SUNDAY 8TH APRIL, 2001
AXA FA CUP SEMI-FINAL
(at Old Trafford)
ARSENAL 2 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (1)
Referee:- Graham Poll
Arsenal (4-4-2):- Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams (Capt.), Silvinho; Parlour, Lauren, Vieira, Pires (sub Ljungberg, 760; Wiltord (sub Cole, 89), Henry
Subs not used:- Manninger; Luzhny; Kanu
Booked:- Vieira (Foul), Henry
Spurs (3-4-2-1):- Sullivan; Perry, Campbell (Capt - Sub King, 38), Doherty; Carr, Sherwood, Clemence (sub Thelwell, 79), Young; Rebrov, Iversen; Ferdinand (sub Leonhardsen, 55)
Subs not used:- Walker; Korsten
Booked:- Perry, Campbell, Clemence (all fouls)
It was relentless. In a cup final atmosphere, Spurs equalled a record they would rather ignore. For the second time in their history they have lost four consecutive semi-finals. For the first time in 60 years they have not won anything "in the year ending in one". The record they will want to eradicate as soon as possible is going 2-1 down in the three semi-finals over the last ten years to our hated enemies. The return of so many players did not alter the result that the reserves achieved last week at Highbury. If anything - that weakened side gave a more creditable performance.
Critics and analysts may be on Glenn Hoddle's back already. Rather than play the side that won at West Ham, he obviously tried to do his own thing in the short time available to him. Was it desperation or tactical nous that meant he changed things radically during the game? Did he take a gamble on too many players being fit after injury? These and other issues are up for debate, but it does not alter the fact that we could so easily have been slated today, if not for more super saves from Sullivan, several miracle tackles from Perry, and some less than lethal finishing by Arsenal, who had at least three one on ones, which Sullivan won.
The build up was superb. Spurs fans took the high ground and outsung the opposition from the top of Sir Matt Busby way from as early as 10.30 am. We also outsung the opposition inside the ground, in my view. We were excited to see Stephen Carr present for the warm-up, but I was disappointed to see that Steffen Freund was absent. (He suffered a knee ligament injury on Friday, and I had an ultra-speculative bet on him to score!). Sol Campbell was also notable for his absence, but then the talisman made a late entrance to ecstatic applause, and also adulation by Stephen Carr! Ledley King did not get a start, and apparently, soon after he did replace Sol, he also suffered an injury, but gamely battled on. Perhaps Glenn will have recognised that King deserves to start any game now!
The pressure was applied from the kick-off, and from my position behind the goal at the Stretford End, it was frightening to see how sharp the Arsenal forwards were, and how our defenders struggled to close them down, and restrict their shooting chances. Wiltord had an early wide effort, after Silvinho, Pires and Vieira had provided the build-up. Henry got past Doherty and put a low cross shot past Sullivan, but fortunately the danger was cleared. Then Dixon was in the area, but fired straight at the goalie.
Somehow, Spurs took the lead after 13 minutes. Following a failed elaborate free kick involving Sherwood and Clemence, Spurs retrieved the initiative, and Sherwood sent a long ball in from the left. Ferdinand shot, and Seaman saved. The ball reached Iversen on the right of the box, whose shot was well wide, but was intercepted by an instinctive header from Gary Doherty, to score his third FA Cup goal this season.
Before long, Arsenal were threatening to equalise, and Stephen Clemence (having a less than impressive game today) gifted the ball to Pires in the middle. However, Pires was gracious enough to fire tamely at Neil Sullivan. Gary Doherty then over-committed in a tackle against Willtord, whose cross reached Parlour, who managed to miss contact in front of goal. Dixon had a second chance to score on the half-hour, when he arrived at the back post following work from Silvinho and Henry on the left. Dixon's shot was saved and the Spurs scramble to clear was somehow successful.
Sol Campbell got booked for obstructing Parlour as he flew down the right flank. In the process, our leader seemed to have aggravated his injury, but I have since learnt that this was a fresh injury to his other ankle. Sol was still getting treatment off the pitch when Pires took the kick, and Vieira floated in to glance a header easily past Sullivan for the all too predictable equaliser. Sol never recovered, and should have been replaced quicker.
Ledley King played on the left; Perry switched to the centre, and Doherty to the right of the back three. I should mention that from the start, Spurs seemed to be playing something like the "Christmas Tree" formation, with Ferdinand supported by Rebrov and Iversen. When Ferdinand was later substituted (and apparently he has tweaked a hamstring), his supporters moved up front, and Glenn tried the runners in the middle. However, in my view Leonhardsen was mostly absent, and Iversen was quite ineffective too.
Still in the first half, Parlour nodded the ball past Ledley, and got a shot in, that was just wide of the right post. Rebrov did manage a shot, after Clemence and Sherwood passed on a Carr throw, but Arsenal nearly took a half-time lead, when Clemence lost the ball to Henry, who put Wiltord in space on the left of the area. Somehow, the defence surrounded and prevented a shot.
There was no let-up after the interval, and most of the play was at the far end from the Spurs support, who tried valiantly to egg their team on, though they could see how hard their cause was. It is difficult to count the chances they had. Sullivan saved from Wiltord in yet another one on one, and he and Perry prevented other efforts finding the target. Doherty and King tried, and in the main succeeded in thwarting the attackers, but the defence had to crumble sometime. It hurts to say it, but Arsenal had more pace, skill, style, and class than us. Whenever we were on the ball (rarely), they seemed to have at least three players around us. When they won the ball, their runners were all over the place.
An Henry cross from the left was headed more or less at Sullivan by Parlour, but the lead came after 73 minutes. A Spurs attack broke down after a Carr cross, and Vieira got the better of Sherwood in the middle. The Arsenal number 4 (man of the match) found Wiltord, whose low cross found Pires with an open goal, and an easy score.
Spurs tried to respond with half chances for Young and Rebrov, but it was one way traffic, and only a question of whether we would restrict them to a one goal lead. Clemence was replaced by Thelwell, and Gary Doherty moved up, but it was all to no avail. The Spurs Odyssey for 2001 is over - perhaps I should rename the site 2010 - A Spurs Odyssey. However, I remain convinced that in the long term, Glenn Hoddle's appointment will be seen as the start of real success at the club.
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