It was a night for the kids to grow up and, for a while, it appeared that two Tottenham youngsters were going to rise in stature above the massed ranks of Arsenal youth. Nineteen-year-old Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone, who turned 20 just three days after Christmas, set the tone, the tempo and the willingness to take on their opponents to help Spurs surge into a thrilling lead.
It was Roadrunner and the Thud - a little and large, fast and, well not quite so quick combination. The boy from Leeds and the kid from Nottingham against Arsène Wenger's assiduously assembled team of teens from Sao Paulo, Paris and Barcelona.
"We were surprised by Tottenham's pace and quality," Wenger admitted. Lennon provided the first commodity; Huddlestone, along with Dimitar Berbatov, the second. For the first half at least. After the break and Spurs, visibly, crumbled. It wasn't just fatigue, it was a collective failure, a lack of resilience.
Their manager Martin Jol didn't conceal the disappointment. "We only have ourselves to blame," he said. "You have to build on something, to learn and hopefully we will do that." It was a bitter lesson and although he will argue against it, the tone of Jol's assessment was that the opportunity to reach the Carling Cup final had gone.
After two quarter-finals in recent years, Spurs had reached the last four. "Little steps," Jol called it "but to win something you have to be mentally strong. In the second half there was an opportunity to keep the ball, don't give it away - that is a sort of law in football." And that law was broken.
For the first 25 minutes it could not have been more different. "Outstanding," was Jol's assessment and with the youth there was guile and experience from Berbatov. He suffered a groin injury in scoring the first goal and departed. Jol admitted his absence affected his team although they still made "mistakes" to allow Arsenal back.
For a while, for Spurs, it was thrilling. Lennon set off on an electric run, beating two Arsenal players, before his cross was volleyed away while Kolo Touré and Armand Traoré earned bookings for desperate, late challenges on England's winger.
In a contest with an atmosphere almost as raw as some of the youngsters, it was the pair, friends off the field, who bonded to drive Tottenham forward and it was from Huddlestone's free-kick that Julio Baptista scored his own goal.
His ability to deliver from set-pieces, and pick a pass, appeared crucial, as did Lennon's exhilarating pace but, worryingly, he began to wane. "We have players like Huddlestone and [Didier] Zokora," Jol said when asked if his players lacked the ability to control games. "Tom is normally doing that but [Cesc] Fabregas was outstanding in the second half." Indeed he was. The young Spaniard, still just 19, took control. Quickly Huddlestone appeared a lumbering figure, by-passed by his opponent while Lennon reacted by trying to do more and more - and ran himself into blind alleys while still being able to deliver some dangerous crosses.
By now it was Arsenal's game to win and Spurs' hopes of a first final for seven years were fading fast. "They have shown in the second half that there is a place in the final that they are ready to fight for," Wenger said.
How Jol wished he could have said the same. "We have shown great quality, great heart and great resilience," the Arsenal manager added. "Many teams would have crumbled at 2-0." Those "many teams", sadly for them, included Spurs. There is still a lot of growing up to do - but Lennon and Huddlestone need more support than was on offer last night.Reuse content