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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea

Walcott, 18 Malouda, 33
Drogba, 84

The vultures arrived at Wembley expecting to pick the flesh from Petr Cech's reputation, but it was birthday boy Lukasz Fabianski who offered up his own carcass, blundering in the late stages and costing his side a place in the FA Cup Final. Cech, whose discomfort with high balls was not exploited until the final moments, will be relieved to have finally escaped a game without being blamed for anything. Fabianski, on the other hand, was inconsolable. This was not how he wanted to spend his birthday.

"We have to lift his confidence," said Arsene Wenger afterwards. "He will feel guilty, but you cannot blame any individual. You want the whole team to focus and respond. I believe he is a great goalkeeper, but maybe today was not his best of days."

On Wednesday against Villarreal, Fabianski had impressed by surging forward out of his penalty area to clear up the Spanish side's long, probing passes. It's a crucial skill that requires a combination of bravery and judgement. Unfortunately for the young Pole, he'd arrived at Wembley without any of the latter. He was almost caught out in the first half when he was beaten to a header outside the box by Didier Drogba. When Frank Lampard's superb long ball sent Drogba galloping in on goal, Fabianski helped out by sprinting off his line and running straight past him.

Wenger was right though, he wasn't the only reason that Arsenal disappointed. Of Arsenal's front line players, only Theo Walcott could have been happy with his performance. Emmanuel Adebayor was anonymous, Robin van Persie seemed isolated and the midfield three of Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby and Denilson was confused, incoherent and muscled off the ball too regularly. Arsenal's natural passing game was not aided by an appalling pitch that sent even the simplest, straightest passes off course.

"It is not a pitch fit for a stadium built for that money," growled Wenger, the purist's purist. "It's laughable, the quality is a disaster. It's not flat."

Guus Hiddink, perhaps with a touch of gamesmanship, didn't agree.

"It was good to play," he said carefully. "We don't like to talk about it, you know, like the pitch is bad if we lose and if we win, it is good. It was fine."

It wasn't. The state of the pitch meant that a smooth passing game was impossible for either side. The match was littered with errors as the ball skipped and danced off the surface. The national stadium is fast becoming a national embarrassment.

Chelsea were certainly the better side, but only after a worrying first 15 minutes. Hiddink admitted afterwards that he was taken by surprise by the Arsenal starting line-up, but his players adjusted quickly. Frank Lampard was in his usual exquisite form and Drogba was a constant menace. Even Florent Malouda looked vibrant, testament to the motivational powers of the caretaker manager.

In the press conference afterwards, there was talk of a Chelsea treble, a scenario that Hiddink said would require a lot of champagne to celebrate properly. Let's be honest though, it would take a lot of champagne before you could even consider it a possibility. An FA Cup Final isn't a bad start though, and it was certainly worth at least one drink in the dressing room. The Dutchman reiterated his intention to return to Russia at the end of the season, but if he can deliver Chelsea just one trophy before that, he'll always be remembered fondly in West London. Not quite as fondly as Fabianksi perhaps, but that's another story.

LUCKY - How did Denilson manage to survive laying his hands on referee Martin Atkinson? Furious at the decision to award a free-kick for a soft challenge on Frank Lampard, Denilson sprinted over to the referee and pushed him in the chest. Most officials would have taken instant action, but Atkinson thought that a yellow would suffice.

STUPIDEST MOVE - I should have waited much longer before leaving Wembley. When 90,000 rival supporters all arrive at a tube station at once, sparks fly. In modern football, trouble only tends to find those who seek it, but that's no consolation if you're standing inbetween them while they look for it. Surely there's a way to split them up?

WEAK DEFENCE - With so many injuries, something had to give at the back. Kieran Gibbs gave a fine performance, but his colleagues struggled to keep up, especially Emmnauel Eboue, who gave a risible display. Poor old Arsenal never had much of a chance.

PUNTER'S RANT - Where did Arsenal go after they scored? If you backed the Gunners for victory, you'd have been distraught at the way they shriveled up after taking the lead. In the second half, they barely had a shot on target. Just when you think they're back to their best, they go and do this!

MAN OF THE MATCH - Every Frank Lampard pass seemed to scream, "Look at me! 40 yards and I'll land on his shoelaces, you just watch!" The only man not to be affected by playing on a freshly ploughed field, Lampard was far and away the best player on the pitch. Try telling that to the PFA though.


Crowd - 88,103
Yellow Cards - Denilson, Toure (Arsenal), Ivanovic, Ballack, Drogba (Chelsea)
Red Cards -
Arsenal -
Lukasz Fabianski (rating - 4), Abou Diaby 6, Cesc Fabregas 6, Kolo Toure 6, Robin van Persie 6 (Andrey Arshavin 6, 75th), Theo Walcott 7, Denilson 5 (Samir Nasri 6, 86th), Mikael Silvestre 6, Emmanuel Adebayor 5 (Nicklas Bendtner 6, 83rd), Emmanuel Eboue 5, Kieran Gibbs 7
Chelsea -
Petr Cech 6, Branislav Ivanovic 6, Ashley Cole 6, Michael Essien 7, Frank Lampard 8, Didier Drogba 8, Michael Ballack 7, Florent Malouda 7, John Terry 8, Alex 7, Nicolas Anelka 7 (Salomon Kalou 6, 82nd)