even so, Ade’s reaction to his sending off was disappointing, to say the least.

However, I will say this. The words “mass brawl” and “melée” are bandied around way too easily. What happened at the end of the match on Sunday should never have happened; I do not dispute that. Appropriate – and I stress the word appropriate – punishments should be handed out; I wholeheartedly agree with that too. But let’s keep a sense of perspective here. There was some anger, some frustration, some pushing and shoving, and one half-punch. Is that really worth bringing back the FA’s equivalent of hanging, drawing and quartering for?

Let’s punish the culprits. But, unlike some of our players, let’s not lose the plot here.

Oh, and last night Blackburn knocked us out of the FA Cup with a Benni McCarthy goal of genuine quality utterly out of keeping with the match as a whole.

But that is just a footnote. Sadly, the “Cardiff Kerfuffle” is the headline people will remember from last Sunday.

Incidentally, if you want to read another considered view on all things Arsenal without having to wade through my random ramblings on other sports, go to my friend LG’s blog at Well worth a read!

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