Looking Forward


ARSENAL (at Old Trafford)

FA Cup Semi-Final

Sunday 8th April 2001

With the two team only having played each other eight days previously, you would think that Arsenal's 2-0 win would be a psychological advantage to them.  However, as Spurs suffered a number of injuries in the week leading up to the match, their side was more of a regular XI than Tottenham's.

With Bergkamp unlikely to be fit (unless Wenger is messing with our minds - preferable to what else he could be messing with) and Grimandi is suspended (damn !!), the Arsenal team will be much the same as turned out at Highbury.  Whereas, Sours will field a much changed side should Sol recover from his ankle injury and Ledley King shakes off his dead leg.  The risk that Hoddle will have to take in his first game in charge is whether he wants to change the midfield where Davies and King have performed well, by bringing in Sherwood and Leonhardsen.  Both have the capacity to do harm to Arsenal.  Leo with his runs into the box and Tim with his no nonsense "getting involved".  In the second half at Highbury, Tottenham got overrun by the Arsenal midfield and held out well until 20 minutes from the end.  It is not a situation that they will want to encounter again at Old Trafford - especially if there are a number of players lacking match fitness.  Our minds go back to the struggling Darren Anderton at Elland Road in '95 and how that threw the team out of balance that day.

Hoddle will know Wenger inside out (not something you would want to admit to too readily) from his time at Monaco and the chance for the young apprentice to outwit the wily old fox must appeal to Hoddle in his first match as manager.  Tactically, George Graham got it spot on against West Ham in the previous round and we must hope that those tactics are put to good use again.  It will mean hard work (probably not a dirty word to Glenn) to shut down the Arsenal supply lines and sticking man to man on Henry to ensure he doesn't escape the defence.  Pires will hopefully leave his attacking duties to look after the marauding Carr and Iversen will be freed to play a more recognisable midfield role rather than that he was shoe-horned into at Highbury.

With Rebrov back, more shots at the dodgy Seaman would make for interesting viewing and maybe Les could put himself about a bit more against Keown and Adams to make their life more difficult.  There should be some joy from attacking Dixon, who is on his last legs to get some width for crosses to come in and if Silvinho or Cole play, then the space left by their forward runs could be used to play Rebrov or Les in.

No doubt that this will be a tough match, even though Arsenal played Valencia on Wednesday, but by keeping moving, it could be possible to drag their players around and make opportunities with good passing.  While there is still a big gap between the two clubs in terms of quality on a consistent basis, Spurs have proved that they have been as good as anyone on their day in the FA Cup.  This is the day ...

PREDICTION : -  Arsenal  0  Tottenham 1

For more information on the opponents and their history, including full result history of matches between the two teams, click here.



Arsenal  2  Tottenham  1  - FA Cup Semi-Final - Old Trafford - Sunday 8th April 2001

Weather : -  Dry, warm, light wind
Crowd : -  63,541
Referee : -  Graham Poll (Tring)
Scorers : -   Arsenal -  Vieira 33, Pires 74
                       Tottenham  -  Doherty 14

Arsenal: Seaman, Silvinho, Adams, Keown, Dixon, Vieira, Parlour, Lauren, Pires (Ljungberg 77), Wiltord (Cole 89), Henry.
Subs Not Used: Manninger, Luzhny, Kanu.

Tottenham: Sullivan, Young, Campbell (King 38), Perry, Carr, Sherwood, Clemence (Thelwell 79), Doherty, Ferdinand (Leonhardsen 56), Iversen, Rebrov.
Subs Not Used: Walker, Korsten.

Despite the long journey and the crap surroundings of Manchester's Gold Trafford, the event got the most cynical of Spurs fans excited as the semi-final kicked off.  However, most knew that with the side Spurs put out, there was little chance of a victory, unless luck was on our side.  Thankfully, Neil Sullivan was, as he performed heroically to prevent a wave of attacks and thwarted Dixon, Pires, Henry, Wiltord and Adams.  Perry also played well in the second half, again when Sol was not around, as seems to be the way with the ex-Wimbledon man.  King slotted in well to replace Sol and showed calm and strength far beyond his experience.

As for the game, well you probably know about it by now.  We scored; they should have had Vieira sent off, but we lost Sol and Vieira scored; they scored in the second half; we had little creativity and couldn't open them up carrying too many players who were thrown in as a last hope.  Then it ended.

The pitch was poor with bare patches and the ball bobbled all over the place.  Spurs failed to make enough decent chances as they were out-battled and out-passed in midfield, with players patently not match-fit failing to track the runs of the Arsenal side.  With a few more shots on Seaman, things could have been different as he made a good save from Ferdinand's effort just before the goal, but spilled a long range Rebrov effort with no-one following in.  There was little movement amongst the Spurs players, resulting in the ball being given away to Arsenal on far too many occasions and when the ball was cleared from defence, it inevitably fell to a red shirt and the pressure was back on again.  The lack of support for Ferdie up front in the first half was plain to see and in the second neither Rebrov or Iversen won much against the two lumbering centre-halves.  The only surprising thing is that they failed to win by more goals than they did, due to good keeping by Sully and poor finishing by their players.

Hoddle said after the game that there was more to what had gone on in the run-up to the game than people knew - a cryptic quote, which will hopefully be explained sometime.  He was also disappointed by what we had done on the ball.  He obviously hasn't seen much of Tottenham this season as for most of them the ball becomes a hot potato when it gets near them.  If he wants the side to be comfortable on the ball, there are only a few players currently in the team, who look happy on it and he will have his work cut out trying to get them to be more at home with it at their feet.

As his first game in charge, it was one which was most difficult.  A FA Cup semi-final and against Arsenal, but then there is always Tuesday against Bradford City, although I am not sure how many will be fit to turn out for that one.  We need to pick up three points there, just to be on the safe side and then see out the season with as many good performances as we can.  It will be interesting to see who does play and I hope Gardner will be given the opportunity to fill Campbell's boots, especially as Sol said that winning the Cup would help persuade him to stay at Spurs. Now that has gone, it is one less hold we have on our captain.

I'm not sure if I got wetter from the rain as we made our way back to the car or from the ranting phlegm from the kid behind me, who went home with his Dad and sister after we went 1-2 down.  That was unlike most of the Spurs fans who stayed to the end to give the team applause as they left the field.  That was in stark contrast to 1991, when the Arsenal end at Wembley was empty long before the final whistle.  Even today, they were silent for long periods when Spurs were ahead (and even after that) - perhaps they thought that they were at home at Old Trafford.  "Sing when you're winning (sometimes)" could have been dreamt up for them.  In the end, it was a poor showing by Spurs, but then we have something to look forward to.  But it must be given time and money to be done successfully.



God's Tears


The early start did not immediately put us in a good mood, but travelling up the M1 and M6 made us feel a bit better.  The expected traffic chaos did not appear to arise, as leaving London at 6.40 a.m., there was little on the road at that time of a Sunday morning and we did not see more than a couple of Spurs coaches the whole way.  We did pass a small car  that had AFC in the  number plate.  Wethought he was a Gooner and were ready to give him some stick, but as we drew level, we saw an elderly gent and his wife out for a Sunday drive !!  Imagine all the grief he was getting from Spurs fans on the way up to Manchester and the conversation with his wife, who could have been saying "Are you driving badly today dear, because everyone seems very annoyed with you ?" !!  As we were making good progress, we went on the direct route rather than across country and arrived in Manchester without stopping at 9.30 a.m.  Parking near Salford Quays, we had a civilised breakfast, apart form the Gooners who were in the same room, before leisurely mooching up to the ground.

There was no trouble as far as I could see and as there was little to do and huge queues for programmes, we went inside and got our proggies there.  As soon as you enter the "Theatre of Dreams" it is a nightmare.  I know we were in a different part of the ground last time, but it seemed totally changed from last time.  Loud music fills the concourses and when you get out into the seating, there is an even louder noise from the PA.  The crap DJ with old, tired records and his whistling sound system make the atmosphere dead.  No wonder the Man U fans never generate any sort of support for their side.  They are either too hoarse from shouting at the person in the next seat to be heard or they have such a splitting headache that they don't feel like cheering anyway.  There was no opportunity for fans to get songs going before Mr. Northern DJ cranked up the volume even further.  

The view was good though, even though we were in a corner level with the goal-line.  When Hod and John Gorman came out before the kick-off, they got a very good reception from the Spurs fans.  And then when the players came out there was consternation as a number of familiar faces were missing.  No Freund - dropped as not Hoddle's sort of player ??  No Sol - so perhaps he didn't make it ??  But Carr, Rebrov, Sherwood and Leonhardsen were all there.  Then came  the moment of hope as Sol came out of the tunnel to great acclaim.  It was a moment of psychological one-upmanship that got the crowd going, but it was evident in the warm-up that Sol was not fully mobile.  When the team was eventually announced, it was strange that there was no place for King and that Sherwood would start.  However, the line-up looked good and when Stevie Carr got down the line shortly after kick-off, things looked as they always were.  Arsenal soon started putting things together and Perry went into Mr. Poll's book for his first challenge.  

It was against the run of play that Spurs scored.  A free-kick routine went hopelessly wrong and the ball was then put back into the box. It fell to Les, who should have scored, but forced Seaman to save and when Iversen's shot was flashing across goal, Doherty had the presence of mind to divert it in with his head.  It was an unexpected lead and one that we would have to see how long we could hold on to.  We should of known that wouldn't happen in two separate incidents.  Firstly, Vieira upped Sherwood three feet into the air, with a challenge from behind and let the Frenchman off with a warning.  This allowed him to do the same again with a challenge on Iversen, for which he got a yellow card - which should have been red, if he had been punished by Poll as Perry was for his first indiscretion.  It looked as though Wenger's plea to Poll to protect Vieira had worked.  Then following a breakaway by Arsenal, Sol Campbell blocked off Parlour's run down the line and with the Arsenal man pulling him down as he went, Sol laid on the floor in agony.  He had twisted his good ankle and it soon became apparent that he would not be able to continue.  Not content with that, while he was receiving treatment, the free-kick was headed home for the equaliser by Vieira, who should not have been on the pitch.

Sol hobbled about Gazza 1991 Cup Final style, but he was to leave the fray like the inspirational Spurs player of the past, but this time there was no happy ending.  Spurs continued to give up possession of the ball and Arsenal continued to miss chance after chance or be denied by Sullivan, until the inevitable happened with about a quarter of an hour left.  Poncy Pires left unattended at the far post scored into a vacant goal from a low cross and that was that.  No amount of changes of personnel and position by Hoddle could not get the team to threaten the Arsenal goal.  In the end, it all petered out into nothingness.  They had got through and all we had to look forward to was a long trip home and loads of stick from those Gooners who come out of the woodwork.

In truth, it was a repeat of 1995.  Too many players playing when fit, but not match fit.  Carr did exceptionally well, but there was not the usual energy there as he hadn't played much for three months.  Sherwood lacked precision with his passing, which left colleagues in trouble and was not up to the up-and-down running that would have been necessary.  Freund had picked up an injury in training on Thursday, so was out, but King did well coming on for Sol, even though he turned his ankle after a couple of minutes.  Rebrov was limping after being hit with a couple of tough tackles, while Les tweaked a hamstring again to leave the forward line lacking any physical presence in the second half after he had held the ball up pretty well in the first.

As we came out the traditional Manchester rain started to fall all the way back to London.  My good friend "The Trainers Sponge" said it was God crying for Tottenham.  Losing four semis on the trot is cruel indeed, but here are hopefully brighter times ahead.

We came, we took the lead and we lost.  There was a great deal of difference between the sides, both in terms of play and of quality of squad.  These are things that Hoddle and ENIC will have to address in the coming months.


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