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Sunday 25 February 2007

Tantalizing Fear Of The Unknown

To use an apposite yiddish expression, I can imagine Arsène will be absolutely "kvelling" with pride in Cardiff tomorrow, leading out his gaggle of fearless Young Guns.

When you think of the stick Le Prof has taken in the past for belittling a Mickey Mouse tournament, which had already been long since devalued by its turnover of assorted sponsors, Wenger is certainly entitled to a wry smile. In truth it's only been the boss' concerted policy to make this competition the Gunners' proving ground, that's actually put some meaningful oomph back into this fast flagging tourney, giving it a renewed lease of life, with a unique and totally distinct flavour; which for this particular Gooner, has made each successive Carling Cup game the most desirable and enjoyable "must see" encounters of the season.

Consequently, having been privilged to have been amongst the hardy Gooner core who've enjoyed such amazing knife-edge entertainment as the penalty shoot triumph against Doncaster up at Belle Vue last season and the astonishingly audacious footie witnessed on our away trips, against increasingly obdurate opponents in this year's competition, you can't possibly imagine the painful irony of watching on the box tomorrow, as 20 odd thousand relative Johnny-come lately's get to enjoy the culmination of this long journey, with it's much deserved fruit of a Cardiff final. Sadly I finally relinquished our precious Cup Final tickets earlier this evening, with great reluctance. I was torn between the dread of them ending up going to waste and the delusion that I might rise from the dead in the morning, dose myself up on the old Beechams and make sufficiently a miraculous recovery from the lurgy that's afflicted me these past few days, to jump in the car and drive to Cardiff.

However an attempt to take Treacle for a walk around the block turned out to be a sufficient a reality check to make me realise that it would be enough of an effort to get around to our own ground and I'm still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I'm still far too "Tom" for a long trip to Wales. So for all those of you who are fortunate to be going tomorrow, but who didn't earn your Carling Cup stripes on long schleps to WBA, Everton etc in the earlier rounds, then at the very least you owe me the small mercy of making yourselves heard in the Millennium, so that I might sit here, wrapped up warm, but envious as hell of all those making me feel proud, with a loud a distinct reminder to Wales and the rest of the watching world that there really is only "One team in London"!

We had planned of making a weekend of it in Wales, as we've often done for previous finals, taking the dog with us and staying on the seaside somewhere West of Cardiff. Usually my main motivation for such an outing would be so that we might avoid the much detested queues of traffic trying to escape back East immediately after the game. Additionally by making a weekend of it, it means that the result isn't quite the be all and end all, which I have to admit was more of a consideration than usual in this particular case, as I am sure even the most blinkered amongst us would agree that it wouldn't be that much of a shock if it should prove that some of the wiser old war-horses amongst the Gobby One's squad possess sufficient big game experience to somehow sneak a single goal win, through the slightest chinks of immaturity in what one imagines will be a sheer wall of youthful red & white enthusiasm.

I'm sure that if the dog was blessed with such an intellect as to realise, Treacle would be gutted that she's missed out on a rare chance for a much loved romp in the breaking waves along the beach, but thankfully the inclement weather means that we've not really missed out on much as far as our weekend break was concerned. However as kick-off time draws ever closer, I'm finding it increasingly hard to come to accept the fact that I won't be present tomorrow, to savour such a memorable day in person, as I have done with every other final we've been involved in over the past umpteen years. Will I be any less devastated if we don't win? Or more likely I'll be left feeling totally disgusted with myself, my absence being the principal factor in me being personally cuplable for the wrong outcome.

In truth winning will probably be just as hard to cope with, as I'm going to be absolutely gutted watching the resulting celebrations, doubtless with the inevitable ad break interfering with the most memorable scenes, as Rona and I are left with only ourselves and Treacle to hug. Worst of all will the fact that I will have likely set some sort of unimaginable precedent, which will mean I might have to end up banishing myself from every final that the Arsenal should make in the future!

However never mind my individual, petty problems (in the grand scheme of all things Gooner), without doubt the most wonderful aspect to tomorrow's encounter, is that the Arsenal will end up winners, no matter what minor twists and turns fate has in store for events on the pitch. Obviously like every other Arsenal fan it will be scant consolation if the kids should end up getting beat and I'd be lying if I said I'd be any less gutted about going down to a more experienced Blues side. However ultimately it's the incredibly propitious legacy for the future, promised from our appearances in this season's Carling Cup that is the prinicipal prize we'll be bringing back from the Millennium, as it's going to prove so much more valuable to us than a mere (basically pretty worthless!) silver pot!

Similarly it's going to be nearly as much fun knowing that Mourinho's mob are on a hiding to nothing, no matter which way the Cardiff cookie crumbles, as if they win, they'll only be doing what's expected of them and if they end up being undone by all that youthful vitality, it's going to be so unbelievably embarrassing for them. If karma has anything to do with it and we should be celebrating come the final whistle, amongst the many poignant images, I can picture one Ashley Cole, waiting to collect his losers medal, wishing he (and his mobile) might be swallowed up by his own a**ehole! And based on what we've seen of the likes of Denilson, Traore and co. to date, you'd truly have to be some sort of mug punter to actually back against the "unbelievable belief" that Arsène has instilled in his latest bunch of debutantes!!

Meanwhile tomorrow's titanic duel has a decidedly delicious "je ne sais quoi" about it, where Arsène has this joyful advantage over his arrogant opposite number. In normal circumstances, in the build up to such a big game both managers would know more or less what they will have to deal with, how to prepare, where the principal contests will be that will decide the outcome. However, how marvelous is it that in this instance the loudmouthed one is at such a complete loss, where Almunia apart, Mourinho can't be 100 per cent certain who will appear and in what position! Does it get more tantalising?

Even before events in Porto evened up the odds a little in our favour, it was obvious Mr Full Of Himself was fretting. After all what other possible excuse could Mourinho have had for making such a drastic statement as to commit himself to being in Roman's thrall for the remainder of his professional career? And if that wasn't obvious enough evidence of Mourinho's desperate efforts to rally his overpaid Chelsea stars, you only had to see the TV shots of him actually hugging Peter Kenyon, to know the man was resorting to clutching at straws, if he was trying to present a unified front with this snivelling changeling

We might be in a similarly disadvantageous position when it comes to predicting our eventual starting line-up. But the crucial difference is that whether we end up watching Denilson's delicate promptings, or it's Cesc who ends up conducting the Arsenal's orchestra, as far as we are concerned it really doesn't matter. We know full well that whoever is fortunate enough to end up getting the first team nod, as they have done in every other Carling Cup game to date, from one to eleven, they're going to enjoy the occasion and do their utmost to make the most of such a great opportunity.

As anyone present at the earlier rounds can testify, it may be the lack of quite so much pressure involved when playing such a youthful side, but there's been an element of fun involved in our Carling Cup games which sadly isn't possible when all the big guns are playing. And this fun has found expression in the sort of entertaining, indomitable football which has been an absolute joy for us punters in the stands, winning all due admiration from fans of both persuasions (obviously except our extremly bitter North London neighbours!). So no matter how far the Blues get in their efforts to grind out a result, hopefully at least one half of the Millennium Stadium is to be treated to a marvelous afternoon of the beautiful game, as it was always meant to beheld.

Wish I Woz There
Come on you Reds

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