Premiership Roundup: Double D disappointment for cupless Spurs

Last updated : 12 February 2006 By Aidan O'Byrne
The defenders in question in that match, who did all that could be asked of them, were the Toure and Eboue Ivorian/Arsenal duo, who were instrumental in keeping a clean sheet for the two hours of regular play, and who both stuck away their penalties in the shootout (Kolo's after a run up of around 20 yards). The muppets nominally cast in an offensive role were Chelsea's Drogba and Tottenham's Mido, both of whom just managed to be offensive for the Ivory Coast and the host nation respectively. Drogba had of course cursed himself by claiming before the game to be a better player than Cameroon and Barca's Eto'o, and as a result missed both the five yard sitter that would have won it just before the end of extra time, and of course his penalty in the decisive shootout. One wonders if he'll still be bigging it up before the Champions League game in 10 days' time? Desperate Didier had also made a pretty bad show of captaincy with his antics on the field surrounding free-kicks, but those were nothing as to the frolics of Mido, which in the semi had been sufficiently naughty to have earned him a 6 month ban (of which about 3 days were served before he turned up to gloat at the Ivorian losers medals). So all in all then, it was the two Arsenal defenders who could hold their heads high despite defeat, while the Spurs and Chelsea representatives were just pants.

Back in England, the absence of these players was much felt – I'll start with the obvious defensive gaps in the Arsenal back four, where even once he'd been located, it was now revealed that Sol Campbell was amongst the unfit. Latter day perennial Wenger bogey side Bolton thus took the lead at Highbury with a marvellous Kevin Nolan flick which left the otherwise excellent Lehmann no chance, but which you can't help but think he wouldn't have had the opportunity to attempt had it been Kolo rather than Swiss Tony that had made the tackle which ended up breaking to him. Due largely to the inspiration of Jaaskelainen, Arsenal took until injury time at the end of the game to equalise, courtesy of Brazilian midfielder Gilberto, who seems to be developing a bit of a specialism in late match-saving goals. One presumes that the two returning Ivorians will be introduced straight into the Arsenal side for the ever-so-conveniently scheduled Valentine's Evening trip to Anfield, since the unusual lack of an FA Cup tie at the weekend means that this is the last competitive fixture to gel what remains of the team before the trip to Madrid. It will also be a major shame if that trip is made without Jose Reyes, whose last trip to the Bernabeu (with Seville) was so inspiring that Zidane theorised in a post-match (and post-defeat) interview that he must have had an invisible motorbike to have been going past the Galacticos that fast.

Stretchered off in the first half after a nasty tackle that should have been a red rather than a yellow for Faye seemed to have broken either his foot or his leg, Reyes's actual fate is (mysteriously) not yet known (oh, and the difference between actually connecting with a potential career-threatening tackle and missing, big avuncular Sam? Well, you figure it out if you can…), but his chances of playing a role in reprising Real Zaragoza's result in Real's last cup game don't look good. I wonder if he'd have been able to chip the keeper from the halfway line? Now, why ever did that image come to mind?

While all this was going on, and through my head, up at Boro Chelsea were being put to the sword due (so far as I could discern from a later Match of the Day viewing) to the fact that their normally robust defensive unit was lacking its co-ordinative lynchpin Makelele. Who'd have thought that Chelsea of all clubs would turn out to be a one man team after all, eh? While this win will have done wonders in reinventing Boro's confidence (let's not forget, last weekend had seen a pitch invading fan hurl his season ticket into the dugout in disgust), it won't have helped that much for Chelsea either, who like Arsenal only have one game to warm up for some pretty major Spanish opposition in the Champions League. In Chelsea's case, the warm-up game is next weekend's FA Cup fifth round match against Colchester United, who may well be the worst sort of team to face on a deliberately buggered-up pitch, since unlike the Barcelona side for whom that surface is scurrilously rumoured to have been developed, the League One outfit are quite used to playing on rough terrain. Wonder if Drogba will prove himself better than Eto'o in that match at least?

England's third remaining Champions League contender, which just happens to be the defending champion, was in action slightly earlier on Saturday, and came away with a scrappy away win at Wigan. I saw part of this match on the plasma TV over lunch in Il Bacio, Blackstock Road's relatively recently opened and still indecently goldfish-bowl-like restaurant, albeit via Italian satellite TV rather than on Prem Plus (I'm told some readers are taking as much of an interest in the gastro side of this column as in the sporting one, so thought I'd mention that quickly). One time penalty shootout hero Dudek, returned to the side for his first league start this season due to Reina's suspension, did ok at the back, but Liverpool's attack was truly dire, Morientes and Fowler ambling aimlessly around the pitch with no real effect to show that they were both relatively recently effective goalscorers. Instead, Liverpool got their goal due to Sami Hyypia's reluctance to retreat back downfield and subsequent opportunism in shooting past Pollit, who really should have done better with the shot (thus reinforcing the primacy of defender theme we started with). Wigan therefore find themselves stuck annoyingly on 39 points, one short of the supposed safety mark (though with Sunderland's performance this year, that might be enough anyway), and they didn't seem too happy not to have had their only fit striker, Henri Camara, back from Africa for this game (apparently he was shopping in Paris!).

It was comedy capers time at Goodison and Villa Park, the Toffees winning by a goal to nil over Blackburn (a Beattie header from a needlessly Savage-conceded free kick, with a further three goals chalked off for offside) and staying on top all the way through the game despite having had their 3rd choice keeper sent off inside 10 minutes for forgetting that you can't pick the ball up outside the area, and the Toon holding on for dear life despite Babayaro's dismissal (Given, by then warmed up, saving everything including Baros's rather rubbish penalty).

West Brom manager Bryan Robson never was the sort to be comfortable going cottaging, but even he must have had better times of it than his team suffered away at Fulham on Saturday, where Kevin Campbell's late goal for the visitors did nothing to dull the pain of the home side's half dozen. At Fratton Park, on the other hand, the Man United fans had the double joy of seeing a comprehensive 3-1 win over Pompey (in marked contrast to recent seasons) and only a short drive back home to Surrey. They'll have a longer trip next weekend, ironically enough having to drive past Manchester, as they go to Anfield for the pick of the 5th round FA Cup ties.

Famously free of all such frivolous cup distractions, Spurs fans were given the ideal opportunity on Sunday to exploit Arsenal's Saturday stalemate as they travelled to league whipping boys Sunderland. The game was notable for two debut substitute appearances for a Mr D Murphy. D for Danny, replacing Davids for already-ahead Spurs, had received a booking within three minutes of coming on, while D for Daryl, Sunderland's sub for the tiring Lawrence, took just a little longer to go into the ref's notebook, but did so in happier circumstances, since he scored the equaliser with a minute of regular time remaining.

One Mr A Mido, who unlike certain other players had taken the trouble to dash back from Egypt to prove how indispensable he is to Martin Jol, if not necessarily to his national team coach, also came on as a late sub but was unable to get past the Sunderland defence (which, having been breached 44 times in its previous games, is not exactly impregnable). In case you think I'm being cruel, I should explain that I mention this here only in conjunction with the peril of rashly dispatched text messages and the one particular eejit who sent me one at half time saying “We're pulling away from you goons now, Mido's gunner get ya...” You know who you are (and I'm still laughing, by the way, because I only saw the message after the full time whistle), since I was putting up some shelves at the time!

For the same reason, I didn't actually see Man City v Charlton late this afternoon, but by all accounts it was a cracking game, eventually won 3-2 by the home side including goals from one-time Tottenham targets Samaras (on his debut also, no less) and Barton.

All this construction work reminds me that in closing I must just have a chuckle at anyone who really thought that the FA Cup final was going to be at Wembley this year. I read this weekend that it's now officially impossible for this to happen, since even if they improbably get all the seats in by then (and some of the optional features, like grass on the pitch – CFC take note!), there is now no chance of the fire alarms being fully fitted by end-March, as would be required for the ground to host its warm-up events and get a safety certificate in time. So Cardiff it is then for the lucky followers of whichever teams make it there this season – seeing the Millennium Stadium packed out for the rugby this afternoon almost (but not quite) brought a tear to my eye... the FA Cup weekend to come, and in particular the outcome of that Liverpool-Man U tie, will be pretty key, but for once I'll be watching as a near neutral. It doesn't seem natural, somehow...