The way I see it - Arsenal v Reading

Last updated : 02 March 2007 By Jason Hogan
I'll get to the issues surrounding our defeats at the hands of PSV and Blackburn a little later. I want to reflect first of all on the Carling Cup Final against the Phoney Russian Franchise last Sunday.

Now, I've had my fair share of things to be proud of down the years as a Gooner over the last 20 years or so but watching the team walk out that day was right up there with all the things I have seen over the years.

I never thought I would see the day when the Arsenal took to the pitch in a cup final with a team consisting of two 17-year olds and two 19-year olds, a total of seven players under the age of 23 and ten under the age of 26.

That's what Arsene decided to go with on the day and even now, I salute him for doing it. It's alright for the so-called traditionalists to say that we devalued the competition. It's okay for our detractors to say this and that about us being arrogant and disdainful in our approach towards a cup final. Well, I think it's a sad day when it becomes wrong for a manager to show faith and belief in the players who got them to the final in the first place.

Having made it his policy to bolster the first team squad with young players and utilise them in the way he has, Arsene would have looked like a hypocrite if he then turned round and put out a team full of senior players. Can you imagine the message that would have sent out to the likes of Diaby or Denilson if they were left out on Sunday?

In any case, what are our young players going to learn more from? Playing against the likes of Lampard, Ballack and Makelele in Carling Cup final or playing against a bunch of stiffs consisting mostly of players who will be lucky to get a sniff of first team football on a cold wet windy night at Underhill? It's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned.

It's alright for people to constantly lie in wait for us to fail and be quick to point out all the things we have not done from one season to the next. I'm used to that and accept as being all part of the game.

But some of our detractors really do miss the point about what is going on at our football club. Why should we start panicking in the wake of all the criticism that comes our way? Why should we even be concerned about not winning silverware? Put things into perspective. There are teams in the Premiership that have gone 30 or 40 years without doing that. And, let's not forget that our poorer relations up the Seven Sisters Road have only won one trophy in the last 16 years.

As I have said time and again, the reality for Arsenal is a simple one. We have to play the longer game. It's almost as if people look at the PRF and accept them as being part of the norm in the Premiership. Well they are damn well not part of the norm. We are.

We are not a club run like the PRF who have spent the last three years acquiring the most expensive quick fix solutions they can lay their hands on. We cannot go round buying players for £20-30 million at the drop of a hat and leave them sitting on the bench or sitting in the stand as and when we feel like it. And we cannot post pre-tax losses of 80 million or more every season and still operate as a sustainable club.

We are in a position where we have to live in the real world and effectively play the longer game in the pursuit of success and the team we picked on Sunday was indicative of that process.

Did we win the game on Sunday? No, of course we didn't but for me that's not the point. The key point I'm trying to make in all of this is very much the same as I often made in the past year or so and that is, as an Arsenal fan, I don't really care about the PRF and how they operate. They may be the benchmark for matters on the pitch but there is not exactly much to admire about what they do as an entity (I refuse to call them a club) off it.

That's why I am prepared to play that longer game. Because, if I know one damn thing, it is that we will not go 50 bloody years without becoming champions of this country again - and it's not going to take some takeover by some faceless foreign multi-millionaire or billionaire to put us there.

Yes, as Moaninho reliably informed us all after the final, football is all about winning. But surely that's an easy thing for someone like him to say when he has had the advantage of building a team with no financial restrictions (up until recently) and no need to make any compromises.

Indeed, I would lay everything I owned on the fact that he also thought it would have been a far more routine exercise than it actually was and I believe that was part of the reason why he came out with his post match jibe about our youth policy and the suggestion that Arsene is not under pressure to win trophies.

Moaninho knows that he is fast approaching a crossroads as manager at the PRF and I saw his comments as a way of trying to make the best of what was in reality a no-win situation for him, his team and his club.

Many Arsenal fans would have been obviously upset about seeing us lose to the PRF again. But personally, I was not feeling sorry for myself as a fan. I didn't even feel any sadness at seeing Lampard lift the cup for them in the absence of John Terry.

I was upset purely for our younger players who had played some of the best football I've seen from us in Wenger's time at the club, particularly in the first half, only to end up coming away with nothing. They were what the game was all about for me. They deserved so much more on the day and there's not a man alive who that can make me believe anything different.

Our defeat on Sunday didn't come without a cost though, did it? I would prefer to call the happenings at the end of Sunday's game a scuffle rather than an all out brawl. In any case, we have been the ones who have come out of it with the most damage in terms of subsequent suspensions.

I was really disappointed with the whole episode because it took away from what we had done on the day and took the shine off what was a courageous and reasonably distinguished performance.

Kolo lost his head in a manner that I thought I would never see and the rest was history. Mind you, I'm glad that Eboue got caught and was punished. From a discipline standpoint, the boy has been riding for a fall for a long time with some of his antics of late and he really needs to have a look at himself.

As for Adebayor, well he is an unfortunate victim of double jeopardy. Not only was he sent off incorrectly for perceived foul play, he has since been carpeted for the fact that he was incensed at what was a clear injustice. The sad thing is that there is strong chance that Adebayor will end up with an even longer ban once the half-wits at the FA have got to work. There really is no justice sometimes is there?

Speaking about injustices brings me nicely round to Wednesday nights events at Ewood Park. Whilst I was philosophical about what happened on Sunday, I was seriously pissed off about what happened against Blackburn.

Who was it that said the big clubs get the rub of the green? Who says Graham Poll is an Arsenal fan? What happened on Wednesday night made a complete mockery of those widely held views.

Looking at the two penalty shouts I suppose the first one when Aliadiere tangled with Friedel was borderline but as for the second incident in which Freddie was hauled to the ground? Well, it was as clear a penalty as you can get.

Even so, we had more than enough chances to have won the game. Julio Baptista would have scored at least two goals on the night if he had shown an ounce of conviction in front of goal and Freddie miscontrolled the ball when he was clean through.

That was only the half of it but, just as it was the week before in Eindhoven we got done by the proverbial sucker punch. Blackburn, having not made a single chance in the first game at The Grove, were almost as bad in the replay.

The only chance they created all night was when Morten Gamst Pedersen got free on the left side of the box after an hour and blazed his shot high and wide from an angle. But Benny McCarthy came on late on and took advantage of Arsene's bizarre decision to switch Senderos rather than Gallas to right back to thrash home the winner.

I just couldn't believe that history had virtually repeated itself again a week after what happened in Eindhoven the Wednesday before. Is our season on the verge of grinding to an abrupt halt? With all the injuries and suspensions that are racking up, even I'm finding it difficult to see light at the end of tunnel at the present time.

Still, life goes on and we do have a league game this weekend and the next visitors to The Grove are Reading.

I think that the highest compliment I can pay to Steve Coppell and his men is to say that I'm not surprised at all about the fact that they are in the top six.

From the first day of the season, I had the feeling that Reading would have a good season in the Premiership and although we beat them at their place back in October, it didn't alter my belief that they would finish in the top eight this season.

I love the way this lot play. They play with so much more width than most other teams in the Premiership, they love getting crosses into the opponent's box and to me they are one the teams that genuinely plays as a unit.

As for the players to look out for well, I am a big fan of Kevin Doyle. The boy has only just come back from injury recently but from what I've seen his all round play up front is as good as ever.

Leroy Lita has come on leaps and bounds as a striker and after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Dave Kitson is back in the fold too. Kitson also happens to be a lifelong Spud so you can bet he will be champing at the bit to play on Saturday.

But for me the danger man will possibly be Glenn Little who has forced his way back into the first team picture after being out of favour for most of the season. He is an old fashioned winger who reminds me a lot of Chris Waddle in sense that he is very deceptive.

It's going to be a really difficult afternoon all round for Arsenal on Saturday. Reading are a good side in their own right make no mistake about that and in his own quiet manner, I bet Steve Coppell will tell his players that this is a good time to be going to The Grove.

I really don't know what to say about the game from our point of view. We could do with the victory for more than one reason but with us down to the bare bones and morale being sapped it's hard for me at this time to make any firm calls on how this game will go. I think I'm going to have to keep everything crossed tomorrow. We are going to need all the luck we can get.