(Arsenal win 5-3 on aggregate)
By Richard Clarke
Cardiff here we come.
Arsenal reached their first League Cup Final in 14 years with a fraught, frantic 3-1 win over Tottenham at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
Arsène Wenger's side had drawn 2-2 in the first leg at White Hart Lane last week and appeared to be through when Emmanuel Adebayor planted his shot past Paul Robinson in the 77th minute. However substitute Mido equalised with a close-range header five minutes from the end of normal time.
Arsenal wobbled in the dying seconds but, as they have proved so often in this run, Wenger's Young Guns have composure beyond their years. Jeremie Aliadiere, a veteran at 23, hooked home a second with the final kick of the first half of extra time. Seven minutes into the second period, Rosicky's shot bounced off the post - and then Pascal Chimbonda - before going in.
The sight of the assistant referee indicating to Alan Wiley that the ball had crossed the line was a blessed relief. It had been a night of unremitting tension.
However it ended wonderfully for Arsenal, who now meet Chelsea in the Final on February 25, and sealed perhaps the first truly historic win at Emirates Stadium.
As expected, Wenger stuck with the policy he had employed in the first leg - youngsters, squad players and first-teamers in equal measure. Julio Baptista, scorer of both Arsenal goals at White Hart Lane, was out with a groin injury so Adebayor came in up front. Gilberto returned after suspension therefore Cesc Fabregas was left on the bench. Otherwise the starting XI was exactly the same as the first leg.
For Tottenham, Aaron Lennon was surprisingly listed on the bench. It turned out the England winger had been taken ill just before the game.
Arsenal's youngsters had the weight of pressure on their shoulders for the first time in the competition. A greater than usual away allocation - the norm for Cup games - only added to a crackling atmosphere.
As at White Hart Lane, Tottenham held the initiative early on. Their first clear chance came in the 10th minute. Robbie Keane timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap and race through. But by the time he had collected the ball on the corner of the area, Almunia was upon him. The keeper not only smothered the Irishman's shot but also, chased him, tackled him and slid the ball out for a throw.
It acted as a wake up call for Arsenal. In the 14th minute Denilson's shot was fumbled by Paul Robinson and Kolo Toure was first to the follow-up. His connection was poor but the ball did bounce over the prostrate keeper only to trickle agonisingly wide.
Midway through the half Adebayor sent Walcott down the right and his cross was hooked past the far post by Aliadiere. The Togolese frontman then slashed a shot over the bar. Arsenal were starting to flex their muscles.
And there was no one more muscular than Abou Diaby. The 20-year-old's start in the first leg was his first in almost nine months. However his surging run and shot in the 36th minute suggested that nasty ankle injury was a thing of the past.
A couple of minutes later, Hossam Ghaly skipped past Traore on the right and Steed Malbranque send a stooping header just past the far post. A bad miss.
Arsenal regained their composure and, with it, a measure of control before the break. In injury time, Adebayor had space to turn in the area but his hurried shot flew high over the bar.
The second half began at breakneck pace. Tottenham now had added urgency, Arsenal had a little extra space. Seven minutes in, Denilson sent Walcott clear on the right and he drifted a shot over the bar.
The speed of the game combined with its importance was always going to lead to bookings. Yellows for Diaby and Ghaly early in the second half only added to the atmosphere.
The play was stretching now. There was little midfield control and the game flowed from penalty box to penalty box.
Just before the hour, Adebayor nodded over. Five minutes later, Walcott was replaced by Rosicky. Before play had restarted, Armand Traore went down with what appeared to be cramp. Fortunately Clichy was the perfect replacement.
Denilson had been growing in stature since the first whistle of the first leg. The Brazilian was efficiency personified this evening and even showed a little Samba shuffle as he ghosted past two defenders before hitting the sidenetting 22 minutes from time.
As at White Hart Lane, Arsenal's substitutes had made a difference. The home side were exerting greater control though it did little to dissipate the tension in the air.
But the opening goal did.
In the 77th minute, Rosicky swapped passes with Aliadiere and fired in a shot. Robinson batted the ball away but could not clear his lines. The Czech midfielder eventually collected and slipped a clever ball to Adebayor, who slotted it past the Tottenham keeper.
Arsenal appeared to have one foot in the Final. However, five minutes from time, Spurs won a free-kick on the right of the area. Jermaine Jenas whipped the ball in and Mido rose among a ruck of players to nod the ball home.
Game on once more.
Suddenly Arsenal were rattled. Spurs began piling forward and, just after the fourth official had indicated five minutes of injury time, Mido shuffled himself into space on the edge of the area and curled an effort inches wide.
However Arsenal would still have two chances to win in normal time. Robinson tipped over Denilson's piledriver and parried from Toure's drive.
The Brazilian produced another hand-stinger just after the start of extra time. Understandably, the pace of the game had now dropped - but not the tension.
To be honest there was little to report in the first half. That was until Arsenal scored with the final kick. Denilson's crossed was nodded into the path of Aliadiere by the stumbling Ricardo Rocha. The Frenchman whipped his shot past Robinson and into the net.
The emotion was more like relief in the 112th minute when Toure's long ball was nodded down by Adebayor for Rosicky in the area. The Czech midfielder waltzed around Rocha before shooting goalwards. The ball smacked off the post and then Chimbonda before going in. The former Wigan defender hooked it out but the goal was given.
Alaidiere might have hit a fourth and Defoe worried Almunia at the other end.
However the night belonged to Arsenal.
- Traore 63
- Walcott 63
- Denilson Yellow Card
- Diaby 79 Yellow Card
- Aliadiere Goal!
- Adebayor Goal!
- Clichy 63
- Rosicky 63
- Fabregas 79
- Gardner 73 Yellow Card
- Ghaly 80 Yellow Card
- Zokora Yellow Card
- Jenas Yellow Card
- Defoe Yellow Card
- Huddlestone 80
- Rocha 73
- Mido Goal!