Archive for December 27th, 2006

Watford 1 – 2 Arsenal: Van Persie Bails Out Defence

180 comments December 27th, 2006

With minutes 83 gone, I was preparing to come on here and write a damning assessment of what was at times some truly dreadful defending, particularly in the first-half.  Then a Watford set-piece was headed away, Theo Walcott beat his man, and played a superb 40 yard slide-rule pass for Robin van Persie.  As soon as he picked up the ball on the right-flank, you knew what we wanted to do: cut inside his man and bend the ball into the far corner.  In spite of the best efforts of Jay DeMerit and the impressive Ben Foster, he did just that.

It was a brilliant goal, and arguably more exhilarating than his first effort at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.  The win means that we move into third place, and whilst all logic suggests that we’re out of the title race, we must continue to hunt down Chelsea and Manchester United, if only to give our season a sense of purpose.

We had initially taken the lead, when Gilberto got onto a Kolo Toure flick to nod home his eighth of the season.  It’s a remarkable run of scoring from the Brazilian, and as someone else pointed out, if you’d known that by December a Brazilian midfielder would have eight goals, all bets would’ve been on Julio Baptista.

However, within four minutes, Tommy Smith had equalised.  After a driving run and cross from Hameur Bouazza was deflected into his path, he volleyed home on his left-foot with some accomplishment.  And despite being one of the poorer sides in the Division, Watford could’ve had more.  Our defending was dreadful at times, with the likes of Johan Djourou and Gael Clichy looping the ball up into the air or dangerously towards our own goal on more than one occasion.

We were allowing Watford to dictate the game, and abandoned our passing style.  Kolo Toure was launching long balls at our front two, when what they require in order to thrive is good ball into feet.  The defensive panic was not helping us to establish a foot-hold in the game, and help was needed from Arsene Wenger.

Fortunately, come half-time, he provided it, bringing on Philippe Senderos for Johan Djourou.  Senderos has come in for criticism since he was well and truly roasted by Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge, but on this occasion his aerial prowess and organisational abilities were very useful indeed, as he steadied the shakiest of ships.

Theo Walcott and Julio Baptista were also introduced to good effect, and the pressure upon Foster’s goal slowly increased.  Baptista and Adebayor both shot wide from good positions, whilst an Adebayor effort was fired too close to the English goalkeeper.

As time went on, class began to tell, and it was no great surprise when Van Persie swept home the winner.  Some will call it a gritty win and subsequently relish it, but it didn’t need to be that way.  Had we asserted ourselves and got the ball on the ground from the off, we could’ve repeated our goalscoring feats of the weekend.  People will say it’s hard to play like that against a physical side like Watford, but don’t forget what we achieved against a Blackburn side featuring the likes of Robbie Savage, Lucas Neill, and Brett Emerton – hardly soft touches.

As for the defence, the quicker the experienced Lauren and Gallas come back, the better. If we defend like that against the equally direct Sheffield United and Rob Hulse, we’re in big trouble.

For that game we’ll be without totemic striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who picked up a thigh strain.  It’s a concern, especially with Thierry Henry still out, but one man who will be pleased will be Julio Baptista.  After a difficult few months with Arsenal, the powerful forward put in an impressive ten minutes against Watford, probably his best cameo since Old Trafford.

If we make it nine points from three games on Saturday, then the defensive uncertainty of yesterday will be forgotten.

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