Cardiff was still a pain to get to but our parking spot a mere 400 yards from the Stadium came up trumps again for our mid-day arrival and eventual quick getaway. The pitch looked crap but played pretty well, if anything I thought its early slipperiness aided our slick passing game. Arsenal kicked off and gave as many players a first touch as was possible. Our early play was most encouraging and improved as we settled much the quicker of the two sides. My first thought was how refreshing to see two teams playing a final in their proper colours. My second thought was that we were looking seriously good in the early stages. There was no big stage fright and a passing game that swung quickly through the gears. An early cross by Fabregas was taken well by Cech, a sign of things to come.
A good move from Arsenal resulted in a low shot from Cesc but was caught low by the keeper wearing headgear most appropriate for a rugby pitch. The Beast also had a shot well saved. Just twelve minutes in and a clever ball around the edge of the box from Diaby found Walcott on a well timed run and before we knew it his cool and deliberate finish had us all celebrating Theo's first goal for the Club. 1-0 Arsenal.
Arsenal continued to press, the Chavs persisted with the long ball. Ballack resorted to tripping Denilson and when Walcott put a ball through for Baptista our penalty appeals looked justified from where I sat in the Upper tier above the Royal Box. There was a crucial block from Senderos but soon after this a diagonal ball from Ballack to Drogba saw him slip the ball past Almunia for the equaliser from what looked to be an offside position. Texts to the stadium from TV viewers confirmed our view and pundits begged to differ. You see them given, you see them not given and the arguments about offside decisions will no doubt still be raging long after Theo's retirement bash. It was 1-1 no matter what we thought it ought to be.
The Chavs then, annoyingly were actually flagged offside a couple of times in between which Cesc had a shot blocked and Lumphard had a shot come hoof go nowhere. Another fine block by Senderos on Chavchenko. Denilson was carded for a foul on Essien, which given what Essien got away with in this match was very rough justice. Something that Denilson pointed out to Webb every time he was axed. A great run by Traore saw him weave his way into the box but he ended the run with a limp right-footed shot. Cesc to Baptista but Cech got there first. 'Where were you when you were shit' The noise was pretty good in our block and seemed fairly consistent throughout the Stadium. Essien studs into Baptista's chest and you could tell he feared a red card, I thought this particular one was more by accident than design, not so many of his other fouls. And accident or not it clearly hurt.
One annoying aspect at Cardiff is that despite the two big screens, which are incidentally pretty crap compared to ours, there are no instant replays. At half time I noticed numerous banners including BHP EN1 Gooners (please get in touch) and the Turkish Cypriot flag that caused so much aggro earlier in the season (please don't get in touch). I assume no one else spotted this one because I saw no bodies being chucked off the upper tier.
Robben came on at the break, I'm guessing because even the Chavs felt they ought to play some football at some point in the game. Great tackle by Cesc on the £30m flop in our box. Robben started his runs and Chelski looked a different team. A foul on Denilson and we took a quick free kick which provided Diaby with a great chance which was well saved. The Chavs hoofed clear to maintain their consistency and trip by Carvalho on Aliadiere earned a yellow card. Baptista found Ballack's head in the Chelski wall from the free kick.
An angled shot past the far post by Cesc, who was here there and everywhere, had most Gooners ooohing, me included. Robben cut in and shot over. Another cynical trip, this one by Diarra on Diaby got a deserved yellow card. Kolo stopped Lumphard in his tracks before Lumphard was caught offside in their next move. Diaby had a great run and was looking our best player at this point. Almunia was struck by a coin and then there was a total accident as Diaby kicked Terry in the face. He was spark out. Gary Lewin reached him first and was joined by stretcher bearers, the Chelsea physio, doctors and a second neck-brace stretcher. Terry was down for ages and Diaby was clearly effected and also appeared to be hurt. When Terry was finally stretchered off his replacement was Mikel.
A great take by Almunia at the other end. Chelsea started diving now, Drogba and Robben being the main culprits. Robben on the left with a fine cross and Drogba got ahead of Senderos to head home. Great header and 2-1 to the Chavs and ten minutes of celebrating later we got to kick off. Robben with an elbow on Cesc and Walcott with a deflected shot that was saved. Another piece of stunt work from Robben earned Eboue a yellow card which he didn't appreciate.
Timewasting was rife and Chavchenko had a shot that hit the bar. Seven minutes added time and it all kicked off when Kolo had his shirt pulled off his back by Mikel. What really happened next will be decided by the F A. But it included quite a few handbags a slow motion action replay of a flop to the deck by Bridge, Maureen Yo sticking his oar in, red cards for Kolo and Mikel and Adebayor who went apeshit at this perceived injustice. His exit was on the advice of the lino who couldn't tell the difference between a 25 and a 27 shirt. So how useful will his evidence be in the inevitable F A stitch up? Yellow cards were also dolled out to Cesc and Fat Frankie. And after all that it was an Arsenal free kick. If Webb had stepped in quickly and booked Mikel in the first place, as he should, it might not have all kicked off. That said it was really dumb for any Arsenal players to get wound up or join in at a point in the game where the Chavs were goading us to lose our control. It's how Maureen Yo's teams play their football and we have to live with it no matter how snide it might be.
So we lost the game and our heads. But I'm seriously proud of the youngsters, its going to be a fantastic future for Arsenal, we play the best football there is to be see anywhere on the planet, but we really do need to score more goals. We had the Chavs on then ropes for a while but couldn't put the ball in the onion bag. Beautiful football is a joy, but at the end of the day its about scoring more goals and what happens in the present that counts. That said I can't wait for this young side to grow together, there will be a lot of brown shorts up against them in the future.
I suppose in many ways its almost an Arsenal tradition to have a team grow up via a major punch up. It's been that way since McLintock's time and who am I to knock tradition at the Arsenal. But the whole flare up was quite clearly stupid because it played into the Chavs hands.
This season has been and still is transitional. Any youngsters wanting to play for a big Club will now be assured that if they come to Arsenal and do well they can play in finals even before they become first team regulars. Any big player bought in also knows that he can play in font of regular 60,000 crowds every other week. We may be a Club in transition but we are a Club with a seriously brilliant future and I can't wait for it to happen.