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ARSE ON TILT

Villa will face Blackburn whilst Man City will face Man United in the 2 legged semi's to be played in January.

Wenger finds defeat hard to swallow

Phil McNulty
Thursday, 3 December 2009

Arsenal did not cover themselves in glory as they slipped tamely out of the Carling Cup at Manchester City - a defeat compounded by the post-match attitude of manager Arsene Wenger.

Wenger has had better weeks after watching both his team and football philosophy take heavy punishment as Chelsea brutally exposed his senior players at the Emirates and his youngsters were brushed aside at an atmospheric Eastlands on Wednesday.

But there was no excuse for his churlish refusal to shake hands with opposite number Mark Hughes at the conclusion of a quarter-final deservedly won by City, or his later public belittling of the tournament.

Wenger has lavished many gifts on the game since his arrival at Arsenal, but grace in defeat has not been one of them. This was the latest example of a darker side to his football personality.

City deserved all the praise and the spotlight after progressing to their first major semi-final in 28 years, and yet Wenger managed to offend Hughes and claim headlines by refusing to observe even the basic managerial protocol at the final whistle.

Hughes and Wenger had a difference of opinion on the touchline during the game

Hughes is not exactly behind the door when it comes to the finer points of technical area combat, but he had both the result and the moral high ground to himself thanks to Wenger turning on his heel and marching off in high dudgeon without acknowledging his victorious opposite number.

The dismissive and ironic wave Hughes aimed in Wenger's decision as he swept down the Eastlands tunnel only highlighted the pettiness of the Arsenal manager's gesture.

Wenger had already raised eyebrows with a refusal to accept Chelsea's supremacy in Sunday's 3-0 win at the Emirates, threatening to produce some form of statistical spreadsheet to confirm his theory, while insisting Didier Drogba had done little - apart from actually winning the game for Carlo Ancelotti's side.

Here, there was no statistic to turn to or refereeing error to debate - so sadly this most intellectual of managers and men was simply reduced to the status of a sore loser and, rather like his youthful and well beaten Arsenal team, it was not a pretty sight.

Wenger was spectacularly unrepentant under questioning later as he said: "I'm free to shake hands with who I want after the game."

And when asked whether it was not simple professional courtesy to do so, he responded: "I had no professional courtesy." Shoddy stuff.

Hughes believes what he regarded as a minor technical area spat in the first half was at the root of the rancour - but Wenger's reaction, like watching a fine wine turn sour, did him no credit.

Wenger was in equally unequivocal mood when I asked him about the worth of the Carling Cup to a manager who has not won a trophy since 2005 and yet appears happy to sacrifice the chance of a Wembley appearance for the sake of giving his young players experience.

He said: "We have not won a trophy since 2005 but I don't concede that if we win the Carling Cup we can then have a parade with the trophy. It is a competition for our young players. To play the quarter-final of the Champions League, or the semi-final or final, is 10 times more difficult than to win the Carling Cup."

The trouble is Arsenal have not won the Champions League either. Their supporters might actually enjoy the opportunity of a major Wembley final and Wenger's supply of silverware has not been so lavish recently that he can afford to be as picky. He is not exactly a beggar when it comes to winning trophies, but he has not had enough recent success to be a chooser either.

If Arsenal were to win the Carling Cup there is little doubt Wenger would produce it as a prime exhibit in the vindication of his devotion to developing young talent, so he should not denigrate it when they get knocked out.

Arsenal cannot live forever on promises of potential or jam tomorrow. By dismissing the Carling Cup in such a cavalier manner, Wenger is training his sights even more clearly on the Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup and recent evidence suggests at least two of those trophies are beyond the compass of his current squad.

Wenger has his methods and will not be moved from them, but recent performances suggest that while his principles hardly require consigning to the dustbin, they need a rethink if trophies are to return to Arsenal.

As I have written here before, I am a huge admirer of Wenger as a manager who wants the game played in a purist manner and has principles he adheres to fixedly. He is also a hugely engaging figure when dealing with the media, declining to dodge questions and with a great sense of humour.

He has, however, developed a reputation as someone who simply cannot take defeat and this was a particularly poor example.

Sir Alex Ferguson, to name but one of many we could identify, detests the very thought of losing and often reacts badly, but he can still bring himself to shake hands with the opposition manager. Imagine how Hughes himself must have felt when confronted by Ferguson after losing the Manchester derby in the sixth minute of stoppage time this season, but he still sought out his old manager.

Hughes was rightly delighted with City's performance, a positive and bristling effort that was in sharp contrast to the negativity and timidity of their recent display at Liverpool. And how they made a nonsense of Wenger's downgrading of the Carling Cup.

Forget the placing of flags on seats - City's hierarchy should be aware their wonderful fans do not need props to provoke their passion for the club - because there was no need for artificial stimulants. This was a night to savour for City as they saw a Wembley final come into sight once more.

The dimming of Eastlands' lights while a "Blue Moon" illuminated the stadium in the seconds before kick-off was a clever touch though, and had the desired dramatic effect.

City, in reality, had little trouble dealing with a young Arsenal team that showed little of the quality that Wenger hopes will mark them down as the new golden generation of the Emirates.

Craig Bellamy was in the sort of mood where he could cause a fight in an empty room, but harnessed all his emotion to the good. Shaun Wright-Phillips terrorised Arsenal down the right-flank and Emmanuel Adebayor set aside his personal differences with his old club to strain every sinew in his effort to provide a focal point for his new one.

Carlos Tevez's brilliant solo opener knocked the stuffing out of Arsenal and further strikes from Wright-Phillips and Vladimir Weiss gave the scoreline a flourish City deserved.

And then came the added bonus - or at least that is what Hughes said it was - of a two-legged semi-final meeting with Manchester United.

Dare Ferguson risk fielding a youthful side and risk giving the club he called "noisy neighbours" even more reason to have a party on his doorstep?

There was a lively bash at Eastlands at the final whistle on Wednesday - but Wenger left without even offering his best wishes to the host and in doing so did himself no favours.




Blackburn dumped Chelsea out of the Carling Cup in a penalty shoot-out to set up a semi-final with Aston Villa.


By Paul Fletcher

Blackburn 3 - 3 Chelsea
Blackburn win 4-3 on pens



Nikola Kalinic put Rovers ahead from six yards before a header from substitute Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou's finish sent Chelsea in front.

Hilario failed to deal with a deflected Brett Emerton cross and Benni McCarthy scored a penalty, but Paulo Ferreira levelled at 3-3 deep into extra-time.

Gael Kakuta missed the crucial spot kick as Rovers won the shoot-out 4-3.

The 18-year-old Kakuta, who Chelsea controversially signed from Lens, struck the ball straight at Paul Robinson, who had earlier sensationally tipped Michael Ballack's spot kick on to the post.

Premier League leaders Chelsea went into the tie unbeaten in nine games while Carlo Ancelotti's team had not conceded in their previous four matches.

But the Italian will not be winning the Carling Cup in his first season in English football after his team produced a largely below-par performance at Ewood Park.

After a disjointed first-half, the Londoners did improve, scoring twice in four minutes to take a 2-1 lead.

Ancelotti had made a bold triple substitution at half-time but when Kalou limped off midway through the second half, Chelsea were reduced to 10 men.

By that stage Rovers had levelled and went on to capitalise on their numerical advantage when McCarthy struck, but Chelsea's refusal to throw in the towel ensured the tie went the full distance.

The victory was be sweet revenge for Blackburn, who lost 5-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, and a real tonic for manager Sam Allardyce as he recovers from heart surgery.

There was certainly much to admire in an old-fashioned cup tie that started at a fast and frenetic piece, with both teams showing a willingness to attack from the opening whistle.

The lively Kalinic shot wide under pressure from Ferreira shortly before his ninth-minute opener.

It was a well-constructed goal that saw Morten Gamst Pedersen play in Pascal Chimbonda, who in turn drilled the ball low across the face of goal for Kalinic to slot home.

If it was a simple finish in the end by the Croatia international, he did well to get in front of Zhirkov.

Chelsea had been unusually wasteful in possession and struggled to create clear-cut openings. Even so, Kalou, Jon Obi Mikel, Joe Cole, Ballack and Zhirkov all either forced regulation saves from Robinson or missed the target before the break.

Kalou's miss was the most glaring, heading wide from six yards at the far post after an inviting cross from Juliano Belletti.

Ancelotti's thoughts on Chelsea's first-half performance were reflected in his decision to introduce Jeffrey Bruma, Kakuta and Drogba.

Drogba made an immediate impact after coming off the bench

Ivory Coast international Drogba had been spotted with a hot-water bottle as he watched from the dugout during the opening half but it did not take him long to get warmed-up.

On the pitch for just three minutes, Drogba climbed above Ryan Nelsen to head home Malouda's cross.

And after 52 minutes Chelsea took the lead when Zhirkov collected a loose ball and released Kalou, who closed in on goal with his first two touches before slotting the ball beyond Robinson.

There was a lengthy interruption following a nasty collision between Kakuta and Steven N'Zonzi but it did not holt Chelsea's momentum and Kalou should have added a third with a free header.

Rovers levelled when Kalinic attempted to head Emerton's deflected cross at the near post. It was difficult to conclude whether the Croatian actually touched the ball but either way it eluded Hilario.

Chelsea were reduced to 10 men when Kalou limped off and their dominance of the game was considerably reduced.

Rovers thought they had snatched a dramatic victory in injury-time but McCarthy's effort was ruled out for offside.

Kalinic then forced a good save from Hilario but Chelsea survived to take the match into extra-time.

Rovers pressure eventually told when the home team regained the lead from the penalty spot early in extra-time.

Zhirkov, who had a very mixed evening, clearly fouled substitute David Hoilett and McCarthy sent Hilario the wrong way from the penalty spot.

Ferreira equalised with just about the last action of extra time with a neat finish from a tight angle after Robinson had flapped at a cross.

But Rovers held their nerve in the penalty shoot-out to seal a place in the last four.


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