Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday December 27 2006
As promised, reporting live from my sister's laptop in sunny Dartford. The kettle is boiled, the heating is of Sahara proportions (like I said, my sister's flat, I'm not paying) and your esteemed writer is feeling suitably plump. After my particular contribution, Old Speckled Hen will be posting record profits and I think I have discovered why I do not eat nuts, raisins, pretzels etc for the other 364 days of the year!
I am not exactly a die hard traditionalist, but the Boxing Day fixture has long been a favourite of mine, the site of everybody rocking dope new threads (plus a sizeable number who were too polite to tell their Auntie that they cannot possibly go to a match in that horrific knitwear), plus a chance to get out of the house following the veritable feast of food and drink the day previous have made Boxing Day football a Stillman tradition since I can remember. Unfortunately, it does mean that arriving at the match can be a bloody headache as yesterday proved. With the abolition of the Metroplitan Line and the Silverlink from Euston I was left with little choice but to board the Travel Club Coach from the Grove. A 45 minute coach journey for an away match was most surreal. But further travel problems were to ensue, having been so relieved to have found a way to the match I had not bothered to work out the return journey to Dartford. In an outrageous stroke of fortune, the coaches the Travel Club use dock in Gillingham, which means they literally go past my sister's front door. (Yes, I did tip the driver before you ask).
Anyways, it is hard to know what to make of the game itself. On one hand, I think we constantly posed an attacking threat and made more than enough chances to win the match comfortably. We would have done were it not for the excellent Ben Foster. Cesc, van Persie, Hoyte and Adebayor were all to see efforts beaten out by Foster. He had a similarly inspired match at the Emirates, Foster demonstrates a Schmeichelesque presence in a one on one situation, standing up and making himself big for as long as possible. Surely a future England number one and already better than that laughable oaf Robinson.
But for our attacking threat, we showed a defensive frailty. Hoyte was persistently out of position, when he was the lightning pace of Bouazza made Hoyte look quite the roasted turkey. Clichy began the game in a shaky fashion, looking roughed up by the thoroughbred Smith and panicking a lot of his clearances. However, the Hurricane eventually got a grip. Djourou lacked the aerial presence to cope with the Watford forwards. The introduction of Senderos at half time remedied this, as he offset Watford's aerial bombradment by offering a more physical presence. The Magnificent Toure was, for once, faced with a forward line that could match his boundless pace and the upshot was Watford gave us a lot of problems. Mahon and Bangura closed space and neutered Fabregas, whilst the wingers tracked back to limit the effectiveness of Hleb and Rosicky.
This meant that when Arsenal did go forward, there was little room for insividuality and we were at our most effective when we played swift one touch football. It looks as though Adebayor tweaked a thigh muscle towards the end of the game which is a huge shame because he is in great form. The only Arsenal player you could say shone as an individual was Gilberto Silva. It was akin to watching a roadrunner cartoon because he was everywhere. Sensing his centre backs apprehension, he dropped back and intercepted aerially and won possession for the side on countless occasions. Clearly relishing his role as captain, prior to the game in the warm up, he called all the players over and was seen to be cajouling and instructing his side for a good minute and a half.
Gilberto's performance was to be concisely (excuse me, Keeping Up Appearances has just come on TV as I type, I HATE that show, the Simpson's that's better, anyway) summised in two first half minutes. A high ball was misjudged by Djourou which left Smith bearing down on goal, Gilberto sniffed ot out like a bloodhound and executed an outstanding last ditch tackle. Tis the season and a minute later, Arsenal reignited an old tradition. As the corner swung in, the ghost of Christmas past was in the air as Toure did his best Steve Bould impression on the front post and Gilberto observed the Dickensian etiquette by nodding in on the back post. Onew of the guys I go with is a bookie and informed me that Gilberto was at 2,000s for the Golden Boot in August, but bookies being the interminable Scrooges they are have shortened the odds (humbugs).
However, Watford pegged us back as the Magnificent Toure was outpaced (surely a first) by Bouazza and the back four were all at sea for Smith to tuck the cross past Lehmann. The Gunners pressed on and the Beast made a difference by adding some physical presence, but the Reds got their winner. Gilberto made another timely clearance and Walcott set van Persie away on the break. As soon as he cut in on his left foot the result was obvious. It masked a poor performance from RVP. he looked languid in possession and unwilling to chase back. He also showed his petulant side, castigating Baptista when the Beast nearly scored and ignoring him in the celebrations for the second goal. van Persie will do well to remember the patience shown in him when he was settling in and Baptista put more effort into fifteen minutes than van Persie did in 90. RVP is hardly in a position to lambast others for selfishness in front of goal and I hope that Baptista's propensity towards goal will not be compromised. LD.
Date:Wednesday December 27 2006
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