The Observer, Paul Wilson: "Arsenal’s supposed resurgence was put into perspective when they were faced down by more determined opponents and clobbered by a late strike from Didier Drogba that took Chelsea to the FA Cup final. This was the first time in more than 60 years that Chelsea had prevailed against Arsenal in the Cup, but Arsène Wenger’s players only had themselves to blame."
Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White: "The winner, coming just six minutes from the end was vintage Drogba. Frank Lampard’s volleyed ball over the top looked harmless enough until Drogba started pounding across the turf. Mikael Silvestre was shrugged off with ease en route, as the Chelsea striker shifted the ball around the on-rushing Lukasz Fabianski with his right foot before steering it into the empty net with his left."
Independent on Sunday, Steve Tongue: "Lightning, and Didier Drogba, struck twice here as Chelsea repeated their victory from behind over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final of two years ago. Once again the excellent Theo Walcott scored the opening goal, only for his club’s Nemesis to defeat them in the last 10 minutes. It was the Ivorian’s eighth goal in nine games against Arsenal, climaxing another of his outstanding performances under Guus Hiddink, who has found the means of motivating him denied to some of his predecessors."
Sunday Times, Jonathan Northcroft: "Chelsea might yet also have Champions League final in the season’s final week and Arsenal could be their opponents. Should these teams meet in Rome, its Olympic Stadium would be glad to showcase a red-corner-blue-corner slugfest, the kind of which Wembley staged. The biggest crowd to attend a match at this stage of the competition saw one of the FA Cup’s best recent semi-finals."
Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: "We’re going back to Wembley at the end of May after coming from behind to defeat Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final."
Having conceded seven goals in the space of 180 minutes and in the process, having your keeper’s confidence shattered isn’t really the best preparation to be heading into a match against Arsenal who are possibly the form team in the country over the past few months (apart from us of course). The build up has inevitably centred around Cech and his recent troubles, a keeper who has now got his Hilario impression down to a tee. We all know that he hasn’t become a bad keeper overnight but just a nervous one. He appears hesitant and anxious when coming for any high ball or cross, which against a physical and direct side could prove costly but I felt that today was the perfect opportunity for him to return to his best against a team who refuse to play a long ball. Arsenal are definitely a side on the up in recent weeks but ever since Jose came along, I have felt strangely at ease whenever we play them. They are a small and technical side who are full of young players and are able to produce some bits of magic in front of goal when on form. But they’re physically weak and contain a few awful players in my opinion such as Diaby, Denilson and Bendtner. Plus the fact that they’re going through a defensive crisis means we had no reason to fear them.
Another controversial talking point has been the decision to host the semi-final at Wembley. On one side have been the traditionalists, walking around in a state of shock at the thought of having to travel to Wembley for a semi-final. Wembley to them should only be a place for cup finals (and Charity Shields, international qualifiers, friendly matches, rock concerts, the Race of Champions…), but apart from these events, a place for Finals. On the other side are the realists, who know that Wembley needs to be making money and staging as many events as possible is the only way that can happen. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. Having a 90,000 seater stadium on offer enables more of the fans to see their side but staging two semi-finals at Wembley in two days means we have to have a worse pitch. The pitch has to last up to 240 minutes in two days if it goes to extra time and so they leave the grass too long, resulting in a slow and rather dull spectacle. I’ve thought that ever since our FA Cup final win in 2007, where the game was held at walking pace and every other club game at Wembley has been pretty slow. But going to Wembley is still a special occasion and all of us hoped it would be a better game than our last visit when we lost to Spurs. An improvement on that performance and a more relaxed game were what most fans would have taken after two life-threatening matches in the past week for those with a heart condition.
With all the attention on Cech and our leaky defence, few people seem to acknowledge how dangerous we are going forward under Hiddink. We’ve scored 11 times in the past three matches, so we shouldn’t have any trouble attacking a makeshift Arsenal defence and apart from the rollercoaster nature of recent matches, we’ve been playing some brilliant stuff so there hasn’t been any need for Guus to make any drastic changes. Our new 4-2-3-1 shape may have been leaking goals but we’ve been winning so why change it? Guus decided to keep Alex in the starting XI to combat the height and power of Adebayor and brought in Anelka for Kalou after the Ivorian’s dismal showing against Liverpool. I was a little worried that the Alex-Terry combination would struggle against the pace of Walcott and Van Persie but in Guus we trust, so I instead happily looked on at Arsenal’s starting XI. I was fearing an Arsenal front line of Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Van Persie and Adebayor but Wenger strangely went for a cautious 4-2-3-1 with Diaby and Denilson taking the place of Nasri and Arshavin. I thought this would be a costly mistake as the best way to play Chelsea at the moment is to attack us as our defence is lacking confidence, so seeing Wenger pick a defensive side with Van Persie being forced onto the left wing and a back four containing Eboue, Silvestre and Gibbs made me even more relaxed, especially considering Drogba’s awesome record against them. Arsenal games aren’t that nerve racking anymore and so I sat back getting ready to enjoy what should be a routine win.
The opening of the match was a cagey affair with both sides slowly settling into the occasion. Both sets of fans were creating a great atmosphere but after a while it all settled down and I felt it was rather subdued. There was almost an anti-climactic air around the ground with fans instead looking forward to glamorous ties in the Champions League. Perhaps that’s a little harsh but Wembley hasn’t yet found its place in English football. Everything’s a little dull and a little too corporate and has never got near that famous day in 1997 when we beat Middlesbrough with flags waving and fans being in a party atmosphere. We all know the problems England have had in creating an atmosphere at Wembley when playing international football and perhaps that apathy towards the football on show has carried on to these club fixtures. Or maybe it was just that the football was a little slow in the opening stages with the pitch playing a large part in the slow tempo being exhibited by both sides. The game did burst into life with Drogba showing his power against Arsenal’s patched up defence and heading the ball past a hapless Fabianski, only for Gibbs to clear off the line. But Arsenal were passing the ball around well and their good play was rewarded with the first goal of the game. Adebayor held the ball up on the left wing and played the ball into Gibbs’ feet inside our penalty box. Gibbs was allowed to run forward with Anelka ball watching and he chipped over a cross for Walcott to volley home. Some may have blamed Cech with him appearing to stretch his hands under the ball but it was a crucial deflection off Ashley Cole which diverted the ball home. Not exactly the best start for our fragile defence. That goal seemed to wake us up after another sloppy start and we began to control the game. Our midfield was dominating the game as we continued to keep the ball and Arsenal were offering little apart from the pace of Walcott. Malouda was also seeing a lot of the ball and was looking impressive on the left wing when up against the frankly useless Eboue. And it would be Malouda who rightly levelled the game as a reward for our domination. Lampard sent over a lovely 50 yard cross field pass, which seems routine for him nowadays, Malouda controlled the ball with his left, dragged it inside and fired it past Fabianski at his near post. It was the least we deserved and it was right that Malouda scored as he was one of our most impressive performers in this half. For the remainder of the half, we drove forward looking for the second. Guus made a subtle change to our shape, rearranging the team into a 4-3-3 with Ballack in the holding role, thus unleashing Essien to power forward. We were pressing Arsenal into errors high up the pitch and with Essien, Malouda and Drogba surrounding Diaby in the box, the ball broke for Anelka to curl a lovely shot from the edge of the box onto the post. Usually when this dominance fails to result in goals, one would get worried that it’s ‘just not your day.’ But I was still strangely relaxed, just waiting for the second to come. Walcott’s pace was posing Ashley a problem at left-back on a couple of occasions but his final ball was poor. He has the potential to be a great player but needs to avoid becoming the next Wright-Phillips. The half ended with us again pushing forward but failing to score. We looked dangerous with nine shots, five of which were on target, in this half but it ended 1-1.
The second period began to an absurdly empty stadium. Both ends were full but the corporate seats appeared deserted with many apparently choosing a good prawn sandwich over the football on offer. It was another nervy start with both sides giving the ball away frequently. Arsenal began to keep the ball, something they failed to do in the first half and we were struggling to create many chances. Then Lampard won the ball off the lanky and cumbersome Diaby, sent the ball forward to Anelka who returned it to Frank only for Toure to block his goal bound effort. We appeared to be concentrating on counter attacking in this half, deciding to draw Arsenal onto us and exploit the space left in behind them. We had a couple of breakaways but our final ball was poor with Anelka being the main culprit. But we exploded into life, just like we did in the first half with a brilliant one-touch passing move between Ashley, Didier and Frank. Didier cut it back to Frank after collecting Ashley’s through ball but Frank’s volley went wide of Fabianski’s near post. We continued to push for the winner but few chances were being created and both managers decided to make changes. Arshavin and Bendtner came on for the anonymous Van Persie and Adebayor (£35m for him? Yeah right) whilst Kalou came on for the disappointing Anelka. It looked as if we would be heading to extra-time and possibly penalties but then we put together a great move to score a classic Chelsea winner. A defensive header from Ashley landed at Essien’s feet who fed Frank. He played a trademark first time ball over the top, reminiscent of the Jose days, which found Didier who outmuscled their two centre-backs, rounded Fabainski and drilled it home. It was a brilliant and classic Chelsea goal. It was billed as Didier vs. Adebayor but there was only one winner today. A pathetic yellow from the ref for Didier’s celebration though! It was a late second and we professionally closed the game out for what was a routine victory. After the crazy goings on of the past week this was a relaxed win with it being our first FA Cup victory over Arsenal since 1947 and we thoroughly deserved it. With better finishing it could have been four or five but instead it was a very professional job from our experienced lads against their naïve kids. The final whistle saw our lads dancing in the middle of pitch but the director instead decided to concentrate on an Arsenal kid in the stands who was crying his eyes out whilst punching the seat in frustration. It was a strange end to a very normal day.
- Florent Malouda. Another very good performance from him on the left wing. He looks like a new player under Guus and perhaps he does have a future at Chelsea. He’s improved his final ball and is even putting in a lot more effort, the best example was when he tracked back to close down Walcott with Ashley out of position, outmuscled him and then brought the ball forward. Perhaps he’s not that useless after all.
- Midfield three. After a sloppy start, they dominated the rest of the game and if they stay fit, will prove a great test for Barca’s midfield of Toure, Iniesta and Xavi. Our midfield is experienced, powerful and have goals in them and easily outplayed Arsenal’s small and technical trio. Anyone seen Mikel or Deco lately as they’re nowhere near getting a place in this starting XI.
- Frank Lampard. May not have scored but two assists and another brilliant performance. Who cares if the PFA idiots don’t recognise his achievements, we all know that he’s the best midfielder in the world.
- Didier Drogba. Terrorised Arsenal again and scored again under Guus. The real Drogba is well and truly back.
- Petr Cech. No heart-stopping flaps at crosses, so well done Petr.
- Guus Hiddink. His decision to move Ballack into the holding role, thus allowing Essien to rampage forward was a great, yet subtle tactical switch.
- Arsenal. Apart from their goal and a few Walcott runs, they offered nothing. A rather pathetic showing from them for a semi-final. Why Wenger didn’t pick Arshavin, I’ll never know.
- Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor. Anonymous and were frankly awful.
- Our final ball. It was poor in the second half and with more composure we could have won this game by three or four goals. Anelka isn’t a winger and it’s strange that Malouda has now become our untouchable winger ahead of Kalou and Anelka. I wonder who’ll be given the right wing spot in the Nou Camp to mark Henry?
- Slow starts. We were sloppy at the beginning of both halves and it’ll be costly if we repeat it at the Nou Camp.
- ITV’s coverage. Just watching the highlights now and for an hour long programme, we saw precious little football. The commentary was again poor, but it’s ITV so why should I expect anything different apart from shit coverage?
- Petr Cech – 7/10 – I’ll give him a 7 because he appeared more confident than the past two games.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 6/10 – A crunching challenge against Van Persie aside, he was always in control and I’d pick him ahead of Bosingwa from now on.
- John Terry – 6/10 – His pace was exposed on a couple of occasions by Walcott but he didn’t put a foot wrong and his sheer presence gave Cech a little more confidence.
- Alex – 6/10 – He may be my pet hate but he’s doing alright at the moment. No errors from him but we’ll need Carvalho’s pace at the Nou Camp.
- Ashley Cole – 7/10 – Was really up for it and had a tough task in containing Walcott but there’s no better left-back in the world and kept Walcott quiet for much of the game.
- Michael Ballack – 7/10 – His experience has been crucial of late and it was again on show today. He was twice surrounded by players on the edge of our box and instead of panicking; he simply tumbled over at the perfect time to win a cheap free-kick. He may be slowing but he’s still a class act.
- Frank Lampard – 8/10 – Another great performance but he always does it so few of us are surprised. Two assists and helped control midfield. Seems to enjoy his new position further up the pitch.
- Michael Essien – 7/10 – Once unleashed from the Makelele role, we began to see the real Essien. He’s so good wherever he plays that he’ll probably end up at left-back in the Nou Camp (a disastrous decision in my book) but he plays best as a box-to-box monster who can outmuscle anybody.
- Nicolas Anelka – 5/10 – I know 5 is harsh for someone who hit the post and was on the winning side but he was ball watching for Arsenal’s goal and offered nothing in the second half. Our right wing is definitely up for grabs at the moment.
- Florent Malouda – 8/10 – Another very good performance from the rejuvenated Frenchman. He looks something like the world class player he became at Lyon.
- Didier Drogba – 8/10 – A few sloppy touches in the second half but his hold up play was crucial and we always knew he’d score didn’t we? With him and Frank we can beat anybody.
- Guus Hiddink – 9/10 – Was always in control and his tactical tweaks were brilliant. He doesn’t like to make too many subs which is strange for a manager but it’s good that he’s keeping a settled side and his final game in charge will be a Cup final. Not too bad for a caretaker.
Man of the Match
It’s between Didier, Lamps and Malouda. Didier was again in monstrous form but I’ll give it to Malouda. He’s been ridiculed and laughed at by the fans but he looks like a new player under Guus and was great today.
As I said earlier, today’s win was routine and that was just what the doctor ordered after two crazy games. I did say that Arsenal were perhaps the form team in the country and the fact that we easily disposed of them bodes well for the Nou Camp. We were always in control and under Guus, I’m always confident that we’ll create chances. Lessons do appear to have been learnt after the shambolic defending of Wednesday night and everything’s looking rosy as the end of the season draws nearer. A possible treble? Why not? We’re playing well at the moment and if we tighten up at the back we can beat anybody. Bring on Messi!
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!