Archive for December 24th, 2006

Arsenal 6 – 2 Blackburn: The Art of Flattery

188 comments December 24th, 2006

The final home game of 2006 was arguably the strangest. One nil down within two minutes, three one up at half-time, in danger of being held to a draw with 85 minutes gone, before ending up winning by four clear goals. And that barely does it justice. In the words of Arsene Wenger: “It is never boring here”.

As I say, within the first few minutes, it was deja vu, and we fell behind. David Bentley went through on goal, and appeared to pull Kolo Toure to the ground. However, the ref saw fit to give a penalty, which Shabani Nonda duly dispatched. You could almost feel the team thinking, “not again”, and if you couldn’t, you could certainly hear the fans saying it. However, certain individuals had other days.

Over the past few weeks, Gilberto has revelled in the captain’s role, scoring some crucial goals to boot. Today, he rose to plant home a Robin van Persie corner with the confidence of a man who was notching his seventh goal of the season.

Emmanuel Adebayor, alongside Gilberto, has emerged as a critical member of the first-team in the past few weeks, and yet again he took it upon himself to drag us back into the match. A clever flick into the path of Alex Hleb allowed the Belarussian to drag the ball inside the defender, and neatly tuck the ball beyond Brad Friedel. It was an exquisite finish – the sort that makes it even stranger, when, as he did just a few minutes later, he elects to pass when scoring seems the easier option.

Adebayor was soon at it again, playing in Robin van Persie. Gilberto, recognising the Togolese forward’s contribution and confidence, handed Adebayor the ball, and he did not disappoint, coolly firing home to make it 3-1. Like Gilberto, this was his seventh of the season, allowing them both to join Robin van Persie as top scorer – for a short while…

As the second half started, we were playing come brilliant attacking football. The returning Tomas Rosicky was showing his ability to break at pace, and with Blackburn needing a couple of goals, there was plenty of space to exploit. However, with Rosicky having a close-range effort deflected onto the bar by the otherwise hopeless Andre Ooijer, tension began to mount.

And jitters among the Arsenal fans increased further when a brilliant Brett Emerton cross and some panicked defending allowed Nonda to hook home a second, and make it 3-2. With Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley both looking dangerous, even the most loyal fan could be forgiven for thinking we might be about to throw it away.

Fortunately, it was not to be. In the 85th minute, Robin van Persie picked up the ball wide on the right – you could only feel sorry for the backpeddling Andy Todd. He was turned inside-out, back-to-front, and round and round before Van Persie bent the ball low beyond Brad Friedel’s despairing dive for 4-2.

At this point, Blackburn’s heads dropped. In fact, they nearly fell off. A surging run from Adebayor proceeded a clever through-ball to Fabregas, who squared for Van Persie to score. In the week where he outlined his determination to reach 15 goals this season, he had now reached nine.

And then Cesc Fabregas had a brilliant idea. The idea was to completely humiliate that most deserving of enemies: Robbie Savage. He flicked the ball up, pulled out a stepover or two, and then produced a delicious nutmeg to leave Savage looking nearly as foolish as he is. Fabregas, meanwhile, skipped into the box, and had a shot saved which rebounded for Mathieu Flamini to add a sixth.

The scoreline was, ultimately, rather flattering. 3-1 would’ve been fair, or perhaps 6-4. Had Jens Lehmann not been in such excellent form, the latter could very well have happened. We were fantastic going forward, and fairly disorganised defensively. Still, there was something brilliant in our performance. The creativity and power we displayed in attack was breathtaking, and again Emmanuel Adebayor was at the centre of it. Interesting too that we deployed a 4-4-2 formation – whilst it left us slightly exposed at the back, we had plenty more options going forward.

Elsewhere, after being France’s answer to Andy Gray, Remi Garde is now coaching at Lyon – still a close friend of Arsene, don’t be surprised to see him turn up at Arsenal again one day.

The final story I’m just going to mention is this fascinating transfer exclusive – Arsene’s response to a question about reported interest in Gareth Bale. Prepare yourself for this astonishing candour:

“All I can say is I know him”

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