In many ways we got a footballing lesson tonight from a much stronger Arsenal side than has played this round of the competition for some years. No problem with that at all; it is up to every Manager to decide who to play and after being well beaten in the competition last time round I understand why Mr Wenger names a decent side.
Both times Arsenal attacked the Paxton Road they showed us how to do it. In the first half they were classy providing an absolute exhibition as we spent most of the half ball watching and failing to compete. Quite how we were only one down at half time I’m not sure but thankfully we were. The simple facts were they could pass to a red shirt and unfortunately so could we. Time after time we conceded possession and allowed Arsenal to push the ball around the park.
Then in the first half of extra time they took the initiative right from the kick off and caught us asleep before falling over easily to win two penalties and then catching young Naughton napping for the fourth. The first penalty was awful and Bassong looked close to tears the second naive on our part. They don’t like the physical but they do like the cynical and overall they were by far the better team on the night.
Our second half performance was better and Keane scored a goal that the keeper should have saved to give us a lifeline. Frankly he was more offside than two flags Arsenal got in the first so we had some luck. Keane’s introduction gave us some extra impetus and maybe a bit of leadership that we lacked in the first half. Giovani gave way plus Livermore for Lennon and we gave ourselves a much better chance in our best period of the game. Keane also hit a post from a Bentley free kick but chances were few and far between.
So how did our boys fair? Pletikosa was ok but flapped at a cross poorly and kicked through to the other keeper on more than one occasion. Naughton was shown up more than once and the ball for goals came from the right side for the first and he was asleep for the fourth.
Caulker was welcomed to the big stage and probably learned a lot tonight. He played because no other option existed and it was a big ask. He got done for the third penalty and the first goal went through him to the back post but he did do quite well in the second half.
Bassong had a decent game and took the skippers arm band for the night. In truth he is a better supporting centre back than leading one so to skipper the side was a big ask and that may be one issue with our squad the natural leader on the field.
Assou-Ekotto is a constant worry as he tries to dribble his way out of defence. One day he is going to get caught and it will be costly.
Bentley had his first game since his injury and was slow at the start but improved and finished the first half with some decent forays under his belt. But he drifted in the second half and was probably exhausted at the end. He also missed hitting the target with a free header in extra time at the back post which would have got one back.
Livermore was withdrawn at half time and played in the centre first half. Won possession but gave it away and did not impress that he has enough about him to nick a place in the first 11. Why is it that so many home grown players are not up to making the grade leaving us to sign our stars? Perhaps he will prove me wrong but not on this performance.
Palacios was out right in the first half away and out of the action. Still sloppy and often uncomfortable in possession he looked better after the half time changes but still needs to recover his best form.
What is it about Giovani? A hero for his country but a nothing when it comes to domestic games. He worked hard and tried hard to win the ball but nothing seemed to be happening for him. I can’t see him being around that much longer.
Sandro took a few minutes to pick up the pace of the game but once he did he looked better and better and better. I could see the Socrates suggestion in his running style and height and this performance suggests he can do things for us. Went off in extra time and probably shocked at the pace of the game played tonight. We will see him again this season.
And Pav ran about, wide and deep but in front of goal up front with his strike partner? Not really. For me it was a typical Pav performance, not very super at all and with few opportunities to produce anything special. His lack of aerial threat is an issue if the ball is not coming to feet. For me at best an impact substitute.
Lennon played the second half and continued his run of low confidence. I’m not sure how he will correct this at present. It has been suggested he might be a bit sulky as Bale is playing so well and everything is going down the left but that should provide him with better chances as all the markers move out left.
And Niko came on at the end and did not get much chance to impress. Not sure what has happened here as Harry is not going to him. I fancied he would get a game tonight and was surprised he featured so little. Don’t really understand it but he doesn’t look that cheery either at the moment.
Final comments, firstly it was sad to see so many blue seats during extra time but well done to those who stayed and sang at the end.
When will Glenn Hoddle learn to not keep talking up our squad against those of our nearest rivals just before the game. Yes it looks good on paper but paper never won games and we have to put up with extra stick as a result of it.
We’re out of the Carling Cup in an embarrassing scoreline which was not the intention. Lose the game by all means but the manner of the first extra time period leaves a bad taste for those of us who had enjoyed the 90 minutes.
Lastly, it was good to see the minutes applause observed by both sets of fans before the kick off and nice to see those members of Bobby Smith’s family who stood with the former players pitch side and got a bit of the atmosphere he had told them about. May you rest in peace.