Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday September 19 2006
'Man USA like to stroke the ball gently around the defence and build attacks from the back. The presence of Adebayor buzzing around them will prevent them from doing this comfortably. Ade also seeks to get in behind the defence, if one is to look at the few goals United do concede, a common occurence is the inability to track a forward run in behind. Adebayor can also benefit our counter attacking game, his ability to hold the ball up will be crucial in involving the likes of Cesc, Hleb, Ljungberg and Rosicky.'
A small sample of the article I wrote on saturday afternoon in preview of the Yoonited game. How's that for prophecy? Yet the BBC still pay Alan 'elbows' Shearer and Alan 'I lost my passion for this work a long time ago' Hansen to crack out gems like, 'oh yes Lampard IS world class' and 'I loved Steven Gerrard's new persil advert.' I know, I know, this is all terribly supersillious of me, but please understand I grew up with four older sisters, so it is not often I have the opportunity to feel as though I'm right. But I must say I am delighted for Adebayor. Those of you that read my musings regularly will know that I am a serial defender of the Togolese talisman and I just love it when the oft slated become heroes. (What price a Theo Walcott winner at Anfield?) Once Ade disciplines his game and plays to his strengths, he will be one hell of a player for us. Awkward to watch? yes, awkward to play against? You bet. Just ask Rio Ferdinand who did not win an aerial challenge against him all afternoon. Manu's industry also prevented the United back line from picking out comfortable passes to the flanks, this compromised the effectiveness of Ronaldo and Fletcher (has Fletcher ever been effective?) As a result, 'Hash' Brown and Ferdinand were forced to pass quickly, often into a crowded midfield, where their moves broke down.
The fluid five man midfield adopted for our Champions League run again worked a treat. Hleb, Ljungberg and Rosicky took turns to make forrays into the centre and make things happen. The amazing thing was, the harmony with which the aforementioned players swapped positions was delightful in its intricacy. A sense of telepathy was palpable, never did the players make the same run and obstruct each other. Hleb dribbled in field majestically, for my money, Hleb was the most prominent of our triple entente. I have liked the Belarussian for a long time, a player from a bygone era with balance and close control that defies belief. But as Rocky mentioned last week, he has added a final ball to his game. One can only look at the slide rule pass that led to the penalty. Something seldom mention is his work rate. He protects his full back, this was particularly noticeable on Sunday, on several occasions he halted the runs of the marauding Ronaldo. With Tomas Rosicky also drifting in field, he was able to live up to his 'little mozart' nickname by orchestrating play. Roscky looks to be a player of exceptional intelligence, one salivates at the prospect of TH14 running onto those subtle through balls. With his confidence levels swollen by his cracker in Germany, Rosicky took on the opportunity to test the keeper with impunity- and he packs a punch. Super Tom looked as though he has been an Arsenal player for years. Perhaps the most surprising of his attributes is his penchant for a crunching tackle, this will serve him well when the hobnailed boots of Lancastrian midfielders are baying for bone. Obviously buoyed by the 'dumpling' taunts of his youth, Rosicky is deceptively tough.
The interchanging shuttle runs of Hleb, Ljungberg and Rosicky liberated young Cesc Fabregas. The amount of passing options ahead of him lubricated the creative cog in his brain, as he constantly searched for a telling final ball. And my God did he find it! The composed dribble had Gary Neville (in my opinion the world's best right back) sashaying in and out, tying himself in knots trying to decide whether his arse was actually his elbow. The ball was timed to perfection and weighted with Bergkampesque finesse. Quite simply the away end errupted in a volcanic orgy of delight. Your writer was positioned in the front row of the travelling support (more on them later) and I celebrated with such ferocity that I very nearly fell over the wall into the disabled section below. I feel moved to thank the anonymous young man who, in his own fit of ecstasy, clutched onto me and halted my ascent downwards (which, ironically, if completed, would probably have seen me confined to a wheelchair). Cesc's genius, coupled with Adebayor's telescopic limb had given us victory. I simply cannot remember such a mass expression of joy from travelling gooners since Villarreal away. All day the travelling support had comfortably outsung our hosts, it became embarassing as the silence of the United support was mocked unabated. (A kind of paradigm for the game itself). The quality of our play and the volume of our noise had rendered Old Trafford silent. But to my dismay, when I watched a recording of the game back on sky, you would have thought United fans had created something akin to an atmosphere. United's 'creative' positioning of microphones simply confirms the real lack of atmosphere in the prawn sandwich arena. Next time you see a game at Old Trafford on television, listen carefully for sudden jolts in volume, as the voices of about a hundred singing United fans is magnified to hyperbolic proportions. Another nasty, classless United trick to look for is when the players descend from the tunnel. In the minutes before kick off as the toss is being deliberated, watch how United give the travelling side no footballs- even going so far as to remove the match ball from the centre circle so the away team cannot limber up. Machavelian tactics such as this, amplify my distaste for that nasty football club.
Anyway, back to the game, this was not just a display of attacking prowess and slick first time passing (I'm convinced at one point I saw stars circling the heads of Scholes and O'Shea), but there was a remarkable defensive resolve. Gilberto once again was a colossal presence, cutting out United's interplay around the box. As a result of his meddling, Rooney and Saha were not allowed to link up. He marshalled his troops in a manner befitting of his armband. I felt a little sorry for him on the penalty, losing your footing at the moment of impact is unfortunate, but I think everybody knew which way he was going to put the spot kick. He's not really a penalty taker- despite his excellent conversions in Hamburg and Doncaster- I'd like to have seen Rosicky step up, being that he takes them for his country and took them for Dortmund. As captain, Gilberto obviously felt he had to shoulder the responsibility and credit to him for that. The back four were also incredible. Young Djourou looks a class act all over, he has an eery calm and does his job with no fuss. If the situation requires a lump into row z, this is what he does. But if he can bring it out and play it, he does. The fact he was able to keep, an albeit misfiring, Rooney quiet speaks volumes for him. If you want confirmation as to how good Eboue was, how much of an effect did Ronaldo have on the game? Exactly. Billy G (not my lover) has gained some more match sharpness and is looking the class act we all know him to be. His experience is crucial for our youthful back line, quite simply his positioning is faultless and this is why I prayed so pedantically that we would bring him to Arsenal this summer. Special mention must go to Kolo Toure, who is becoming more and more an apotheosis figure. From the warm up, it was painfully obvious he was not fit. Grimacing on every connection with the ball, gritting clenched teeth on every last ditch tackle, the look of anguish inscribed onto his features. Yet he did not complain, he knuckled down and crashed through the threshold of pain to put in his usual towering performance. If there is a better centre back in world football I have not seen him (and I get around). Does he ever play badly? I simply cannot believe that there is defender who performs so brilliantly so consitently. For anybody with the words Fabio Cannavaro poised on their lips needs to look at his performance in Lyon. Do not idealise his World Cup perfomance too much, it is a slower, lower level of football than the Champions League or La Liga when his lack of pace is exposed. Had I not boycotted replica shirts a while back, mine would certainly bear the legend 'TOURE 5.' As for Mad Jens. What can I say? I think Rocky summed it up nicely yesterday. You judge a great player on big contributions in big games, Jens has made the difference in World Cup penalty shoot outs, Champions League semi finals and now, the last minute save from Solskjaer sits comfortably alongside the stunning fingertip effort to deny Raul at Highbury. Solskjaer's pupils dilated in disbelief (makes a change from him going down holding his face I suppose- I still remember!). A crucial interception at a time in the game when we were vulnerable. The match ball was also very brave hitting Jens in the face like that!
Perhaps the most pleasing thing about this result was just how richly it was deserved. Having not won a game this campaign, we took the game to a rampnat United side and had the courage to out-football them on their own patch. Credit must go to Wenger for his unwavering faith in his players and his commitment to his vision. On sunday everything just seemed to go 'click', and even in our negative results this season, there is tangible evidence that his vision is coming to fruition. The question is, with the best keeper in the world (Cech can't save anything along the floor so don't give me that), the best centre half in the world, the best young midfielder in the world and the best striker in the world, how can it not?
Though it is important not to get carried away. We must build on this result in the manner that we used the Bernabeu as a plateau for better things. Sheffield United will arrive at Emirates on saturday intent on packing the box and scrapping for their lives, we must learn to be more incisive in the final third in this situation (and this means Henry and RVP must stop auditioning for soccer am's showboat and quicken the game up). Ours is still a young team and I'm afraid a few more frustrating results will probably have to be braved this season (though not as many as last year). I still don't think the title is a realistic attainment for us, but there is no harm in going for it. I still believe we'll finish third and I would consider that progress.
Lastly I would like to say a huge 'big up' to the Walcott's. I was amazed to see a Walcott doppelganger sitting beside me at OT, the fact that he had 'Walcott 32' on his shirt appeared to confirm he was acutely aware of the likeness. But as I looked on I recognised his father and girlfriend, it was obviously his brother! How refreshing it was to see them sitting in amongst the supporters and foregoing the lure of corporate treatment. The look on young Melanie's face as we chanted 'Theo, Theo' was priceless, a kind of beaming pride mixed with slight embarassment. Anyway, I'm running out of wax with which to be lyrical, so adios Gooner chums. LD.
Date:Tuesday September 19 2006
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