Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday November 9 2006
Wasuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup?! I will try as far as I can to give a blow by blow account of the match, as I am aware that the dark overlords of sky did not televise this illustrious fixture, while I know itv's highlights usually incorporate a chiselled tablow of one of the goals if you're lucky and they're feeling meticulous! However, I have not seen anything back on tape yet, so you'll have to forgive me if my details are sketchy. (Particlularly as I have rolled into work with a miserly two and a half hours sleep under my belt!)
The first thing to say is that this was a big scalp for a young team. We are all aware of the potential lurking in our reserves, but for such a young side to go away from home to a top side against a hostile crowd and grind out a victory is hugely impressive. Gone are the days of Pennant's occasional cross or Bentley's unsuccessful step overs, these guys have got grit. Huge credit must go to Neil Banfield, Liam Brady, David Court etc who are often overlooked when we eulogise on another young gem.
The Gunners immediately started with a flowing move, which led to a neat interplay between Adebayor and Aliadiere, who drew a foul on the edge of the box within about 15 seconds of the kick off. You could instantaneously tell Arsenal meant business. But the first real incident of note came around twenty minutes in (I think!), when Johnson crumpled in the box only for Graham Poll to efficiously wave away his claim. I was on top of the incident in the upper tier and my instinct was that it was a dive. Johnson is a clever character in the box, so I may be misjudging him. But the fact is, outside the 18 yard area, a trojan horse couldn't knock him off the ball. I was watching Almunia prepare to take his goal kick and the next thing I knew, a red card had been pulled out. Originally, I thought it was for Cahill who, great player that he is, is what Jaap Stam would describe as 'a busy little ****.' The Everton fans, still reeling from having been denied a penalty took the persecution complex to Mourinho levels, as they collectively cried 'vendetta.' I don't know what was said, but foul and abusive language to an official is a red card, no argument. (Diving is a yellow card, incidentally!) Far be it from me to stick up for Graham Poll, but the Everton fans constant whingeing has probably turned a non incident into back page fodder. (Though their chant of 'world cup and you f****d it up' was very amusing). Literally, there were times in the game when a pedantic chorus of disapproval rose up from the glwadys stand, and Arsenal supporters would look at each other bemused, enquiring what had actually transpired.
But with Arteta and Cahill venting their frustration by kicking anything that moved, the young guns kept their cool. Range finders from Flamini and Aliadiere had Howard fumbling, before a sweeping move saw Adebayor, excellent all night, play in Walcott who side footed his first time volley narrowly over. Though Everton did create the best chance of the half, Yobo's towering header whisteld past the far post with Lescott lurking with intent.
Almunia had to be replaced at half time with what I would suspect to be a broken nose. As Armand Traore cleared an Everton cross, his upraised studs caught the Spainiard full in the face. Mart Poom was to make a first team debut (and was given the skipper's armband) and he was immediately called into action, making a flying save from an Arteta strike. But as the half wore on, the Gunners took advantage of younger legs and a fatigued Everton dropped deeper into their half. Time and time again the young Gunners were passing moves were met with a blue wall, something akin to the maginot line across the 18 yard area. But the youngsters exhibited an impressive patience. Adebayor's freakish work rate and running made space for the more nimble limbs of Aliaidere and Walcott to run at a tiring back line. Flamini and Denilson were able to run into spaces created by Adebayor's runs and the Toffeemen looked stretched. The sense was palpable that we would score, but the manner in which we did was truly alien. Flamini's pinpoint corner found the head of the unmarked Adebayor who nodded home and slid iconographically to his knees in front of the sparse travelling support. Now I pay a lot of money and put a lot of time into watching Arsenal and I don't know where they get off scoring from corners. It's disgusting, do you think I took a day off work and paid £20 to watch headers??!! In seriousness, a lot of Gooners question what Ade brings to the side, well he's scored two late winners away from home and his endless running tires defences mentally as well as physically, making space for Arsenal's sprint relay squad. As much as I do not think for a moment Adebayor would have rocketed in a twenty yard volley against Charlton, I also don't think RVP would have headed home a corner, Basically, it's nice to have options isn't it?
But the game was not over yet, Everton found fresh effervescence, all of a sudden Tim Howard's goal kicks were taking less than ten minutes and they could have equalised on two occasions. Johnson tried it on again in the area to no avail, but from a resulting corner, Mart Poom dived brilliantly at the feet of Andy Johnson to deny him from close range. In the dying embers of the game another corner caused chaos in the box, Poom flapped unconvincingly and the ball landed at the head of the livewire Johnson who could only crane his neck sufficiently to spoon over the bar.
The Gunners held on for a superb result and looked suitably chuffed at the end. (Nice to see the young players come over to the fans, a few of the first team might remember this obligation in future). There were a few players who really impressed, I've already mentined Adebayor, but Djourou led the back line with an eerie calm that suggests he is lying about his age! Alex Song had a shaky start to the game, but grew into it and the fact that Tim Cahill was so ineffective says more about his performance than empty, futile words. Aliadiere drifted in and out, while Walcott was pretty quiet and was let down by bad decision making at times. At 17, that is to be expected. I am now more convinced than ever that Wenger is pursuing the correct path with Theo. I despair that so many supporters seem to think that he will simultaneoulsy win the league, the CL, the F.A Cup and declare world peace. He's a kid with great potential, let us not heap too much pressure on his young shoulders. The player that really caught my eye was young Denilson, what an accomplished player this kid looks. Typically Brazilian with a ball and not afraid of a crunching challenge. He constantly dispossessed the flailing Arteta and met every one of Carsley's crunching challenges with spikey desire. Unfortunately, due to a bone shattering 50-50 with Nuno Valente, he went off with what looked like a jarred back. What impressed me most about the guy was that he seemed to be everywhere, but you never noticed him haring around, a kind of travelling without moving character. One second he was orchestrating an attack, the next he was thieving the ball from the toes of an onrushing attacker. Yet he scarsely seemed to break into a jog. Anyway, now I've taken up three hours of your time with my linguistically verbose report, I will bid you adieu. In the words of M.C Hammer, 'ring the bell school's back in.'
Date:Thursday November 9 2006
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