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Sensational Gunners blitz Spurs; Liverpool trophy drought ends after dramatic Carling Cup final

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  Tuesday 28th February 2012
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Tuesday 28th February 2012
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Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham

Derbies tend to be crazy affairs, taking inspiration from the insane levels of tension, unhinged weeks of hype, and manic fanatical support. Today’s North London derby might just be the craziest yet. With Tottenham keen to overtake their red-shirted rivals as the kings of North London, and Arsenal determined to claw back the boys from White Hart Lane, the 1.30 kick off at the Emirates was always going to be lively; and arguably the most meaningful in a long, long time.

The home team looked to start off fast and well but found themselves behind in the very early stages, Louis Saha firing the ball in the back of the net with the assistance of a deflection. Arsenal have been accused of having a soft core for some years now, and did nothing to dispel their leaky image by leaving gaps in their defence every time they veered forward to score an equaliser. Tottenham took advantage of this with stunning efficiency, intelligently backing off only to counter. It was this very ploy that led to their second goal – Gareth Bale ran onto a beautiful Luka Modrić pass and then attempted to round the keeper, falling to the ground in the process. Mike Dean immediately awarded a penalty, which, on second look, appeared harsh, as the Welsh international seemed to have dived with very little provocation. Up stepped Emmanuel Adebayor, pantomime villain in these parts. 2-0.

Just as Arsenal fans are used to seeing their side play beautifully, they are also used to hearing their manager talk about the team’s spirit. If the remaining 15 minutes of the first half are anything to go by, Arsène Wenger need not reflect on his team’s brave character, but simply play a recording of his side’s fight back on a large screen for the world to see. First up was Bacary Sagna, the long-locked right-back, who applied every single inch of his braids to power home a strong header past Brad Friedel. The identity of the goal-scorer might have surprised some, but that Arsenal scored, after dominating so much of the play, was not a shock at all. The equaliser, a sumptuous thing of Dutch beauty, was not surprising in the least. Robin van Persie, the best striker in the league – the best player in the country – and the in-form striker of world football for the past 12 months, stepped up once more, curling a Roy-of-the-Rovers stunner round the planted Spurs ‘keeper. Dennis Bergkamp, the original flying Dutchman, would have been pleased with that one.

Spurs were stunned and Arsenal were stunning, spurred on by the industrious Tomáš Rosický, who edges closer to the form of his Dortmund years after being bogged down by injury for so long. The Czech skipper would go on to put Arsenal ahead, and then work in tandem with his midfield partners to lay up two goals for Theo Walcott.

Liverpool 2-2 Cardiff (Liverpool win on penalties)

What is it about the Carling Cup and underdogs? Last year it was Birmingham, and this year it was so nearly Cardiff. Once more, the Davids in blue put the Goliaths in red to the sword, hoping to draw as much blood as possible and take home the cup. Unfortunately for Cardiff, Liverpool bleed red: they bleed Liverpool and never say die.

One really should be saying that about Cardiff, after dicing with death in extra time.

Both sides played their parts in producing a terrifically enthralling cup final, Cardiff confounding many by taking the lead in the 19th minute with Mason netting the opening goal. The underdogs fought doggedly until the hour mark, when Martin Škrtel equalised for the ‘Pool.

To the surprise of many, and to the delight of more, the game went all the way to Extra Time, only for Dirk Kuyt, the Anfield cult hero, to come off the bench and score. With so little time left on the clock, Liverpool seemed poised to lift their first trophy in six years; however, a certain Ben Turner had other ideas, tapping in from a corner with three minutes to go.

The dreaded penalties arrived, bringing with them cool goals, glaring misses, heartache and joy. They also brought a Liverpool victory.

Norwich 1-2 Manchester United

The 2011/12 season seems to be the season of the silver foxes; a season where old, familiar faces, return to remind us why they took up so much space in our hearts and memories. Thierry “TH14” Henry donned his superman cape once more to score a few last-minute goals, and Paul Scholes set up camp in the middle of the Manchester United midfield, pitching his tent like he never even left.

It was the red-haired Red Devil who would put United in the lead against the Canaries, who, particularly at Carrow Road, have been one of this year’s best teams.

The home side would prove just how good and resilient they are by equalising in the last ten minutes of the game. Grant Holt, the big forward, just keeps growing in stature with every game, unsettling defences with sizeable reputations.

Like all good strikers, the Norwich man struck at a time when his side desperately needed him to, sniffing out a goal when time was fast running out. Then again, this being the year of the silver fox, it came as no surprise that a man with an animal instinct for crucial goals would seal the victory for his side – the united number 11, the fleet-footed winger with silvery-grey hair.

Leke Sanusi