Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday September 27 2006
Another game, another three points in the Champions League. We really looked in control last night, do not underestimate the grandeur of this result. Porto are an excellent side with European credentials, but we made them look rather ordinary.
Increasingly, this young Arsenal side look at home in the Champions League, to the point that our reputation is going before us. Porto obviously made the excursion to North London with license to frustrate. The Portugese Champions put numbers behind the ball, but through the speed of Quaresma and the twinkled toes of 18 year old Anderson, looked to hit Arsenal on the break. This in itself is something of a compliment. But the most encouraging thing to take from last night's victory is the fact that Porto ostensibly threw in the towel after Henry's timely goal. The shoulders slumped as the morale of Porto was almost visually sapped. From that moment the result was never in doubt. This is symptomatic of our swelling acumen in this tournament, teams are being beaten before a ball is kicked. The psychological barrier that plagued 'the invincibles' has been removed by Arsene's young charges. Another clean sheet was added to Jens' collection as Porto rarely threatened.
Robin van Persie was restored to the line up, but he played on the left wing, leaving the ever industrious Tomas Rosicky in a free role behind Henry. It was a position that yielded mixed results for RVP, often he had the beating of Bosingwa, but was frustrated by a lack of crossing options. This is why I, and many other gooners, feel he would be better deployed on the right where he can cut in on his explosive left foot. I have long felt that the 4-5-1 formation suits Arsenal, with Fabregas pulling the strings in midfield, Hleb and Rosicky have free reign to roam ahead of him in search of the ball. It also leaves Gilberto to do his screening job (which he does better than anybody in the world with the exception of Makelele). Having a multitude of runners from midfield occupies defenders, thus liberating Henry, who had a much better game last night. Rosicky looks to have been an Arsenal player for years, always looking to make things happen with his extraordinary kinesis. He found himself in goalscoring positions twice in the early stages. The boy is not afraid of a tackle either and takes defensive responsibility. I was made up Alex Hleb scored last night, doubtless you are all aware that he is a favourite of mine and he really deserves a goal for his tireless efforts this season.
Arsene has obviously made some adjustments in training which bear discussion. The first being that the speed of our passing has improved, I have often said that one touch football played at high speed will beat a 100 man defence. The ponderous nature of our build up play which so blighted us but a month ago seems to have disappeared. I think a lot of this is down to the presence of Rosicky. 'Little Mozart' dribbles with speed and his pro active stance when receiving the ball jolts others out of their inertia. Playing in 'the hole' and running at the opposition back line, he draws a defender out of the packed box, freeing up space for our midfielders to run into the vacant spaces. The other notable improvement has been our newly found willingness to cross the ball. Eboue's final ball has been the butt of many a joke, but all of a sudden the lad seems to have become Beckham incarnate. Eboue deserves a great deal of credit for this, because it is obviously a hubris he has identified in his game and he has worked to correct it. By showing a desire to put the ball into the box, teams will be less inclined to pack the penalty area as we stretch the pitch. How Henry has not scored more headed goals for Arsenal is a source of great mystery to me. The man has a brilliant spring and is excellent in the air in all other areas of the pitch. Should he continue to score headers as he has done in the last three days, Arsenal can claim to have THE complete striker on their hands.
The night was not completely without it's foibles. An injury to Djourou in the warm up and a hamstring pull to William Gallas means our defensive resources are once again stretched to breaking point. Though I feel I must commend the performance of Justin Hoyte at left back. I have been very critical of him, but he looked much more comfortable last night- and against a tricky customer in Quaresma. How much the presence of Gallas alongside him had to do with this I don't know, but credit to the boy nonetheless. Thierry's programme notes made interesting reading. He complained about the fans histrionic cries of 'shoooooot' every time an Arsenal player is within urinating distance of the halfway line. He attributes this to the media coverage our shot shyness receives. I'm with the skipper on this one, there is a guy sat behind me that me and my friends have taken to mocking mercilessly. Still, even now he insists on crying 'shoooooot' as if someone had a pistol to Ashley Cole's temple. Just let the players play their game eh? They're really quite good at it. Besides, pot shots from fifty yards with ten defenders in the way are not going to win you football games. The other, entirely less agreeable, passage of note in the programme concerned a Q & A section. Somebody asked why the seats in our ground bear no idents. The club explained that UEFA rules prohibit clubs from painting corporate branding onto their seats. Fair point, I think many of us we aware of this. But the proceeding sentence made for more worrying reading, 'It was felt inappropriate to then have Arsenal images or wording installed as it would be unfair to the sponsors.' Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Date:Wednesday September 27 2006
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