Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 31 2006
There is not really much of a bright spin to put on this game is there? The performance was as abject as I have seen. When I arrived in the ground, I just had this feeling that this would not be a comfortable afternoon. Sitting just above pitch level, I could see that the turf was already cutting up and the unctuous surface would disrupt our passing game. With Hleb out, leaving Cesc on the bench looked to be a mistake that Wenger also made at Wigan, as our midfield lacked a creative spark. That and as I took my seat, I was positioned directly under one of the beams in the roof of the Haliswell End, meaning drops of icy water rhythmically slapped against my shorn bonce around every ten seconds.
The Gunners started brightly enough, creating dangerous situations, but the impetus petered out as the Blades became more assiduous, closing down space and denying the Gunners possession. The relentless rainfall meant that the Gunners panicked in possession and either misplaced passes with infuriating impunity, or lumped the ball aimlessly towards the forwards. In fairness, I don't believe either side deserved to win the game given the lack of opportunities created, but the simple fact is that once United took their solitary chance, they outfought us. I have watched Christian Nade several times this season, and he has looked little more than an embarassing impressionist of a Premiership striker, but yesterday he transformed into this cantankerous flying machine as he outmuscled Toure to score.
From there on in our bright yellow shirts could not mask our pallid performance. The Blades used the conditions to their advantage and Chris Morgan in particular was inspired. There was little ontological proof of any kind of steel to see us through and five minutes into the second half I remarked to my friend that the game was over. I think fatigue played a part in our ponderous build ups, and a lack of players did not enable us to make an inspired change. But Sheffield United have been party to the same punishing schedule and have a treatment room as crowded as our own, the painful truth is that they wanted it more. No Arsenal player has played more than Gilberto Silva, yet he was our most energetic and creative player, the captain and Senderos are the only players who escape my scathing tongue. Davis and Morgan were indefatigable in defence, whilst Colin Kazim Richards provided a pacy outlet upfront. Yet as I type the names Chris Morgan, Claude Davis and Colin Kazim Richards, with all the respect in the world, should Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky et al be able to overcome them?
That said, some of the comments from around me were bordering on lunacy. The person next to me remarked that the Beast is ****, bring back Reyes!!! Yes, because I am sure Jose would have relished the physical battle in wet and windy conditions. In fact, when Baptista moved upfront I felt he looked effective and looks powerful in possession, he just needs time to adapt. In fairness, I know Dave questioned his need to take touches in the box, but the surface did demand it. When he received Aliadiere's pull back in the second half, I was exactly in line with the path of the ball, and it bounced like a rugby ball. A number of people around me decided to turn on Aliadiere and this is entirely unfair. Do not get me wrong, he had a poor game and wanted time on the ball he was never going to get, but his effort was ten times the indolent offering from van Persie. I think this is three games on the trot now where, despite his goals, he has looked lazy, complacent, arrogant and unwilling to fight. The only Bergkamp trait I could see in him yesterday was throwing his arms up demanding fouls rather than playing on and fighting for the ball.
Rosicky appears to have gone off the boil since his injury. I think his predicament could be symmetrical to Hleb's last year. Having enjoyed a promising start, an injury has curtailed his impetus. Toure is likewise enduring a dip in form, which is understandable as he is long overdue and he plays an awful lot of games. The sooner Gallas comes back the better.
However, what really disappointed me was Wenger's post match interview. He offered that Sheffield United had been overly physical and that his players gave their all. I can well understand Wenger's reluctance to criticise his young charges in public and I would always maintain that what Wenger says to the press and what he says to his players are two seperate entities. But to implicate United as thuggish is unpalatable and completely disrespectful to the opposition who ground out a win in difficult circumstances. I admit I have not seen the van Persie/ Morgan incident back yet, I just saw van Persie prone on the ground. But one isolated incident does not, and must not, inoculate us from performing for a whole ninety minutes. The reality was we were not good enough. Wenger cut a forlorn figure on the bench and his body language suggested defeat was expected. The only time he got to his feet was to berate the fourth official. Given his litigious behaviour of late, this lack of dignity is becoming very embarassing. The supporters become object of mockery and Wenger's claims will be counter productive as when teams really are over physical, referees and observers alike will dismiss our concerns as substanceless whining. In retrospect, I think Wenger owes United and Warnock an apology as he has attempted to defame their efforts. At the final whistle the players once again trudged off without acknowledging the fans. It is perfectly acceptable for them to criticise us mind and from this point, whenever they come over in victory, I will always view this courtesy with suspicion and whether or not I will formalise a similar return is doubtful. I do not want Arsenal or Arsene to be good losers, I do not want them to be full of pleasantries and smiles. But a little contrition and dignity to opponents and supporters alike really is not difficult. Happy New Year folks, and whatever you get upto tonight, stay safe and celebrate heartily. LD.
Date:Sunday December 31 2006
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