Chelsea 3 Arsenal 1 (Agg 4-3)
Perhaps they should sack the manager every week if this is the response.Luca Vialli stepped into Ruud Gullit's shoes for the battle of Stamford Bridge
and instantly broke the mould of Chelsea history.
In the 85 years since the Gunners moved north of the river from Woolwich, the
Blues had never beaten them in a cup tie.
But last night, as overheated tempers raged without ever a sign of calming
down, that bogey was laid in emphatic style, the Vialli era beginning in the
most memorable of fashions as they went through to the Coca-Cola Cup final.
With referee Graham Poll the busiest man of the night, booking nine, sending
off Patrick Vieira and letting as much go unpunished, Chelsea managed to play
what little football was possible.
Mark Hughes, five times a Wembley winner with Manchester United and the Blues,
took just 10 minutes to level the scores on aggregate from the only on-target
shot of a frighteningly brutal first half.
Then after Vieira had seen red for a debatable foul on Graeme Le Saux, Arsenal
went to pieces as Chelsea - having waited 25 years for a Wembley final - reached
the Twin Towers for the second time in 10 months.
Vialli's fellow Italian Roberto Di Matteo, who had put Gullit's side on the
road to FA Cup glory last May, crashed home a pile-driver second as Arsene
Wenger's men lost the plot.
Three minutes later, Dan Petrescu stuck the fatal blow into the Highbury
outfit as they collectively went missing defensively.
From that point on, even if the few cool heads on display were vastly
outnumbered, there was nothing stopping a glory night for the new King of the
The reaction as Vialli took himself with nine minutes left told the story of
the astonishing last week, Gullit and all his achievements forgotten.
A foolish handball by Duberry allowed Dennis Bergkamp to slide home from the
spot straightaway, hope anew in Highbury hearts.
But there was to be no dramatic finale, no devastating twist at the end of a
week of the barely credible, as Chelsea claimed their March 29 date.
At the end Vialli rose off the bench in triumph, hugged by Graham Rix, Kevin
Hitchcock, and anybody else who could get close before joining the triumphant
parade, his name reverberating.
A hero as ever, Vialli left as he had entered, his warm welcome from the
Stamford Bridge faithful one thing guaranteed, but even more certain was the
nastiness of the affair.
The previous three meetings this term had brought 17 yellow cards and one red,
with so much bad blood spilled you might have thought Sam Peckinpah was the
director of proceedings.
Add to that explosive mixture Mr Poll, who had booked eight and sent off two
Leeds men on his last match here, and the night was ready to go off.
It did, Hughes starting as he meant to go on - and setting the tone - with
three late lunges inside the first four minutes.
Tony Adams, Gilles Grimandi and Vieira were the trio in the firing line, and
the third did bring the deserved booking.
Hughes' actions had the desired effect of firing the Gunners up as well,
tackles flying in from all directions with the ball often not even in the
It meant there was precious little football being played, but from the one
meaningful moment, in the 10th minute, Chelsea levelled the tie.
Lee Dixon had been cautioned for a foul on Zola - playing alongside the new
player-boss just behind Hughes - and the Sardinian got up to take the
The ball was half-cleared, Vialli left it to Di Matteo, and although his
efforts to dribble through were blocked, Hughes turned on a sixpence to rifle
past a startled Alex Manninger.
Chelsea were exultant, but what followed bared little resemblance to football.
Wenger described the first meeting this term as "really vicious" and this
was from the same catalogue, foul upon foul which saw the trainers constantly
called on and Mr Poll almost out of breath.
Bergkamp and Ray Parlour had passed pre-game fitness tests, but neither looked
near 100%, Bergkamp in particular shackled and struggling.
More noteworthy was the ever-mounting foul count, Steve Clarke, Parlour,
Vieira and Adams all ending up in the book.
While Nicolas Anelka rattled the woodwork in injury-time, the flag was up,
with neither keeper called into serious action before the interval whistle
allowed both sets of prize-fighters to rest on their stools.
Hope that wiser counsel would prevail, however, was wide of the mark, both
teams picking up where they had left off - with Arsenal paying the price.
Vieira's lunge on the once-more tetchy Le Saux looked worse than it was, but
Mr Poll had no hesitation in banishing the Frenchman.
And before Wenger could re-organise his team, they found themselves out of the
cup as Chelsea scored twice in three minutes.
The first was a result of all that had gone on before. Emmanuel Petit seemed
to have found Petit and David Platt, who had replaced Parlour just before the
break, was adamant Hughes had fouled him.
But Mr Poll waved play on as Arsenal stood arguing, and Di Matteo said a
grateful thanks, picking up the ball, running 10 yards and then - echoes of that
Wembley thunderbolt last May - crashing unstoppably into the top corner from 30
Still, an Arsenal goal would mean extra-time, but the Gunners were still at
sixes and sevens when Petrescu sealed it in the 53rd minute.
Zola's corner somehow found its way to the Romanian, who sidestepped two
would-be tacklers before toe-poking past a static Manninger low into the
No way back, although the over-intensity continued, Michael Duberry joining
the list of shame for a foul on Overmars, before Platt, snatching at his effort,
fired over 15 yards.
Adams was pushed up, to no avail, Stephen Hughes came on for Winterburn, but
Arsenal - Petit became caution number eight for a foul on Vialli - were shot.
The fairytale finish, of course, would have been a crowning goal from the new
player-boss. It did not come, and Bergkamp's penalty, after Duberry had stupidly
thrust out an arm, put hearts in mouths.
They stayed there right to the end, but the fears were forgotten as the final
whistle came. He did not score, yet this was Vialli's night. Ruud who?
Goey, Petrescu, Leboeuf, Clarke, Vialli (Newton 80), Hughes, Wise, Duberry, Le
Saux, Di Matteo, Zola.
Subs Not Used: Hitchcock, Flo. Booked: Hughes, Clarke,Duberry, Wise.
Goals: Hughes 10, Di Matteo 51, Petrescu 53.
Dixon, Winterburn (Hughes 71), Adams, Grimandi, Overmars, Vieira, Petit, Parlour
(Platt 45), Anelka, Bergkamp.
Subs Not Used: Lukic.
Sent Off: Vieira (48).
Booked: Dixon, Parlour, Vieira, Adams, Petit.
Goals: Bergkamp 82 pen. Agg (4-3)
Ref: G Poll (Tring)