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Rockin' Robin Robs the Mackems

Well it was a breathless match in what has been an extremely breathless day. Trains came to a complete standstill around my way on Sunday morning. In turn, this meant I spent most of my Sunday morining jogging around Croydon in search of a functioning train. Having spent my Saturday in front of the box, watching the England v Australia match with a few beers, before deciding to watch the France v. New Zealand match with a few beers, before watching the Amir Khan fight with a few more beers. Well, you can well imagine I was hardly in a state to be breathlessly plodding through the streets of West Croydon. Consequently, I missed the first five minutes of the game, the only five minutes of Premiership football Arsenal have played in six years which have not unfolded before my eyes. Had I not been on the verge of a cardiac arrest, I might have been quite upset about it!

I did thankfully arrive in time to see the first goal and an absolute masterpiece it was. Cesc Fabregas was tripped on the edge of the penalty area, the ball ran to Abou Diaby who drilled it into the top corner. Unfortunately, the referee's whistle had long since blown and we were left to rue what might have been. We needn't have bothered! van Persie stepped up before smashing an unstoppable free kick in off the underside of the crossbar, the woodwork visibly whincing in recognition of the Dutchman's fierce strike. Arsenal, already enjoying astronomical confidence levels, began to knock the ball around with liberal abandon, Hleb and Fabregas assuming the role of chief tormentors. It was nearly two nil minutes later when Adebayor showed insatiable desire to attack a Sagna cross and loop his header goalwards, only for Craig Gordon to thrust out a limb and tip it over the bar. The Gunners' did double their lead eventually, Fabregas' corner was hazardously turned back towards his own goal by the electric Kenwyne Jones, Nosworthy hooked it away as far as Adebayor. Ade's cross was cheekily flicked on via the instep of Abou Diaby and Philippe Senderos scuffed the ball agaonisingly into the corner. Ironically, had his connection been anything approaching true, his effort would most likely have been blocked.

A rout looked to be on the cards, as the atmosphere dropped in mute expectation, fans began to chatter amongst themselves, confident of a sizeable victory. Arsenal were outrageously denied a third by as incompetent a piece of assistant refereeing as you're likely to see. Fabregas played in Hleb on the right flank, Hleb aimed a low cross at the surging Mathieu Flamini, clearly onside with the linesman in a good position. The ball broke to Diaby who dispatched calmly, but the lino's over eager flag saw the effort chalked off. It was a decision the equal of Salomon Kalou's unjust flag against Blackburn a few weeks previous. It was a psychological turning point as Arsenal played with the handbrake on, their concentration having tangibly deserted them. It was an irresponsible psyche to adopt, anybody expecting a side managed by Roy Keane to lay down and die is in need of a stark reality check. Arsenal got theirs when Kenwyne Jones outmuscled Clichy, who had a poor game, only to have his shot blocked by the onrushing Almunia. Ross Wallace collected the rebound, chesting it down past Toure before cooly slamming home a consolation.

The Gunners' forged another opportunity to put Sunderland out of sight. Gordon tipped over van Persie's dipping drive and from the resultant corner, Senderos lost his marker at the back post, but somehow contrived to head wide with the net at his mercy. Sunderland had been content to sit back and play on the counter attack in the first half, but they took the game to Arsenal in the second period and were rewarded with an unlikely equaliser. With Bacary Sagna nowhere to be seen, Wallace had all the time in the world to ping in a left wing cross, Clichy was left marking two players, but Kenwyne Jones flattened all and sundry by leaping to head the cross in from close range. Almunia should have saved the effort comfortably, but I feel he was caught attempting some theatrics and ended up palming it limply into his own net. The home side had dug themsleves a hole, and it would take vast mental resources to expiate themsleves from the predicament with Jones giving the Arsenal backline a torrid time.

Walcott and Eboue were brought on on the right, whilst Hleb took his twinkling toes to the left to replace the ineffective Diaby. Walcott looked very lost again, his lack of bravery and confidence was rather noticeable. There was no lack of bravery or confidence in Kolo Toure. He marched forwards with another of his trademark runs, before unleashing a stinging exerset from thirty five yards. It crashed ferociously off the post and Toure was denied a screamer that his performances of late easily warranted. The rebound fell to van Persie's left foot on the edge of the box, but he screwed his effort wide with the woodwork still vibrating hypnotically. Arsenal carried on pressing with Hleb at the heart of Arsenal's every move, he played a deft one two with Fabregas on the edge of the box, feinted and dummied past two despairing Sunderland tackles before pulling the ball back into the six yard box. But it skipped up in front of young Walcott, compromising the wing heeled youngster's connection. Adebayor toiled in vain to hook the ball in with his heel, but the chance had gone.

Despite the feeling of tension permeating the stadium, the third goal always looked likely and it duly arrived eight minutes from time. Fabregas played a clever ball into the feet of Walcott, who had moved into a more central position, Theo angled an intelligent ball into van Persie who took a controlling touch in the area before beating Gordon's despairing dive with an early shot. The sense of relief was palpable, but the drama was not over. Liam Miller looped the ball over Toure, giving himself just the goalkeeper to bat, but Almunia was immensely brave, throwing himself into the path of the ball and rushing Miller's effort. The rebound fell to Jones, but as he angled his shot across goal, Miller was unable to pull himself to his feet to divert it goalward. Arsenal could have bagged a fourth, Walcott, imbued with confidence from his assist, meandered between two Sunderland defenders only to see his low shot hit the inside of the post.

With the board for injury time about to go up, Alex Hleb cleverly took the ball off Paul McShane. As Hleb raced to retrieve the ball from the touchline, McShane took exception to being outwitted so blatantly and aimed a lunging challenge at Hleb's, ahem, bread basket. As with Noble a week earlier, unsatisfied by missing Hleb with one foot, he thought he'd have a pop with the other leg, bringing his knee purposely towards Hleb's face. It was a deserved red card, Roy Keane was inches away and he did not contest the decision at all, in fact, he admirably removed McShane from the fray quick smart. It will be interesting to see the football association's view on what followed. With Rob Styles holding the card aloft, McShane forcibly took the referee by the wrist and threw his arm down in mock horror at the decision. True to their almost laughable form, the football association have made trouble for themselves. John Terry performed a similar action a fortnight ago, but as is the rule with England captains, he was not punished. Now the F.A has a situation where they either let McShane off and justify and condone aggressive behaviour towards match officials in the exact week they have made such a song and dance about eradicating such incident. Or they punish him and illustrate to the world what a bunch of jilted, spineless no marks they are and concede that England internationals are privy to different regulations. I await their response with bated breath.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday October 7 2007

Time: 8:29PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
It was a good, if not frustrating match. Diaby's second effort was, as Tim rightly pointed out, well onside, however Adebayor was offside in the build up. So while the linesman looks doubly incompetant, I guess justice was done in the end. van Persie's freekick was unreal, I swear I saw the crossbar try to get out of the way. And watching the game on Setanta, my anger at the challenge on Hleb turned to laughter when the commentator saw GL treating Al's unfortunate injury and simply stated "You're gunna need more than a bog of ice to fix that mate" ........ Lol.
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07/10/2007 20:39:00

It was a very entertaining match (aren't they always with us?) and without wishing to dound patronising, I neglected to metion that Sunderland more than played their part. Yorke was fantastic and Jones looks a real player, despite McShane's challenge, they played a hard but fair game. They'll stay up for sure if they keep playing like that.
Little Dutch
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07/10/2007 20:42:00

Think Sunderland deserve lots of credit for the way they played today, not a lot of teams come to The Grove and play like that. Also - Almunia for me had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt, i agree somewhat re the 2nd goal and maybe him going for Hollywood - if he just ironed that out of his game... Also Theo was a different player for the last ten minutes. That right side was an absolute nightmare defensively mind!!
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07/10/2007 20:42:00

Posed my comment before seeing yours LD - well said.
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07/10/2007 20:44:00

I think Sunderland are a very poor footballing side, but what they do have is fight, and plenty of it. If Quinn had appointed anybody else other than Roy Keane as manager, they would be in deep *****. RK proves that you squad doesn't need bags of talent to get places, if you want it enough, things can be achieved. They put Spurs £100M squad to complete shame. Good on 'em.
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07/10/2007 20:46:00

I thought we got a bit cocky after the first 20 minutes or so and let the tempo drop to a level that Sunderland were able to deal with. To be fair they played well and, McShane aside, didn't rely on trying to out muscle us. A few years back when in Glasgow an ardent Celtic fan of a cab driver waxed lyrical to me about 'young Liam Miller'. I didn't see much of him when he joined ManU but I thought he did well against us today. Good to see the ref treating McShanes foul on Hleb for what it was - a cynical and malicious attempt to 'do' Hleb. The ball played no part in that particular tackle and unlike last week the right punishment was given. Another lesson learned by the boys today but once again they came good.
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07/10/2007 21:01:00

Amos - I think you'll find the ball definately did play apart, infact TWO of them did!!!
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07/10/2007 21:09:00

Yes - that's true Rocky. The look on Hlebs face blotted the thought from my mind. Jeez - that must have hurt!
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07/10/2007 21:12:00

Poor Hleb, he's been in the wars this season. Probably because nobody knows how to deal with old twinkle toes!!!
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07/10/2007 21:17:00

Sunderland played quite well, especially in the 2nd half, when they really took the game to Arsenal. But I thought the 3rd goal was only a matter of time coming, coz we created so many chances. A little disappointed with the defence, Clichy and Sagna having average games, Toure was turned on more than one occassion. Arsene will have to sort that out quickly. The RVP free kick was fantastic, as was his finish for the winner. He is doing just about enough to justify the pre-season hype, and thats pleasing to see. Hleb, again, had a very good game. I thought he could have taken a shot when he was one on one, on the left (in the 2nd half, when we were looking for a winner), but he tried to pass it around. I thought he was consciously trying to take more shots on goal, didnt see that today. I hope that changes.
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07/10/2007 21:38:00

I was at the game too and what a relief it was to win that game. Don't know whether it was Sunderland's good play or a lack on our part, but it just seemed like Sunderland were getting to our final third too easily. Fabregas didn't have his most influential game, but he was closed down very quicky all the time. Almunia definitely should have done better with the equaliser. Toure's shot off the post would have been such a fantastic goal!
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07/10/2007 21:40:00

I would have run from Purley to N5 and still made the pub for a pre-match Guinness. You kids today have no staying power ;o)
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07/10/2007 21:52:00

This should serve as a wake up call to us. At least we did not lose to get to learn a lesson of humility as Le Boss quoted "At 2-0 the game looked easy and maybe in our minds we lost a bit of urgency and gave them room to come back."
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07/10/2007 22:15:00

That was the best game of football i have watched in along, long time. Lots of goals and chances that went so close without the ineptitude of defending on show when Pompey beat Reading 7-4 last week. Brilliant spectacle for a neutural, onside goal disallowed, 3 posters, a red card, all attack football, the only thing it didnt have was a penalty.
Ozi Gooner
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07/10/2007 23:30:00

sweet mother of god RVPs' goal was just 'unfair' one cannot defend against such a freakishly powerful and accurate strike of the ball and the only way the goalkeeper could have stopped that is if he guessed where it was going beforehand and that would be it is 'unfair' that they have no chance of stopping something like that EVER...actually the only person who could defend against a shot like that would be RVP himself. the FA should do something about it...
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08/10/2007 00:37:00

Super game all 'round! Clichy was pretty ordinary, but other than the missed tap in, I thought Theo did reasonably well, esp for the RvP goal. They're a tough team of scrappers, and did well. Hope they stay up.
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08/10/2007 00:54:00

i think hleb should get spiritual help from somewhere. cos he just has the worst karma ever. it seems the opposition just wanna hurt him so bad everytime they get a chance. at this rate, he will be hospitalised in no time. lucky we have heaps of midfield players to cover.
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08/10/2007 02:42:00

Good result...i was worrying a lot at 2-2 but we came through again :)
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08/10/2007 05:21:00

Dave, your comment loses at credibility at the following stage, "I would have run."
Little Dutch
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08/10/2007 06:16:00

Heh, fair do's!
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08/10/2007 07:34:00

Truth be told I always felt this would be a tougher game than most people anticipated. They had a tough game in eastern Europe midweek, Sunderland isn't exactly a glamour matchup even with Keano at the helm, and after playing a Champions League tie and a local derby the previous week, I felt a letdown was inevitable. Thankfully the team had enough quality to get three points. The defense is going to be our weak point all year, particularly on set pieces and crosses, and I think it's where I give Man U the slight edge to pip us for the title at this point (also think Van De Sar is better then either keeper we've got). Gallas should improve things a bit, but he's been a bit too injury prone since joining us and I'm beginning to worry that it's more of a trend than a blip. Still, it was a fun game to watch...I thought Theo played his best game since the Carling Cup final, and it's a shame he couldn't get on the scoresheet as I feel that would really give his game and confidence an extra boost. As for RVP, he's right up there with the best dead ball strikers on the planet...he had a couple free kicks like that last year as well, and just like Sunday no keeper on this or any other planet could've stopped 'em.
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08/10/2007 09:39:00

Maybe a few more substitute appearances for Theo against the 'weaker' sides is just what he needs to boost his confidence. He looked impressive (apart from that attempted finish), and looked a different player.
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08/10/2007 10:27:00

Theo showed flashes but still isnt anywhere near a first team player. He still needs to grow some balls as he pulled out of a couple of 50-50 challenges. We will need our full squad available to face the mancs and liverpool I dont trust Almunia, Diaby, Flamini or Senderos.
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08/10/2007 11:40:00

Fair play gunner1981, but Flamini has been different class this season, anyone who can keep bert out of the side deserves to be there. Great report LD! can we play tottenham again soon!?
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08/10/2007 13:52:00

gunner1981 - Almunia only made one mistake (yes, it proved costly for the 2nd goal), but overall, he was solid. Made a couple of good interceptions and was generally assured. For the 1st goal, he came out and took the ball away from Jones, before Wallace scored. Flamini had a decent game, and has been splendid so far this season. I would start them against Lliverpool.
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08/10/2007 15:03:00

The truth is that Sunderland were on course for a pasting. The disallowed goal somewhat interfered with our rhythm, and we did switch off a bit. But for all their fight and Roy Keaneness, they were on course for a pasting and they know it. But alls well that ends well.
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08/10/2007 17:45:00

I totally agree with you Gaga. Sunderland were indeed very lucky the "third" goal was disallowed. They would have gotten a thorough hiding had it not been. Keane or not. We should have chalked up a +16 GD by now.
Warri Gooner
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08/10/2007 20:09:00

Well done you deserved the victory good luck for the rest of the season but not when you come to the SOL
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09/10/2007 20:27:00


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