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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 15 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Feb 28, 2007

Promise and potential

Blackburn 1-0 Arsenal

Promise and pragmatism are two very different concepts and, for the second time in four days, the latter triumphed at the expense of Arsenal. This was the match where misdemeanours and exhaustion finally caught up with them and Arsene Wenger's side have now exited both domestic cup competitions; unless they win the Champions League, they will go a second successive season without silverware.

But whereas they provided a showcase of their youthful talent against Chelsea - as well as some abiding images of their loss of control - they exited the FA Cup in rather less memorable fashion.

Blackburn are likely to disagree after a wonderful strike from Benni McCarthy delivered victory to ensure progress to a very winnable quarter-final against Manchester City. For the second successive game, Arsenal were arguably the better team; once again, they lost to clinical finishing.

It was evidence Blackburn boasted the greater strength in depth, if the criteria is the players on the bench.

The pass for McCarthy's winner was provided by his fellow replacement, David Dunn, before the South African cut inside Philippe Senderos, a makeshift right-back, to unleash an unstoppable shot. The duo had arrived in a double substitution. 'It's a goal of class and quality and he's capable of that,' said Hughes. 'What a good decision from the manager to bring him on as an impact player.'

Dunn's introduction added an element of unpredictability, indicating why he has earned Wenger's approval as a player. It was also a rare offensive move.

'Both sides possibly cancelled each other out,' added Hughes but he had the attacking options on the bench. Wenger only had one, Theo Walcott.

That is, in part, a consequence of the Carling Cup final. With Jeremie Aliadiere ineffective in attack, Arsenal had cause to lament the suspension Emmanuel Adebayor incurred on Sunday.

'We are disappointed,' said Wenger, whose complaints are with Sunday's officials and the FA, rather than his players. 'What is disappointing is that we lost players on Sunday for three or four games. Tonight, Adebayor would have played. I personally don't agree with the compliance committee.

'They have a very selective view. I don't agree with the report of the linesman because for me, he lies.

'I feel Adebayor didn't punch anybody. So when the linesman says he punches [Frank] Lampard, he lies. I would like to ask Lampard. It is a coincidence that you have 20 men who had a brawl and only the Arsenal players were guilty.'

In total, Arsenal were shorn of 10 first-teamers - it is an indication of Wenger's belief that players require rest that he omitted Cesc Fabregas even with seven injuries and two suspensions - but, finally, it told. Victories at Everton, Liverpool and Bolton were accomplished in the cup competitions without their full complement of first-choice players. This was a game too far.

These days, the very mention of Arsenal evokes images of free-flowing fluent football. This was an unfortunate reversion to the days when they were considered dull. Finally, absentees and a heavy workload have disrupted their rhythm.

Such slick passing as they produced came from Denilson with Fabregas' understudy looking a worthy deputy. He provided the perceptive ball that Fredrik Ljungberg, on a trademark angled run infield, met with an unusually poor pass to squander one of the few presentable opportunities.

The other Arsenal player to excel, albeit only for the first hour, was Senderos. Always more comfortable when not confronted by Didier Drogba, the Swiss made a series of well-timed interceptions before Wenger's reshuffle took effect. He went to right-back, where he was unable to halt McCarthy.

Blackburn had noted it. Hughes said: 'They had to make a change, so that's not his natural position. It was an opportunity to isolate him in wide areas in one versus ones. In those situations, Benni's as good as I've seen.'

Wenger said: 'I feel hard done because if you look what Blackburn created over the two games, it is difficult to go out. We are punished because we did not take our chances over two games and Blackburn took the only chance they created over 180 minutes.'

He had other complaints as the refereeing fraternity, after Arsenal added to Howard Webb's paperwork on Sunday, denied them again. Two penalty claims were made; both were refused.

The first was more optimistic, Aliadiere flicking the ball over the diving Brad Friedel and out of play as he tumbled. But when Brett Emerton tugged back Ljungberg, their case was stronger. 'They were quite reasonable ones. And in the first tie, there was a 100 percent one [for a Stephen Warnock tackle]. We should not be here tonight', moaned Wenger.

But they were and they lost. Their promise and potential may win Arsenal the FA Cup in future years, but not in this.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Christopher Samba
Throughout his time at Ewood Park, Hughes' signings have shown he is no mean judge of a player. The giant central defender, bought from Hertha Berlin, imposed himself throughout in a dominant display. 'I got him for something like £400,000. I think it's an extremely good bit of business,' Hughes added.

BLACKBURN VERDICT: They have kept four consecutive clean sheets and that is proof of their solidity. While their usual creators, Pedersen and David Bentley, were comparatively quiet, Dunn's display gave them some inventiveness in midfield in the final half-hour.

ARSENAL VERDICT: It is not often that they can be described as toothless but of all the unavailable players, the three absent strikers - Adebayor, Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry - were missed most. Aliadiere's was a performance to reopen debates about his future and, while Julio Baptista kept Brad Friedel occupied, it was with long-range shots.

WHERE'S YOUR PACE? About five Blackburn fans staged a distinctly unconvincing pitch impression on the final whistle. The Rovers stewards chased them around but lacked the speed to catch them before they returned to the stands. As races go, it was hardly compensated in entertainment what it lacked in pace.


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