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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Manchester, so much to answer for

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

Suffer Little Children

Roberto Mancini may have been joking when he said perhaps Mario Balotelli should be "jailed" after his taunting of Manchester United's fans at Wembley but I reckon he's onto something. It might actually be a relief for the striker, given that he must live in constant fear of arrest by the fashion police anyway. Mind you, his crime this time around was winding up @rioferdy5, so perhaps a reward is more fitting - say a shopping spree with Phil Brown.

Super Mario had actually performed pretty well for a change, too, ignoring the constant sunshine and showers setting in his brain to perform the lone striker role with something approaching aplomb. Of course, his task was made easier by the red top in a red top who succumbs to a Balotelli-style red mist moment every few months. Paul Scholes has graced many a derby, but if this is to be his last ever involvement in one, it is a fitting epitaph as "Great player, can't tackle," neatly sums it up. Just ask Pablo Zabaleta's knee ligaments.

City had shaken off their first half malaise long before Scholes' assault, as had our television director, who seemed intent on forcing us watch the Roonatic watch the football in the opening period. Perhaps Dimitar Berbatov was momentarily dazzled by Wayne's shirt, tie and bright white track top combo, as he contrived to miss an open goal from three yards. After that it was the Yaya Toure show, as the match-winner dedicated his goal to his diet-pill-swilling brother.

If City were the noisy neighbours before Saturday, it'll be like living next door to a constantly-rehearsing Metallica for the red half of Manchester for the foreseeable future.

Potters melt Trotters

Perhaps someone should go and check the car park at Wembley to see if Bolton Wanderers players are still sitting motionless in their coach, because not one of them showed up for the semi-final on Sunday. If they are still there, perhaps they should be persuaded to trudge home via Madame Tussauds, so they can witness an accurate representation of their performance in North London.

They were swept aside and ripped asunder by Stoke - I repeat, Stoke, the club who reportedly asked for Wembley's arch to be raised before the game so it didn't interfere with their preferred style of play. In all fairness, though the long punts downfield and Rory Delap's quarterback bombs were still in evidence, so was some sparkling attacking football, as Matt Etherington, Robert Huth, Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters all scored goals worthy of the occasion.

The last time Stoke reached this stage, in 1972, they were robbed of victory over Arsenal thanks to a dodgy penalty and an offside howler from a bog-eyed linesman, which saw Charlie George played onside by an ice-cream seller ten yards behind the last Stoke defender. Ice cream sales in Stoke have plummeted in the 39 years since, but they'll be back on the menu in the Potteries now.

And if Stoke do manage to topple City, who they have lost to only once in the last six meetings, perhaps Gino Ginelli himself will present them with the trophy.

The final indignity

Given the amount of abuse they have suffered this season, it's about time someone started a group called Arsenal Anonymous, where people who have been persistently abused by the club they love can meet and share their burden in the company of like-minded individuals. I can just see it now: "My name is John and I'm an Arsenalaholic. I too believe it is all the referee's fault..."

My basic argument would be this: if you take the lead in the 98th minute and fail to win, you don't deserve the title. It might be simplistic, but I tell you what, its pretty bang on. All Emmanuel Eboue had to do was shepherd Lucas out of the area for roughly three more seconds and Liverpool would have been vanquished. Even the Gunnersaurus could have managed that. But when you have beaten only Leyton Orient and Blackpool in nearly two months, and gone 270 minutes between goals scored at home, blaming the officials, yet again, begins to look more than preposterous.

Arsene Wenger's response was utterly predictable and symptomatic of a deluded man one step away from a Michael Douglas-style 'Falling Down' moment. It's a wonder he is prompt for anything given his relationship with father time, as he wilfully ignored the stoppage caused by the award of his side's soft penalty, and subsequent celebrations, as well the time it took to organise the wall for Liverpool's late free kick. The eight minutes is a guide, Arsene, a guide.

He even wandered up the touchline to argue with Kenny Dalglish, as if he was expecting his counterpart to implore the officials to chalk off his side's late equaliser. The King's curt reply was a fitting way to bury this sorry saga once and for all.

The Bourne Anomaly

If they ever make a fourth Bourne film, which they absolutely should, perhaps Fernando Torres would be ideal for the lead role if Matt Damon doesn't fancy it. He's a misfiring multi-million dollar weapon, owned by one of the most distrusted organisations in the world, he goes about his business so discreetly that he often becomes nigh on invisible and he most definitely seems to be getting less ruthless with age.

Having successfully sabotaged Chelsea's Champions League dream at Old Trafford, and cheesed off the entire squad in the process, Torres stretched his goal drought to an impressive 871 minutes with his cameo at West Brom - about the length of time it takes me to explain the intricacies of cricket to Mrs TFO every April. There is now a serious case to be made for having a quid on Torres never scoring for Chelsea, if Carlo Ancelotti's summer replacement decides to liberate him from his enduring capital punishment.

There is a fetid aura circling the club at the minute. The owner is bewildered as to why his biggest single player investment in Chelsea has only served to bring their season to an abrupt halt, the manager is dangling on a tightrope as he tries to play Torres just enough so as not to anger Roman, but not too much that his season becomes a complete write off, the striker himself is thinking his price tag alone justifies his inclusion and the rest of the squad are thinking, "if he's worth £50m then I'm Pele'". Messy for the Blues, funny for the rest of us.

The dog's danglies

It was fine for the early part of the season when the pressure was off and Blackpool could play an open, flowing game with a smile on their faces complete with a jaunty post-match quip from Ian Holloway. But now, at the business end of their season, the Tangerines are proving themselves about as effective under pressure as a chocolate teapot.

Their home defeat to Wigan (who most people had written off as doomed long ago) came as such a shock that Ian Holloway suddenly turned in to The Dog Whisperer, as he delivered a Pedigree Chum inspired analogy about fighting for one's life at the foot of the table. "We are like a wounded animal and we know we are the dirtiest in the dog zone and we have to come out fighting for every scrap that is left," he barked, neglecting to mention they had just been out-snarled by the Premier League's version of the labradoodle.

So the next time Blackpool take to the field, expect to see Charlie Adam chasing his own tail around the centre circle, Richard Kingson taking a piddle on the goal post, DJ Campbell humping the corner flag and Holloway himself sniffing the fourth official's bum. Dirty dogs indeed.

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more followers on Twitter than Leon Knight at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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