Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday August 27 2007
Yes, I know, this one's been on the backburner for a little too long. With Saturday's match now more than forty eight hours on the horizon, I presume the finer points of the game have been dissected and diagnosed to death. But, I like to flatter myself that people like to read my opinions so I'll provide them anyway and, in the words of Julian Casblancas, take it or leave it. The tardiness of this report can be attributed squarely to the fact that one cannot shirk from a barbecue and a wee drinky on a glorious summer's Sunday. And with the Bank Holiday weather upholding it's end of the bargain into today, I just could not resist the overtures of some fishing in Tonbridge.
Anyways, the Citeh game pretty much followed the pattern of Arsenal's season in that we were not exceptional, but we did enough to get the result. This is a quality we have lacked consistently in the last two seasons, so I take the fact that we are far from our best, yet picking up the points, as huge encouragement. It's early days yet, but the Gunners' seem to have matured. Arriving at the stadium in our uncannily punctual fashion (i.;e right on kick off) I was very surprised to see Gilberto Silva in the starting line up. I was even more surprised to see that Kolo Toure had been awarded the armband ahead of the talismanic Brazilian. However, this would appear to have been explained away by Philippe Senderos's last minute pull out. Gilberto performed as you would expect from a man of his laudable attitude. Being thrown back into the fire in an unfamiliar position, selected minutes before kick off, he took care of business. His calm autority at the back was crucial in the absence of the injured William Gallas and the 'injured' Jens Lehmann.
Arsenal were a little slow to come out of the blocks, with Eriksson's side ruthlessly organised. The crowd responded with their usual impatient bluster, as time and again Micah Richards and Richard Dunne would thwart our advances. Michael Johnson was running amok in midfield and the blues looked a very impressive outfit, disciplined and willing to work for each other. But our entrapy in the first half is quite explainable, against sides ready to run their wotsits off like City, it makes much more sense to hit them in the last half an hour of the game. Arsenal are a very fit side and statistics show we score the majority of our goals late in games. City might have taken the lead in the first half, apromising breakaway culminating in a weak attempt from Elano with Mpenza placed promisingly to his right. Bacary Sagna was forced off injured after an unfortunate collision with Matty Flamini, typical as he has started the season with great applomb, thankfully the diagnosis was not too serious. Flamini moved to right back and Denilson came on in central midfield and gave an assured display which belied his years, offering some intelligent and combative play. He looks to be the complete player to me, he is gifted enough to play the pass of finesse, but intelligent enough to be economical. An arty Brazilian who does not mind a meaty challenge, he was able to keep City's livewire Michael Johnson more quiet. The Gunners' created little of note in the first half, relying a little too readily on the long ball to Adebayor, with the physical presence of Richards and Dunne dealing with Arsenal's flighted passes with ease. The Gunners' most promising moments came when the likes of Hleb and Denilson were involved in the play, cutting through City with short, swift passing.
This was a message obviously radiated by Wenger at half time. Adebayor had played the role of withdrawn striker in the first half, meaning that when he did win the aerial challenge, the ball would often drop into no man's land, marshalled ably by the City back line. In the second half, van Persie was the one dropping deep, encouraging the Gunners' to pass the ball into his feet, and leave Adebayor to make his presence felt in the penalty box. Hleb, Rosicky and Denilson continued to dictate the rhythm and orchestrate attacks. With Denilson next to him in midfield Cesc was not under so much pressure to be the architect and was encouraged to go forwards. But despite Arsenal's territorial dominance, City could have twice taken the lead on the counter attack. Firstly as Emile Mpenza raced clear only to be thwarted by the assured Almunia. Latterly, when the lively Martin Petrov drilled a low shot agonisingly wide. But the home side continued to plug away and Alex Hleb, who had been a constant nuisance to Garrido all afternoon, cut inside from the right (annoying when he does that isn't it?), jinking past one defender before Micah Richards crudely took him down from behind.
van Persie stepped up, Arsenal's Dutch striker versus Schmeichel from the penalty spot, we had been here before. Kasper proved to be a most unfriendly ghost from the Gunners' past as he beat away van Persie's low effort. I thought that we might have blown it at that point. With City looking very resolute, you had the feeling that when Arsenal's chance came we were going to have to take it. van Persie made an instant attempt at redemption, running with vigour at the City backline before unleashing a low shot which Schmeichel held comfortably. Fabregas collected a Hleb lay off, but his shot was straight at Rudolf junior. But a most welcome breakthrough was to arrive. Alex Hleb again laying the foundations with a run from the right, before laying the ball off in the area (annoying when he does that isn't it?) and Fabregas unleashed a vicious drive into the roof of the net from an acute angle. Last season it would have cannoned off the crossbar. Fabregas appears to encapsulate Arsenal's new found maturity. Again, he had an insipid game, but yet again, his contribution was match altering.
Arsenal held out, despite Schmeichel's last ditch header, Manuel Almunia seemingly sensing the drama made a quite elaborate save. It was another grind for the points, but City come out of the match with immense credit, they looked a disciplined and organised outfit with intelligence in the final third. The likes of Petrov and Elano have the ability to hurt teams, and City would have been good value for a point. I am hopeful that City can maintain their good start to the season, my reasosn are two fold. Firstly, the treatment of England's second most successful manager in their history is quite appalling and an example of the 'blame Johnny Foreigner' culture which permeates our media. The reasons for England's perceived failure are far less simplistic. Secondly, because I've always had a soft spot for City, our fans have bonded with them over the years due to a mutual distaste for the red half of Manchester, their fans are always a great crack and every time I've visited their ground, the banter has always been top quality. (One year at Maine Road, having gone into the break four goals down to Arsenal, the City fans piped up seconds after the restart with 'nil nil, in the second half.' Followed very closely by 'What's it like to be outclassed?') With the naysayers being only too quick to write Arsenal off, the boys have quietly gone about their business with some old fashioned elbow grease, let's hope the lazy hacks keep writing us off.LD.
Date:Monday August 27 2007
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