Diaby, Baptista, Aliadiere in Spurs test

CARLING will hope for Arsenal-Chelsea final.

If it’s Chelsea-Arsenal in Cardiff on Sunday February 25, it’s quite a big final.

If it’s Chelsea-Spurs it’s not so big, although, obviously, Martin Jol wouldn’t agree. He needs a trophy, and if not a trophy, a final.

But that’s what I think ; The Carling Cup Final would be bigger with Arsenal, but it’s bigger for Spurs.

Does Arsene Wenger really want be there?

Well, he doesn’t have to decide today. The second leg is on January 31.

Even if Spurs win at the Lane, they will not win by a margin that makes the second leg academic. So it’s a decision he can postpone till after his FA Cup tie against Bolton this Sunday. He has the same luxury that Jose Mourinho had after that 1-1 draw at Wycombe. As Mourinho said, we hsave the insurance of the second leg. And last night they thumped Wycombe 4-0 with Shevchenko and Lampard scoring two each.

The heroes of the 6-3 win at Anfield were Baptista and Aliadiere but the whole team played well and in the quick-passing style which the manager wants all his young teams, right through the club, to employ.

The quicker you pass, the harder you are to tackle, and the if you pass accurately as well as quickly, you will create chances.It’s a team game and if your teamwork has a dimension that other lack, they won’t be able to cope with the way you play, so you have a very good chance of winning, as long as you concentrate at the back and don’t give up silly goals.

Tonight Arsene looks likely to field Diaby, Hoyte, Baptista, Walcott, Denilson and company, a broadly similar side to the one he used at Anfield.

 SPURS are still without their best player, Ledley King.

Dimitar Berbatov, the Bulgarian dancing master, has played his best games in the Uefa Cup, and this is a big game for him. Arsenal will not give him many chances, so he must bury anything that comes his way.

Winger Aaron Lennon gave Senderos and Clichy big problems last season.

By the time Cardiff comes round, Ledley might even be fit and playing well. If he was, Spurs might be able to give Chelsea a game

The League-Littlewoods-CocaCola-Carling Cup has not been hugely important to England’s biggest clubs in recent decades, but it has had its moments.

David Pleat has written a good piece in The Guardian today about the epic 1987 semi, which went to a replay at the Lane, when Spurs won the first game, led in the second game, led in the third game but eventually lost to a dramatic goal by the fiery David Rocastle.

Those games provided some of my most vivid memories of the George Graham era. Football often goes against you and I recall George’s downbeat humour about the Spurs goal at Highbury, when two Spurs players were offside. George was a much better loser than Arsene Wenger – braver, funnier, more dignified.

Steve Williams started 34 league games that season, Mickey Thomas 11. But Williams was suspended for the Spurs semi. If Arsenal l lost, he wouldn’t be at Wembley. But if they won at WHL without him, he was eligible for the final, which was a big final because it was against Liverpool, the best team in England by far.

Williams was a brilliant No.4 who did not sustain his form very well but when he was good he was awesome : a natural gladiator who was steely, phenomenally skilful, an imaginative passer.

When Rocky scored near the end of this pulsating, deafening drama, and when the final whistle went, Williams, who had been sitting two yards in front of the press box, was ecstatic. He jumped up and ran onto the pitch in his black leather overcoat.

Arsenal always did it the hard way and Williams must have suffered far, far more watching that replay than he would have done if he had been playing. He had not helped his mates, but they had helped him… by winning the game.

Steve Williams played against Liverpool in the final and was majestic, the best player at Wembley that day. Ian Rush scored and Liverpool had never lost when Rush had scored the first goal but then Charlie Nicholas scored twice to give George the first of his six trophies as Arsenal manager.

Yes, March 4, 1987 at White Hart Lane, was a thrilling, noisy, dramatic night of football – and it had the right result.

A similar 2-1 victory tonight IS a tall order, since Arsenal are fielding a reserve side against the Spurs first team.

Arsene would never be rude about the Carling Cup in public, as Rafa Benitez was, but privately he must think these games are a distraction.

What’s French for, “Am I bovvered?”


PS Wednesday 6.25 pm:

American- Nigerian reader K.Dogogo asks what this phrase means.

It’s the catchphrase of British TV comedienne Catherine Tate.

It means, “Do I care?”

That is, “Am I bothered?”

Arthur Bradley adds :

If Arsene wanted to show his contempt for the League Cup in his native language, Myles, he would probably do it with the wonderful all-purpose French expression ‘Bof!’ (normally accompanied with a gallic shrug and a faint pout). When Douglas Coupland’s early 90s slacker novel Generation X was translated into French the title they chose was none other than Generation Bof !