Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 17 2006
Between the final whistle and now half a litre of jack daniels has been duly sunk and some distance from the match has been established. Walking away from the ground yesterday a sense of immense disappointment was suffusive. I attribute this to two factors. Firstly, I was very disappointed with the way Arsenal played. Fatigue is understandable, but the first half showing was as dire as I have seen in a home game under Wenger's tenure. We were lacklusture, on and off the ball. Secondly, having equalised with ample time to spare, I fully expected us to go and get the win.
With our prodigal possession and dreary pace, we surrendered the initiative to Pompey in the first period. Initially the visitors were content to get numbers behind the ball and stifle the Gunners. But given our complete lack of interest, Pompey grew in confidence and began to come forward. Still Arsenal refused to respond and the arrival of a goal on half time was so inevitable, I think everybody in the stadium knew it was going to happen- except the players. If you concede two free headers in your penalty area right on half time you get what you deserve. The first half was a bit like watching a mouse cower in the presence of a sleeping cat, but then begin to cautiously approach before smacking the beffudled feline one on the nose.
It was truly groundhog day. Yet again Arsenal had a poor first half and conceded the first goal. A mistake we are repeating with embarassing regularity, one has to question the mentality of the players. Are the same glaring errors being repeated because of a lack of intelligence? Or is it owing to a lack of motivation to put things right? Further iniquity was to follow. Another lapse in concentration from Eboue who relinquished possession at right back and the ball fell to Matthew Taylor, nobody bothered to close down the most topical left foot in the Premiership and the result was sickeningly predictable.
Going two goals down was to have an insidious effect on us. The players began to close the ball down and chase. Players who turned out insipid first half displays like Fabregas, Clichy, Walcott and Gilberto began to play a bit. Why the team waited until it was fighting a two goal defecit to play this way I cannot discern. But the real catalyst, the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons was the introduction of Adebayor. Primus and Campbell had enjoyed a pipe and slippers afternoon to that point, but immediately Manu sought to get involved. He wanted the ball, chased lost causes which was to have a causal effect on the whole team. Arsenal employed a more direct approach, the much vaunted 'Plan B.' van Persie had looked apathetic, a little too comfortable to that point, but Ade made an enormous difference by giving the Pompey back line something to think about.
It was not surprising therefore that he led the fight back, as Walcott found space on the right, provided a pinpoint cross and Adebayor bundled in one of those scrappy six yard box goals that are so precious on such occasions. The whole stadium lifted and within minutes the equaliser arrived. Walcott pulled the ball back and Gilberto scuffed his initial effort, but showed the desire to regain his composure and fire into the corner. The sight of Djourou and Toure gleefully skipping across the pitch like five year old boys in the playground has to be one of the most amusing sights of the season. With half an hour and more remaining, there was plenty of time and momentum to grab a winner. van Persie feinted brilliantly past three defenders and mugged David James by opening out his body, tricking the in form keeper into thinking he was going to bend it, but blasted narrowly wide of the opposite corner. Adebayor continued to make a pest of himself, cutting in from the left and with his finger poised on the trigger, Glen Johnson made a superb last ditch challenge. Indeed, the performance of Johnson reminded all present that Chelsea have not destroyed his prospects just yet.
Ultimately it was not to be, but I have to give credit to the team for the avarice of their fight back. But that zeal was compromised by our insipid first half. Credit must also go to Pompey, Gary O'Neil and Matty Taylor are in the form of their lives, whilst Sean Davis marshalled Fabregas superbly. Primus and Campbell are forming a formidable partnership, and under the stewardship of a marvellous manager, it is not surprising to see them doing so well. Campbell and Kanu enjoyed deserved receptions, but having arrived with minutes until kick off, I was not aware of any reception for Tony Adams.
I became aware early in the second half that Wenger had not re emerged to the bench and frankly, I feared some kind of personal emergency. It was not until afterwards I became aware that he had been sent off for rattling an acid tongue towards the official. Wenger has to watch himself having just received a fine for his behaviour and his ire would have been better directed towards his players. Steve Bennett had a decent game and I cannot see what caused Wenger to berate him. Yesterday was also the worst I think I have ever seen Alex Hleb play, but games like this happen. A few stray passes and awkward touches cause you to think harder about what you are doing and you lose the inveterate qualities of your game. Overall, this was very much two points dropped and its time mistakes were not recycled with such infuriating impunity. LD.
Date:Sunday December 17 2006
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