Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday September 2 2007
Most of the talk surrounding today's game had been overshadowed by other events. The UEFA Champions' League Draw had provided my friends and I with plenty of food for thought as we began to consider travel arrangements (as well as requesting leave from work!). Last night, upon returning home and logging onto this site I discovered we had drawn Newcastle in the Carling Cup. I feared the worst, not Newcastle away, surely? After last year's unprecedented cavalcade of midweek away games, thankfully not. A reprieve in the shape of a home tie. Of course, much of the talk has been of takeover, thanks to a disgustingly timed announcement from David Dein about his new company 'Red & White Holdings', seriously, could you be anymore fucking transparent than that pathetic attempt at sentimental drivel? Those of you with a keen sense of history will remember the Nazi party originally baptised themselves as 'The German Workers' Socialist Party.' I will write more about my thoughts on the takeover in the coming week, frankly it upsets me far too much to contemplate it now. Mainly, because I sense my association with this club is nearing it's final curtain, I simply do not want to think about the moral dilemma of handing over my season ticket money while a snake like Dein and his new oligarch bed pal have their duplicitous, blood soaked hands manning the tills.
Thankfully, the kick off put those thoughts to bed for a couple of hours, particularly as pleasantries were observed with the home crowd giving warm receptions for two of Arsenal's 'Invincibles' Kanu and Lauren. It was good to see Lauren in particular, as we were never really granted the opportunity to say farewell and thank him for his immense contribution to a period of enormous success for our football club. Arsenal decided to make with a break in tradition by starting quickly at home. On six minutes, Rosicky's defence splitting pass was hunted down by Robin van Persie, James naively rushed out when there was really no need, RVP outpaced him, knocking the ball past James and waiting for the impending contact. Surprisingly, van Persie shunned the resulting spot kick. I have never been fond of Arsenal's penchant for rotating penalty takers, on the one hand, if you don't feel confident, by all means do not take the kick. But penalties are predominantly psychological affairs, and I really think the assigned kick taker has to take to the pitch knowing that any penalty will be his responsibility. Anyways, Adebayor's spot kick was collected and consummate, sliding low to James's left. In truth, it was Adebayor's only decent contribution to the game, his touch and decision making from that point was well below par.
Arsenal smelled blood and settled into a groove. Some sublime football saw van Persie's low cross narrowly missed by Adebayor's leg, the Togolese striker clearly preoccupied by James's elongated limb when a ruthless desire would have presented him with an open goal. The home side continued to dominate with Fabregas chief orchestrator and Tomas Rosicky at the centre of Arsenal's every move, Pompey looked timid in comparison. The Reds' doubled their money with a piece of ingenuity derived straight from Arsenal's past. Rosicky's flighted corner was flicked on by Gilberto at the front post, Fabregas unwittingly controlled the ball on his chest, before a swift swivel and shot saw him scramble Arsenal into a two goal lead. Two nil at half time and the game looked over. However, Pompey made changes at half time, with Kranjcar and Mendes looking to add a more creative edge to Portsmouth. Their cause was aided enormously four minutes into the second period, a slide rule pass to an offside looking Kanu caused Senderos to drag our ex talisman to the ground, Halsey had no hesitation in sending him off. It was Senderos's third dismissal for a professional foul in ten months. I am keen to view the incident again, as firstly I felt Kanu looked offside (I may be proved wrong) and secondly I think Toure was making up good ground on Kanu, so he may have had another obstacle to negotiate threatening his path to goal. Nevertheless, the contact with Kanu was there, and if he was onside and Toure was too late, it was a red card.
Pompey nearly halfed the defecit straight away thanks in no small part to some amateurish goalkeeping from Almunia. His positioning was laughable as he hugged the near post, so when Utaka's free kick went straight down the middle of the goal, Almunia gave himself a lot of ground to make up. He made it up well, but his agility was compromised by his sense of amateur dramatics as he over elaborated and pushed the ball straight out in front of him, thankfully Toure was in no mood for Hollywood behaviour, thwarting Davis's close range rebound. Word of advice Manuel, you're a good goalkeeper, chances to be Arsenal's number 1 do not come along too often, you have this chance now, don't waste it by prizing your future career as an action movie stunt man over the virginity of your goal. Pompey rightly sensed this would be their best chance of a revival and went for the jugular. Gilberto slotted in at centre half, but Arsenal's back line, comprising of two midfielders, looked roughshod as Kanu was a constant source of danger. A goalmouth scramble caused by Utaka's jinking feet on the left was averted only by Gilberto's vigilance. Flamini performed admirably out of position, looking solid at the back whilst ably supporting the attack. Toure and Gilberto had moments of individual brilliance at the back, but lacked cohesion. My suspicions that Toure, great player that he is, is not a captain were confirmed further as Gilberto assumed the responsibility of cajoling the backline.
A Matthew Taylor shot whistled past the post as Pompey piled on the pressure. Despite lacking shape, with RVP sat in central midfield and Denilson replacing Hleb on the right flank, the Gunners' dug in for each other. Rosicky in particular seemed to play the game in perpetual motion, Fabregas covered every blade of grass and the Gunners' grabbed a wonderfully crafted third. Adebayor won a free kick on the left, with the Pompey defence in contemplative slumber, Cesc quickly nudged the ball to Rosicky. Little Mozart was bang in tune as he collected the ball, took one touch before positively leathering it low past David James. Everybody loves a winding run or a thirty yard volley, but this is the type of goal I really love, the type that is all brains, together with no small amount of brawn in the finish! In short, I could well have imagined Pires and Bergkamp combining to formulate something similar. Rosicky was very deserving of his goal and it meant two more goals from midfield. Unfortunately, Pompey were really intent on making it a game. The impressive Utaka jinked past Clichy before firing in a low cross, Kanu impishly backheeled the ball with his right leg into the net via a small deflection from his left instep. It was a trick we had seen him pull in an Arsenal shirt!
Glen Johnson's long range piledriver was smartly saved by Almunia, before a brilliant last ditch Kolo Toure tackle prevented David Nugent from grabbing his first Portsmouth goal. Arsenal had been fairly clinical to this point, but last season's profligacy would haunt them again. More fantastical piruohetting from the outstanding Rosicky played Clichy in down the left, the improvement on his delivery from wide positions was encapsulated with a pinpoint cross which Diaby somehow conspired to head wide from six yards, the goal braced in front of him with it's knickers around its ankles. An enthralling game was called to an end by a referee who had been more concerned about getting his ugly mug on camera than officiating the game with the laws of the game in mind. Distin's persistent shirt pulling was completely ignored, whilst Fabregas was booked for, for....well I don't know why in truth. What was equally frustrating was seeing a referee pull up Arsenal's time wasting. Don't get me wrong, this was only right and there was occasion when Arsenal ate time at set pieces. But after watching a good half a dozen teams commit far, far worse folly at the Grove in the past twelve months without anything approaching recompense, it was hard to swallow. In games against Everton and, infamously, Wigan last year, I personally saw three rolexes and a tag heure untie themseleves from a spectator's wrist and leap off of the top tier in acts of defiant kamikaze. Following Chris Kirkland's attempt to injure eternity, I have it on good authority that the iconic Clock End timepiece required three months of counselling.
It was another three points acquired through a mixture of guts and graft. Fabregas has already equalled his goalscoring tally from last season, and today was his first good performance of the season. Tomas Rosicky demonstrated what a top player he is with a display that perfectly combined attacking grace with determined defensive tenacity. I have often derided the quality (but never the effort) of Matty Flmaini but he was outstanding at right back today, both offensively and defensively. Gilberto dropped back into centre half and saved our overly exposed hynies on occasion. Once Arsenal had gone down to ten men, it was great to see them all really digging in for each other, and though we missed Gallas's organisational skills, and the front two misfired, Arsenal combined their trademark swift passing play with a real grit and desire to play for each other. Those that ridiculed the sale of Henry really missed the bigger picture in terms of team spirit and responsibility. The camaraderie looks ten times better than at any time since our unbeaten season, individuals are taking responsibility for each other, not just themselves. After the game I stopped for a few jars in the Tavern to watch Chelsea lose to a committed and organised Villa side. I'm not telling you we can win the league this year, but I think we might go close. Basically, through a mixture of selfless players, willing to work for each other, as well as the immeasurable individual quality we possess, there's no telling where this team can go. In short, you can stick your f*****g roubles up your arse. Sideways Mr. Dein, sideways.LD.
Date:Sunday September 2 2007
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