It seems there were unsold Semi Final tickets from both Clubs for this match. So why didn't ours go on general sale as I bet Sheffield United's did, and why was there such a lack of interest? Well yes it was a semi final - but so what? I can relate to fans who'd already shelled out £24 to see Arsenal beat Manure in the Cup at Old Trafford who couldn't be arsed. Why would they want to shell out £30, £40 or £50 to see Arsenal play a First Division team in the same competition when the match was live on TV? Like a number of recent semi finals it was quite hard to get excited about the prospect of a 400-mile round trip leaving very early on a Sunday morning, quite apart from the expense involved. Especially as it was not against, with no disrespect intended, one of the top teams. Sheffield United are a very decent club, but they're no Valencia, Roma or Ajax and they're hardly in the class of Clubs pressing for a Champions League place just yet. For many I'm sure it made sense to take the chance on a positive result and save the money for a decent night out and overnight stay in Cardiff. Most fans would rather have had a night out in the Ajax but we were not allowed to, thanks it would seem to police advise which curtailed the number of tickets available to travelling Gooners. How much difference those additional fans would have made supporting the team we'll never know but it might have been considerable.
The away support was vocal at Old Trollop but I've experienced better atmospheres away from home this season. Maybe it was the narrow pinching seats; maybe it was the assumption by some that it would be a walkover despite the fact that only a fool would assume any such thing because the Cup is the Cup is the Cup. Whatever the reason this match was no walkover. Seaman was back in goal for his 1000th first class match, Martin was back to partner Sol, Ash was back at left back, Edu joined Pat in midfield while Jeffers and Wiltord started up front. We played in gold but our performance was better when we played against Manure in the same competition.
'She wore, she wore a yellow ribbon, she wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May.' Our view from the high third tier of the North Stand was good as Arsenal attacked towards the United fans in a first half that was scrappy and not exactly setting the world on fire. Graham Poll awarded an iffy free kick against Parlour early on before Vieira, Ljungberg and Wiltord combined in an attempt to find Parlour that the keeper took quite easily. Keown joined in one particular early attack to no effect. Vieira was performing his usual magic despite Tonge hanging onto his shirt. Allison, Ndlovu and Kabba played as their three up front and very effective they were. Kabba used his weight and enjoyed backing in while the other two worked hard as the wide men.
We played in fits and starts as did Graham ****ing Poll. Parlour was flattened at one point but no foul given. Edu was elbowed in the head but it was just a free kick. Warnock's post match whinging was not justified as little teams are always allowed to kick big teams with impunity in matches such as this. Freddie changed his boots after about 12 minutes and this was one of the half's highlights. Allison backing in on Campbell before fouling Keown. Freddie gave away a free kick that was fired well over Seaman's head.
Jeffers took an elbow in the head from Page - just a free kick though. Vieira's usual driving power run looked class and almost put Wiltord away. Seaman needed to boot clear before Freddie sparked some life into the team with a tasty run that ended with a booking for Ginger McCall. Edu took it but we were caught offside. Edu was tripped again before Freddie showed the way to put the pressure on. A tricky cross in from wide was dealt with by Lauren with a clever header to clear for a corner that Dave punched clear.
United and their fans were seriously pissed off but there was no way Poll could have stopped play, the fat lumbering hulk didn't help their cause but neither did he set up the goal, as he did for Hasselbaink on one occasion for Chelsea. Vieira and McCall clashed and both needed treatment, as did Edu. By the time McCall chopped down Sylvain outside their box Edu had recovered enough to take a free kick that was not that far away from its target. More class followed from Paddy as he chipped a player in midfield and put Wiltord away but their keeper was quick off the mark. Ndlovu showed some class in the three minutes added time but all in all the half had been a major disappointment.
United were at us after the break and Brown did Vieira to earn a yellow, from this point on Pat was done. Freddie changed his shirt, I imagine he was wearing the wrong one, exciting stuff eh? Allison handled to get past Lauren but the thick Sheffield chumps behind their goal moaned like mad anyway. Wiltord, Jeffers and United then took it in turns to get caught offside before Ndlovu saw his shot saved. It was United who were asking the questions at this stage; such as do you really want to go to Cardiff? Mind if we hang onto your shirt? Why are we working harder than a Premiership side?
Page chopped Wiltord before the keeper was called upon to make a headed clearance outside his box. Pat limped off to be replaced by Gilberto and the captain's armband went to Dave. Pat was booed off by the ignorant Sheffield half-wits. A great move followed but ended with quite a tame shot from Wiltord that was an easy save. Parlour was in well but Silva wasted it before Freddie had an over ambitious shot from range that came to nothing. A double substitution for the Blades as Montgomery and Asaba replaced McCall and Allison, who I thought, had played well. There was some huffing and puffing from both teams but not a lot of football. Cole headed clear after some fine play by Sheffield down their left flank. Curtis, I think, fired over, difficult to even know who was on the pitch for Sheffield as black numbers on red and white stripes are absolutely useless from any distance and I was in the third tier!
Henry, on for Jeffers, was flagged offside when he quite clearly wasn't. Cole, penalised for dangerous play, saw them pump in another high ball from the free kick. It was at set plays that they threatened to do damage but we coped well enough at the back. After Parlour was flattened on the right Henry took the free kick which Edu headed down for Gilberto but It didn't quite find him. Page wanted Henry's shirt before the final whistle and did his best to remove it without consulting Thierry. A one on one chase involving Sol and some fast geezer in a red and white shirt, resulted in a free kick to us in the box. Their fans wanted a penalty; no surprise there then as they all appeared to be from the Warnock School of whinging.
After this we had a late spell where with Dennis and Henry looking the part we started to dissect their tiring defenders big time. Parlour and Bergkamp combined well. Freddie had a run obstructed. Denis and Thierry combined well to set up Freddie but his shot wasn't taken first time and was subsequently blocked. Henry and Freddie set up Dennis who fired wide. Parlour rode a couple of fouls to sling one in aimed at Henry. Three minutes added time and their keeper joined the attack but it looked silly as they kept defenders back still. Final whistle to a pretty crap game and we'll need to better if we are to beat the rather more important United.
Great to see Poll being booed off the pitch wasn't it? It's not often enough that Nationwide teams get to see the smug, grinning bar steward act like the tosser we at Highbury and elsewhere in the Premiership all know him to be.
Congratulations are due to all those involved in the 'Champions Section - extended area seat stickers - I judged it to be an unqualified success from our particular section with rows of stickers on seats, in the bogs, on signs everywhere, up and down the stairs on walls and just about everything with a flat surface,
I'm off to watch the highlights programme and to laugh at Poll taking out a Blade but more interestingly I have just go to see if Dave's save was stupendous or merely brilliant.