Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday November 2 2006
Well, sometimes you get games like this don't you? It is true that Arsenal have been guilty of some profligate finishing at times, but last night was a game that fits snugly into the ''one of those games' file. CSKA, a side yet to concede in this season's competition, were torn limb from limb with an exhibition of total football. The problem was, for all our penetration, ultimately, there was no....ejaculation?
Yet this morning, with the frustration eased by numerous cups of tea, I strangely had a warm glow that usually follows Arsenal victories. If Arsenal play like they did last night in every game this season, we will win the Premiership, The Champios League, the F.A Cup, the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup, that trophy with the three ears and we'd probably have a shot at resolving the conflict in the Middle East. Honestly, there is only so many times you can miss the goal by all of half an inch before you begin to curse the skies. Two weeks ago, with Arsenal cruising 3-0 at Reading, Arsenal won a penalty that Henry converted via the post. I remember turning to my friend and remarking, 'I'd rather have that the next time it's 0-0 with five minutes to go.' Of course, lady luck was sitting away to my left and was heard to remark, 'I'll get you yet you googly eyed little b*****d.'
The Gunners began the game rampantly, as Moskva had no answer to our lightning passing and gazelle like movement. Only the overly pedantic referee could halt our flowing rhythm, booking Henry in the opening minutes. Anyone whose seen the game on television might like to tell me what Thierry was booked for, because I can't work it out. (Dare I suggest the lunatic in green wanted to make a name for himself?) The first chance soon arrived, van Persie- looking increasingly comfortable out wide- hit an exerset with his left foot which whistled narrowly over. Arsenal, unpreturbed by lady luck flashing her wrinkly old posterior at our liquid football, serged on relentlessly. Henry found another late run from Fabregas and young Cesc rounded the keeper, only to inexplicably put the ball into the side netting. The horrible irony is, had Cesc gone down under obvious contact from the goalie, Arsenal would have won a penalty and the keeper would have received his marching orders. That said, I'm glad he didn't, even if it has cost us points.
Next up was a rare sight indeed. Rosicky or RVP, I forget who, played a fine slide rule pass to Henry who toe ended wide with the goal gaping. I suspect he was expecting an onrushing keeper and consequently rushed the finish. Minutes later, Arsenal were in down the right again, and a low cross from Hleb saw Henry side foot narrowly wide. If you put Thierry in front of goal a hundred times, he'd score 98- that tells you what sort of a night it was. The most amazing miss of all was yet to come from the livewire Rosicky. Henry skipped past Semberas with embarassing ease and slid the ball across goal, leaving the Czech with a gaping net, but lady luck tightened her chastity belt as he placed the ball straight into the arms of the grateful goalie. Anyone who has played football can sympathise with Rosicky's predicament. I think we've all had a situation where a ball comes at you quickly, and you turn your foot to caress it goalwards, only for the poxy thing to come of your heel.
Arsenal were not nearly as impressive in the second half, deflated by the footballing gods. But we still created chances to win the game. Gilberto summoned up all the sinews in his neck to power a Hoyte cross goalwards with his head, but Akinfeev was at full stretch to make a stunning stop. What followed was the culmination of all our efforts, summed up neatly in one moment. Hoyte once more chucked in a precise cross, which van Persie met brilliantly with a thundering header, Akinfeev did his best gargoyle impression and was relieved to see the ball whistle narrowly past the post. By now, lady luck was rolling about the floor, kicking her legs in the air, squealing with delight. The moment encapsulated the game, there was simply nothing more Hoyte or van Persie could have done. The law of the sod very nearly flashed its crooked yellow teeth in injury time, when, irony of ironies, Gilberto very nearly put through his own net in clearing a corner. It was a night where we could not hit the target, not even on our own goal!
All eleven of our players did their job and did so admirably. We've come in for a bit of flak after the Everton match but the response was terrific and I love the way we continue to play this pyrotechnic football unabated, despite the naysayers espousing their 'got to mix it up' rubbish. The fact is we really are on the cusp of something special. The way this team is playing is unbelievable. People forget that Arsenal is still a side in its infancy, Diaby, Rosicky, Baptista, Gallas, Hleb, Denilson, Song, Adebayor, Eboue and Walcott have all arrived in the last eighteen months. Djourou, Clichy, Fabregas and Senderos are still very young men. We are still a side that is developing a telepathy and the signs are unflounderingly positive. I think it is testament to how well we play that people do not accredit this. I am not a gloater typically, but I will not hesitate with the I told you so's when this team really comes together.
This brings me on to the support. Unfortunately, I did hear a significant number booing at the final whistle. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but these people just know nothing and should be muzzled. This performance was easily the equal of the 4-0 mauling of Reading and infinitely better than the 3-0 annihilations of Watford and the Blades. This is particularly disappointing as Henry mentioned people getting on the sides back and leaving early in his programme notes. Now I know I gave Henry a mouthful on sunday, but I absolutely 100% agree with him. I am aware how much of a nightmare leaving the stadium is, but please, factor this in when you buy tickets, and if you feel you really cannot watch the whole game- don't go. I use the public transport system after the match and I can stay till the end. If you've got kids with school the next day, don't take them if it is that much of a concern. I have to get up early for work as well and I am not a North Londoner, if you really feel being at home is that important, do not buy a ticket. As for getting on the sides back, everybody gets frustrated, but you have to understand that this is a young side and the players do not wantonly give the ball away. Most of my friends are Millwall season ticket holders, go and watch them and then praise your lucky stars at what is offered you on a plate week after week. I gave Hnery a tirade of criticism on sunday, and I stand by it, but firstly, I do not bring this into the stadium. These points I raise here, on forums or in the pub before a game. I would never get on an Arsenal player's back during a match because it is counter productive. I am one of the mouthiest football attendees you'll ever sit near, but I can translate my need to shout and scream into encouraging the players (and baiting the referee!) I would also like to mention that TH castigated his own performance v Everton in his programme notes, and effectively apologised. This was a brave and laudable thing to do. 'I was too passive, I did not try to make things happen, I just waited for them to happen.' Far from criticising TH for his plea to the fans, I encourage it completely and not just because I agree with the points he raised. I like to think that the relationship between supporters and captain should be strong enough that we can engage in an open dialogue. I hate nothing more than the Michael Owen's of this world indulging bland pleasantries. So please, get behind this team, to quote Al Pacino in 'Scent of A Woman' 'don't crush this potential, nurture it, it'll make you proud one day.'
Date:Thursday November 2 2006
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