The way I see it - Arsenal v Middlesbrough

Last updated : 20 January 2004 By Jason Hogan

I watched the Villa game on Premiership Plus and presenter Marcus Buckland was doing the Villa fans proud after the game as he bitterly carped on at studio guest George Graham about the incidents that led to Arsenal's win at such length, I was almost embarrassed for the guy. I got the feeling that George himself was a little embarrassed given that he made it quite clear that he was having absolutely none of what Buckland had to say.

Let's get one thing straight. I'm no fan of Mark Halsey and ironically enough I let out a groan of frustration at first when I realised that he was officiating. Yet, in spite of all that I think that he got virtually all the key decisions right during the game not least the ones that led to us gaining three precious points.

I'm not going to waste too much time getting into the ins and outs of what happened. They have already been well chronicled in Monday's newspapers and the futile debates that have arisen in the media as a result will no doubt run and run.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if David O'Leary becomes central to any ongoing "debate" either. What is it with this guy? To say his post match comments were pretty rich was the understatement of the year. When he was in charge of Leeds, I don't remember him lambasting the referee when Ian Harte did to us what Henry did to his Villa side.

When the Sky reporter reminded O'Leary of what Harte did to us, he snapped that what happened that day had no relevance to what happened on Sunday. Well David, if the two incidents are not relevant to each other then are you insinuating that what Harte did to us was all fine and dandy yet not acceptable when it happens to a team under his own stewardship?

All I can say to you, O'Leary, is that you have blatantly insulted your own limited intelligence in front of a national audience and purely out of embarrassment, I wouldn't want to be you for all the tea in China right now.

I think that it's best at this point for me to channel my energy into giving the lads a huge amount of credit for managing to come through unscathed from an assignment that proved to be every bit as tricky as I, for one, thought it would be.

Hand on heart I can honestly say that I was impressed with Villa when they played us at Highbury back in September and I have to admit that I was impressed with the spirit they showed on Sunday.

O' Leary had targeted a top 10 finish for Villa this season and on the evidence of what I saw on Sunday that is not beyond them that's for sure.

However I always felt that we had a little bit extra to call upon if needed and I thought that we won, all things considered you understand, with a little bit to spare and when you take into account the fact that we had taken full advantage of the failings of our so-called title rivals for once, the victory was all the sweeter. 9i

It is possible of course that we could meet Villa again in the Carling Cup Final at the end of February but first we need to get past Boro.

Steve McLaren's men have certainly been involved in some seriously eventful matches as of late. We all know what happened when we met them in the league game but in a way that was nothing compared to what went on at the Riverside on Saturday.

I have to say that the highlights of Boro's match against Leicester were the most farcical I have seen in a long, long time. Talk about a comedy of errors and I tell you something for nothing; it's a miracle that Leicester boss Micky Adams hasn't thrown himself under a bus after watching his team surrender yet another advantageous situation. There they were cruising at 3-1 up against a hitherto hapless Boro only to concede twice in stoppage time. Amazing, just amazing.

For their part, Boro have now conceded seven goals in their last two matches and although we are likely to have a weakened side out against them on Tuesday night optimism in the Arsenal ranks should be high.

Boro should be able to call on the services of Mendieta and possibly Michael Ricketts, neither of whom were available for the league game and I wouldn't be surprised if Juninho starts this time around as well so they should carry more of an offensive threat.

Nevertheless, I would really love to see the youngsters pull off a result over the course of this tie and get themselves to Cardiff. As well as being a massive achievement it would really do wonders for their long-term prospects at Highbury.

Arsene Wenger has been waiting a long time for the youth academy to bear fruit. The next 180 minutes or so of Carling Cup football could determine whether or not that wait is over.