Archive for May 17th, 2009

A worthy point against worthy Champions

Add comment May 17th, 2009

Man Utd 0 – 0 Arsenal
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

After a difficult week, Arsenal needed a performance here from which we could take a degree of pride.  We got one, but it was still not enough to prevent United taking the point they needed to retain their Premier League crown.

It’s their third in a row, and there can be no doubt about who are the strongest side in the current Premier League.  United are the benchmark, and despite holding them to a draw yesterday, we still have a lot of ground to make up on them.

There are lessons to be learned from the way in which Ferguson reconstructed their side.  Whilst he shared Arsene’s focus on vibrant young attacking talent, nurturing Ronaldo and Rooney, he paired that with Premier League experience in the spine of the team brought in at vast expense: I’m thinking principally of Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick.

Whilst I wouldn’t suggest any of our forwards have reached the level of Ronaldo and Rooney, the collective attacking game of Nasri, Arshavin, Fabregas, Van Persie, Walcott & Co is potentially comparable.  Where we fall down massively is in that latter element – a spine who both know and are capable of meeting the demands of British football.  That is what Arsene must strive to set right this Summer.

Yesterday Arsene picked a side to nullify United’s attacking threat with intelligent possession football.  The explosive but erratic Walcott was left on the bench, and Robin van Persie spear-headed a midfield of players all comfortable in possession.  Alex Song started at centre-back ahead of Mikael Silvestre, with arseblogger suggesting the former United man could be set to join other formerly-good Frenchmen at PSG.

It was a game of few chances.  In the first half, Robin van Persie ought to have done better with a pin-point Arshavin cross, whilst in the second Lukasz Fabianski produced a tackle any defender would have been proud of to deny Carlos Tevez.  As the game dragged on, United became visibly nervous about a late sucker-punch, and their fears where almost realised when Cesc Fabregas fired against the post late on.

I thought there were some really strong individual performances from our side.  Alex Song coped admirably at centre-half, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs drove Rooney and Ronaldo back into their own territory, and Denilson had his most efficient game in months.  We kept the ball very well, but struggled to break down a United side who knew a point would confirm the title.

The subplot to yesterday’s events centred on Emmanuel Adebayor, who was absent from the squad with what, depending on whether you asked Arsene before or after the game, was either a tight hamstring or a groin problem.  One can’t help but wonder if it’s the same kind of injury problem that kept the likes of Sylvain Wiltord and Edu out of the side when they decided to leave on a Bosman.

The situation was exacerbated by this interview given to Football Focus and aired on Saturday morning.  I urge you to watch it – as football interviews go, it’s one of the more intriguing character pieces you’ll see.  Adebayor is plainly a troubled man.  He feels, correctly, that the club’s fans have turned on him, and this is doubtless affecting both his level of both motivation and confidence.  We have reached a situation now where Adebayor is booed onto the pitch.  Whatever your feelings about him, the only point in such a gesture can be to drive him out of the football club.  Consistent booing never ever helped a player regain form.

And yet, watching that interview, one can understand the fans’ ire based on one simple point of principle: Adebayor refuses to acknowledge his fault in the affair.  The fans felt betrayed after they backed him so heartily throughout last season, only for him to flirt openly with Barcelona and Milan/Beyonce whenever the opportunity arose.  He was telling the television cameras he was desperate to stay, before turning to the printed press and expressing his desire to move on – arseblogger gives a good account of the saga here.

Selling Adebayor last Summer would have made sense financially, but with Flamini and Hleb departing would arguably have been too big a hit on an already depleted squad, so the African’s demands for a pay rise were met and a new deal was signed.  I don’t think that in itself was so problematic, but on reflection perhaps Arsene will feel the club could have handled it better.  It is the manager’s ethos to stand by his players unconditionally, and he did so with Adebayor, claiming he had been misinterpreted and had never wanted to leave.

This allowed Adebayor to waltz into the new season, kissing the badge and acting as if nothing had happened.  But the fans did not forget.  Adebayor scored sixteen goals, some of real value, and yet the fans did not forget.  And when, demoralised by the lack of support, his work-rate dropped below the level of acceptability, the fans’ anger boiled over into demonstrative booing.

I’m not saying that the following would have made everything hunky-dory, but perhaps it would have been best for Adebayor and Arsene to hold a press conference at the beginning of the season in which the striker apologised for his conduct and expressed a determination to win back the fans, rather than brushing the entire thing under the carpet.

But then, as I said earlier, perhaps Adebayor doesn’t feel he’s comitted any indiscretion.  Perhaps Arsene has never made it clear to him that he has.  Adebayor may feel he acted simply in his own professional interests, but football has a more complicated etiquette than that.  The fans made Adebayor who he is.  Now he seems to blame them for who he’s not.

I can only see it ending one way now.  It’s gone beyond the point of no return, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Adebayor’s “groin problem” keeps him out of next weekend’s game with Stoke and a potentially embarrassing “lap of honour”.

Still, if it boosts our defence and midfield kitty, it may not be such a bad thing.

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