Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday November 1 2007
Apologies for the lateness of the report, having blagged half a day yesterday during some office chaos, I couldn't spare my lunch hour today. Really, I should be snuggled up in bed right now with a warm horlicks and my P.Js, having not slept Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday night this week, I'm starting to see things that aren't really there. But what I did see last night was one of the least testing games I have seen these youngsters come through yet. Sheffield United are a side clearly at the trough of their collective confidence, managed by a man with possibly the most abysmal managerial track record in the history of planet Earth, Robbo makes John Major look an inspiring apotheosis in comparison.
I expected commitment blood and a wee rumbling of thunder from the hosts, who really had nothing to lose despite the junior status of our team. Arriving in my seats on kick off, I was suprised to see Gilberto lining up in midfield with Diarra at right back. Perhaps the rumours emanating from the press had a grain of truth (well, the sun shines on a dog's arse at least once a day) and Bert had refused to play centre back. I grew even more bewildered when I saw the captain's armband adorning the arm of rookie keeper Lukasz Fabianski. With Armand Traore on international duty, Kieran Gibbs played at left back and Hoyte and Song assumed the centre back mantle. It was a very makeshift back four with several players playing out of position (perhaps Gilberto should think about their willingness to do this) and I felt our cohesiveness as a unit would be tested. Not so, because the Blades insist on playing Jon Stead upfront, who has to be the worst footballer EVER!
The Gunners' began the game at their own pace, with United unwilling to shut down space and it did not take Arsenal long to assume the lead. Bendtner was the focal point, collecting Denilson's pass with his back to goal, before being afforded ample time to turn and pick his pass to Eduardo. The Crozilian delievered a sweet left footed finish from the edge of the box which whizzed past the hapless Ian Bennett. Eduardo has had a number of quiet games for us in the embryonic stages of his Arsenal career- as is to be expected- but I honestly cannot remember him missing a chance when one has presented itself. That has to bode well. United's heads dropped and Arsenal's talented youngsters were in the mood, Diarra and Bendtner in particular looked like they wanted to prove a point, whilst Denilson oozed class and control as always. The respective performances of Denilson and Diarra (albeit at right back) were a stern reminder, as if it were needed, that Flamini will have to maintain his epiphinous form to hang onto his place.
Arsenal threatened on the break and when Walcott was put away by Bendtner, he skipped round Bennett but over ran the ball slightly. A less honest player might have fallen to the ground for the spot kick. Theo had a lively game, though his decision making was sometimes suspect, elementary for somebody of his youth. What is encouraging is to see that he wants the ball a lot more now and runs with more purpose. The decision making will come in time. There is an old epitaph that good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement. After the half hour mark, the Gunners' dropped off the pace a bit as United came forward, but I cannot recall an attack of any genuine conviction as the away side went into the break relatively comfortable. Arsenal should have stretched their lead early in the second half, as Diaby's line ball set Walcott tearing through an enormous gap in the Blades defence, Walcott danced around Bennett only to see his shot clip the foot of the post with the goal yawning at his mercy. Sheffield did not take the hint, and minutes later the lead was doubled, Kieran Gibbs chipped the ball through the canyon in the middle of the home side's backline, which Eduardo ran onto and dispatched with a cool finish. I was sat behind that goal and as Eduardo approached, you could see the clamness pervade him and just never doubted he would score.
The fight completely drained out of United from that point, with Arsenal playing at walking pace. A disgruntled Blades fan decided to vent his frustration by marching towards Bryan Robson and hurling his scarf towards him, ghenuflecting the actions of a Boro fan towards Steve McLaren two seasons ago. Does this mean Robbo is in line to succeed Stevie Mac? Denilson wrapped up the scoring with a well deserved goal, his long range shot taking a wicked deflection off of thug and part time centre half Steve Morgan and dipping menacingly over Bennett. The amusement for the reaminder of the match came from the stands, as a Blades fan decided to perform an impromptu star jump dance in front of the mocking Arsenal fans. I guess the Blades fans' had to get their entertainment somehow! The final whistle went to end what was really quite a boring game. Not dull in the George Graham/ Jose Mourinho sense of the word, but positively moribund due to the lack of a willing challenger. It was a bit like watching Ricky Hatton hit a punching bag for 90 minutes. But the young Gunners' did not succumb to complacency, Gilberto ensuring the virginity of Arsenal's goal with a goal line clearance. This leaves an all Premiership line up for the last eight. Lady luck if you're reading, please, please, please can we have a home tie? I really need some kip!LD.
Date:Thursday November 1 2007
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