Archive for September 20th, 2010

Koscielny the star as Arsenal drop two points

34 comments September 20th, 2010

Arsenal 1 – 1 Sunderland (Fabregas 12, Bent 90+4)
Highlights |
Arsene’s reaction

Due to a family engagement, I was forced to call upon the wondrous Sky+ to watch the Sunderland game on a five hour-delay.  There is only one thing more painful than a 95th minute Darren Bent equaliser, and that’s a 95th minute Darren Bent equaliser at 3am in the morning.

A draw, undoubtedly, was a fair result.  In the first half only poor finishing and set-piece delivery prevented Sunderland from blowing us away.  The same XI that started against Braga began the game, and there was a clear hangover as we struggled to keep pace with their energy levels.

Fortune, however, was on our side, as we took the lead with one of the most bizarre goals you’re ever likely to see.  Anton Ferdinand dallied on the ball about thirty yards from his own goal, with Cesc Fabregas hastily closing him down.  Cesc’s harrying won a goal against Braga when he dispossessed a defender, but even he would have been surprised by how successful this particular chase was.  Ferdinand’s attempted clearance cannoned off Cesc before looping perfectly over the keeper and in to the net.

The goal came at a price.  The impact of the ball against his knee seemed to tweak his hamstring, and he was withdrawn as a precautionary measure, with Tomas Rosicky replacing him.  Rosicky took over the armband, and would put in a lively, energetic, intelligent performance – with a rather unpleasant twist.

Despite the goal, we remained second best, with the odd threat on the counter.  The game, strangely, swung in our favour once we went down to ten men.  Alex Song was dismissed for the most blatant of second bookings – a clear shoulder charge right in front of the referee.  His first booking was harsh, but I think it was given as much for repeated fouling and dissent as any specific incident.

With Song gone, Denilson came on to replace the ineffective Arshavin.  Despite being a man light, we slowly began to dominate, as Sunderland tired and we made use of our intricate passing game.  It was just such a spell of intricate possession play that resulted in Samir Nasri being hacked down for a nailed-on penalty.

With Van Persie, Fabregas and Arshavin all off the field, Nasri was next in line to take the kick.  However, having been fouled himself, he abdicated responsibility and handed the ball to Tomas Rosicky.  I never fancied the Czech to score, and my worst fears were realised when he hammered the ball over the bar.

Once we had missed the penalty, there was a sense of inevitability about a Sunderland equaliser.  It was reminiscent of Man U’s game at Fulham a couple of weeks back, when Nani’s missed spot-kick allowed the Cottagers back in to a game that ought to have been dead.  In the Premier League, you have to kill off the opposition when you can.  Otherwise they’re liable to rear up like Rasputin and come at you again.

When the equaliser came, it was the result of a painfully panicked scramble.  Four minutes of stoppage time had been allocated, and just as the clock struck 94:00 a corner was swung in.  Chamakh headed it away, and I suspect our players thought the game was won.  Sadly not.  Bolo Zenden knocked a cross back in, Squillaci’s clearance struck Gyan, then Gael Clichy hammered the ball against Koscielny and it ricocheted perfectly in to the path of Darren Bent.  Goal.

Clichy has rightly taken some flack, with his error coming at the end of a game in which he was tormented by the impressive El Mohamady.  The central defenders, however, were outstanding – particularly Laurent Koscielny, who seemed to win every challenge he went for.  I was baffled that not once did the ESPN commentators mention how impressive the French pairing had been.  I suppose it’s not fashionable to talk about solid Arsenal defenders.  What a luxury it is for our to have genuine competition for places at the heart of the back four.

The rest of our performance was reminiscent of Anfield on the opening day – we didn’t really click in to gear.  On that occasion, we got a fortunate goal to spare our blushes.  We were due to pay that karmic debt.

Plus, this isn’t in itself a bad point.  We didn’t deserve much more.  Our goal was lucky and we played poorly.  But in the circumstances, with chances to extend our lead, most obviously from the penalty spot, it’s a definite two points dropped.  We’re now four points behind Chelsea, with that Stamford Bridge fixture looming ever closer.

A note on Arsene, who reportedly ‘pushed’ the fourth official: it’s poor conduct and he’ll get punished, for sure.  But I’m not sad to see it.  The fire is back, which suggests he knows this season is about more than transition.

We’ll have a look at that Carling Cup tie with Spurs tomorrow.

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