Archive for December, 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.

Nice of Watford to have us for Boxing Day

73 comments December 26th, 2006

You can’t help but feel it would be slightly rude of us to turn up and beat them, but I’m afraid that we really need the points. I’m sure we could give them a £10 WH Smith’s voucher to make it up to them, or something.

Apparently we tried to give them Alex Song for Christmas, but left the receipt in the wrapping. He’s already been returned.

With the fixtures more tightly packed than my stomach, it wouldn’t surprise me if we gave a few players a rest today, with Arsene conceding there will be “one or two changes”. Those most likely to come in would be Mathieu Flamini, Theo Walcott, and Julio Baptista. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some of the midfield rested, but after their scintilating play on Saturday you’d expect the front two to remain intact.

One player who will start is Jens Lehmann, though he may not start next season here at Arsenal. With Arsene undoubtedly searching for a long-term replacement for the German, and the possibility of a move to sunny Spain or home to Germany on the cards, it wouldn’t surprise me if he took up a longer contract elsewhere.

Thierry Henry wants to become an Arsenal legend. To be honest, he could retire now and that status would be assured. He is the top goalscorer, and arguably greatest player, in our history. However, a difficult few months, battling against injuries and a tactical system unsuitable to his style of play (as well as the retirement of Dennis Bergkamp), have slightly diminished the great man’s standing among Arsenal fans. Last night, I watched a programme on Sky One, which ran through the top 50 foreigners ever to play in this country. Henry came in at Number 1. It was a timely reminder of the ability and achievements of a player who up until this season I would’ve unquestionably said was the best in the world. If he comes back fit, fresh, and motivated, then we might see the return of the man we all know and love.

One player who is certainly no legend, but is proving increasingly popular, is Emmanuel Adebayor. In Henry’s absence, he has filled the gap in his own impressive style. Arsene says:

“At the start he looked inhibited, especially at the Emirates. He is sensitive and sensed when people were on his back. That’s why I used him more away from home at the start. But he has lost that complex and today people who were on his back now love him. He struggled a bit with his confidence because he had a very difficult experience in Monaco where he was rejected and didn’t play.

Maybe he struggled because he was impressed by Thierry’s presence around him. Thierry loves to play with Adebayor but when you are 20 or 21 and you don’t play for Monaco, suddenly you are hit by such pressure. The World Cup helped him and this season he has become stronger.”

It does seem that Le Boss has got it right again, and you cannot argue with an outlay in the region of £7m last January. Although Adebayor’s goals have been vital, it is his energy and enthusiasm that has made him such a hit with the Arsenal faithful:

“He has won the fans over because he fights. I’d seen him play a few times and I saw something interesting in him. I took a gamble because at the time we needed somebody physical. These things are difficult to find in Europe. Physically, I can’t remember the last player like that at Arsenal. Maybe John Hartson or Ian Wright. Adebayor is an extrovert, a happy boy and that’s good. There are similarities with Wright.

He believes in himself. These guys who come from Africa have been educated in an independent way. They moved early to France from Africa at 16. He has learned to cope with difficult situations.”

He’ll face tougher tasks than Watford, but every game counts, and like I said: we need the points. Come on Arsenal.

Merry Christmas from me & Cesc Fabregas

223 comments December 25th, 2006

On Saturday, 60,00 eager Arsenal fans turned up at the Emirates Stadium wondering what Cesc Fabregas would bring them for Christmas. Well, it turned out we’d all been very good this year, so he brought us this delicious nutmegging of Robbie Savage. Apparently after being humiliated in this manner, Savage laughed. It was probably to make sure he didn’t cry.

Seeing as it’s the festive season, I’ve decided to make that nutmeg the gift that keeps on giving, by showing it off to you one more time. Don’t thank me (but do thank Archie, who made the gif in the first place).

I’ve barely had a break this Christmas due to various commitments, but I genuinely hope that you and yours are having a good break, whoever and wherever you may be. Unless, of course, Sam Allardyce should happen to be reading this. In which case, I hope Santa has left something brown and smelly in your stocking (mature, I know).

Merry Christmas, Gunnerbloggers. Have a good one.

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”

Belated Blackburn Team News

26 comments December 22nd, 2006

In the comments section of my website, I informed readers that there would be an update as soon as Arsene’s Friday press-conference was complete. However, I then did something terrible: I completely forgot.

So here it is. The team I think will face Blackburn tomorrow. The only doubts would be a) whether Tomas Rosicky is truly fit to start, and b) whether we play in a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 system: we have the personnel for both.

If Rosicky doesn’t make it, then Theo Walcott would probably replace him. Mathieu Flamini is fit, and will be on the bench ahead of Lauren, who will have to wait for his Premiership comeback.

Blackburn are struggling, and will be without their top striker, Benni McCarthy, who is suspended. Anything less than a win would be very disappointing.

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