Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 19 2006
I believe at some point last season, one of the Arsenal bloggers (I forget whom) became so disillusioned with writing match reports for 1-0 away defeats, that he produced a template with a 'delete as appropriate' option. I'm starting to think of doing the same thing. In fact, I could just ask you all to click on the archive and relive the Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Everton match reports. But I'll leave the idle journalism to those repulsive creatures on match of the day.
Golden August has turned an emty grey November, but the mistakes of early season are repeated persistently. Henry was left on the bench and the Beast was bought in to support Adebayor, Flamini came in for Gilberto and on glimpse of the line up I could not help but think it lacked mobility. I am a keen proponent of Arsenal using the 4-5-1, but it is a template that is dependent on choreographed kinesis, interchanging positions and balletic movement. We were robbed of the two pivots of this system in Gilberto and Rosicky and the upshot was an insipid first half. The Gunners looked very static, maybe as a result of midweek internationals, maybe to do with a lack of mobile technicians, but I think I also sensed a hint of complacency in the biting winter air.
Nevertheless, Aliaksandr Hleb took up the reins and was a nuisance to Newcastle all afternoon- on the left and the right. It was he who created the first opportunity of the game, linking telepathically with Fabregas who fired narrowly over. But once again, Arsenal were to be undone by a moment of contemplative slumber. A hit and hope ball from Steven Taylor was flicked on by the livewire Martins and Kieron Dyer found it all too easy to collect the ball and curl it nonchalantly into the bottom corner. A number of enquiries need to be held in the dressing room. Like where was Flamini, whose job it was to protect the back four? Where were the centre halves? Why was Eboue's attempted block so apathetic? It was indicative of an afternoon that saw Arsenal produce a lot of dangerous attacks, but ultimately neglect their defensive duties. I cannot help but feel that Gilberto's presence may have averted that particular goal, all afternoon Flamini was unable and Fabregas was unwilling to win possession back for the side.
I think you know the story of the second half. Henry came on for the injured van Persie and the home side, still feeling the pangs of their managers frustration, began to close the ball down and looked to make things happen as opposed to waiting for fate to giftwrap an opportunity. With after after wave of attack, came the same conclusion, as Shay Given's athleticism prevented a deserved equaliser. Finally, Arsenal were given their reward when Steven Taylor hauled Henry down on the edge of the box. With the Newcastle wall nowhere near the requisite ten yards (look at the replay, the referee has to be embarassed that he cannot pace out such a paltry distance), he curled a resplendant free kick off the underside of the bar. The third occasion this season that an equaliser has not come from open play. Disappointingly, the Gunners have begun to observe a new trend of eating up valuable seconds by over elaborating their equaliser celebrations. In the aftermarth of both goals, it was Gallas who fished the ball out of the net and slammed it onto the centre spot. I hope that focus can radiate to the other players.
At this point, Arsenal had found their groove, Henry's deflected strike hit a post, Given denied Henry's curling shot and Fabregas's deflected effort trickled agonisingly wide, in one of those heart pounding slow motion moments. The referee, who by and large had a positive game, did let us down with his decision to punish Newcastle's constant time wasting...in the ninety third minute. Surely the point has to be made much earlier than that? Peter Ramage might as well have been openly gesticulating in his face when he left the field for treatment, he took a detour that could have amounted to a lap of silverstone!
Ultimately it was not to be as the barcodes held on for dear life. Their 'support' writhing in ecstatic delight. #Your support is f****** s***# rang out from the visiting Geordies, rich coming from a set of fans who have yet to sell out a home game this season. The utter tripe espoused by the media and regurgitated by those who have never heard the hush at St. James's Park stands alongside Steven Gerrard's Champions League 'heroics' as one of the biggest myths in football. The memory of them spitting on a prone Robert Pires as he was stretchered off the field still lingers large, and their behaviour outside of their ground, and their silence inside it, has often left me disappointed. Unfortunately, there are still factions of our support that need a kick in the pants too. I have often mentioned a guy who sits behind me who is a fully paid up member of the 'shoooot' brigade. Good natured mocking turned to vitriolic ire, as the tension of the game and the clueless rapture of his cries caused a simultaneous explosion in myself and my good neighbour J-Lo. (Unfortunately, not the curvacious Latin goddess you're thinking of, but my friend John Lowe- get it?) With Baptista back to goal, thirty yards out, and Ramage and Taylor ravenously chomping at his heels, our friend in row six shouted 'shoooot' in an ear piercing, damsel in distress fashion. 'Excuse me good sir, we understand the collective frustration of the situation, but please could you refrain from making such ludicrous statements. Much obliged,' we oppined as gentlemanly pleasantries were observed. (Alright, there may have been the odd expletive, but I am an educated man, a voracious reader, and I must not let the intellectual mask slip in front of the typewriter).
On a much more positive note, the performance of Alex Hleb was brilliant, once again to no general acclaim from the crowd (damn, I really DO need a template). His dribbling committing defenders and causing mayhem in the Newcastle defence. He was the chief tormentor and the architect of all Arsenal's moves. (Save for the equaliser curiously enough). But special praise is reserved for Gael Clichy who was industrious all game. Snappy in the tackle, he closed down space and pressed Solano high up the field, winning the ball back in dangerous situations and defending in a concentrated and consummate fashion. Ashburton Gunner made a comment on my Liverpool report that I had neglected to mention his brilliance. He was absolutely correct and his performance yesterday was magnificent. I think by and large Clichy is too easily forgotten by Gooners, the world and his wife knows how made up I am that we nabbed Gallas, but Clichy is the real reason that Cole's departure left me unconcerned. Surely, international honours are to follow and I could not help but think his pressing and appetite for the ball should have reflected in our two central midfielders yesterday. I would like to conclude by congratulating Robin van Persie and his wife Bouchra on the birth of baby boy Shaqueel. I'm told he has his mother's eyes, his grandfathers nose....and his dad's left foot. Sign him up!!!LD.
Date:Sunday November 19 2006
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