In the space of just one week, Arsenal’s entire season has come undone. The team failed to get a valuable away goal against PSV Eindhoven last week, which may signify their Champions League demise. Last night the youngsters couldn’t overcome Blackburn Rovers despite numerous chances to put the game away, and the same young side lost the Carling Cup Final — undeservedly so — this past Sunday. For all intents and purposes, Arsenal’s season may be over.
Sure, Arsenal’s youngsters such as Denilson, Traore, Clichy, Aliadiere, Walcott and others have learned a lot this season and gained valuable playing time, but at what cost to Arsenal the club? I don’t think it was worth it to have a stronger side next season when they could have won the Carling Cup Final this year. And they could have easily made it to the semifinal stages of the FA Cup if they had fielded a first team against Blackburn and had presumably beaten Manchester City in the quarterfinals.
Sure, Arsenal’s youth had taken the side through the FA Cup and Carling Cup up until now, but it should have been the first team that had taken it from here with a smaller mixture of younger players instead. Arsene Wenger, give the youngsters the credit of taking Arsenal this far, but don’t jeopardize your only chances of winning silverware just because you’re stubborn.
In the FA Cup match replay last night in Ewood Park, it was a similar story for Arsenal. Chance after chance came their way to put Blackburn out of their misery. In the first half alone, Aliadiere knocked the ball too far ahead of himself in the penalty area when he could have controlled it better in front of the approaching Brad Friedel. Julio Baptista had a couple of clear cut chances, one of which was a header that sailed over the bar. And Freddie Ljungberg miscontrolled the ball on the outside of the penalty area, which otherwise would have led to a one-on-one against Friedel.
Credit has to go to Blackburn and especially Benni McCarthy for showing the Gunners how to take advantage of a goalscoring opportunity. McCarthy drove his right footed shot into the far corner of the goal in front of the delirious fans in the Blackburn Road End Stand. It was a gorgeous goal to end a dire match in which Rovers did well to stifle Arsenal’s midfield especially in the second half where Mark Hughes changed formations and switched from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2.
Arsenal now has to concentrate on the Premiership and Champions League starting with Saturday’s home match against Reading and next week’s crucial Champions League second leg against PSV. Both of these matches will be a true test of Arsenal’s grit. If Reading can achieve a shock result at the Emirates against a wounded Arsenal side this Saturday, it will put Arsenal’s fourth place position into jeopardy. It’s vital that the Gunners take advantage of their goalscoring opportunities. That’s the lesson they need to learn this season, whether it’s the youngsters or the first team on the pitch.