Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday November 8 2007
Well, this shouldn't take long! Many an eyebrow arched skywards upon learning of Wenger's squad for the trip to Praha. The decision to leave Cesc, Kolo, Hleb and Rosicky at home was a fair one I feel given our comfortable position in the group together with the fact that we seem to have genuine title aspirations this time around. But I was very surprised to see the team line up as it did. Niklas Bendtner is a player who has impressed me greatlly in his cameo appearances, but asking a 19 year old to lead the line alone, away from home in Europe was a naive decision. Particularly with Walcott stuck out on the wing, where he fails to impress. For me, Theo has to be playing upfront or not at all, there's little to suggest he can be a winger, but is a dangerous forward. I found this decision particularly confusing as he tore Prague apart in the home fixture.
Last night's game was an awkward experiment for me too. It was the first ever time I have watched Arsenal in a drinking establishment. This is largely due to the fact that I haven't missed any games since I was old enough to frequent public bars. The idea has never greatly appealed to me, you're quite likely to end up watching the game with the types of people who would confuse Song with Adebayor, or obtain their footballing insight from the backpages of the Sun. Not only that, but the possibility of mixing with people who might goad you should the other team score. Or worse, the unfathomable possibility that those around you might not be interested in the game at all! (Heathens!) It turned out to be a relatively harmless experience, firstly, the intensity of the game was fairly low. My friends manfully tolerated my insistence on parking ourselves in front of the giant plasma screens about an hour and a half before kick off, and they seemed alright about my fitful participation in conversation. The bar staff at Croydon's skylark were also most charming in the face of my constant insistence that they turn the volume up!
Anyways, the game began at a lesiurely pace. It pretty much stayed that way. Prague were determined to prove a point and harried and closed Arsenal. The away side looked like a team of strnagers, with Eduardo, Walcott and Diaby all playing unecessarily out of position. To be fair, Diaby looked lively early in the game, using his strength to power forward and resist challenges. Unfortunately, he was effectively neutured by the most pedantic official on earth. He had a total insistence on a non contact game, when he booked Diarra for slipping over on the greasy turf, my pint of Abbots nearly ended up decorating the walls. Of course this aided and abetted the home side as the play was constantly broken up by his over efficious whistle. But to be fair, we never looked like gaining any sort of rhythm anyway and Praha were making life very difficult for us. The gunners' did not register a chance of any repute in the first half. Prague came closest when Tavares lost Song in the box, but headed a left wing corner over the bar when he should have done better. Senkerik cut in from the left and hit a venomous shot, but it was straight at Almunia who tipped over, but with that infuriating sense of amateur dramatics that I really wish he would cut out.
A torrential rainstorm that lasted the whole of the second half livened the pitch up slightly, but unfortunately the referee did not allow the pace of the game to increase. Which might have been just as well for us, as Prague looked the more dangerous on their, albeit rare, forrays forward. Senkerik tried a devious dive in the box with the very lively Diarra in close attendance, but for once, the referee wasn't having it. Arsenal pressed, but lacked cutting edge with two of their most effective strikers marooned out on the wing and Bendtner lacking the support he was crying out for. Brabec headed a set piece straight at Almunia, before Prague created the solitary clear cut chance of the match. Senkerik again, latched onto a long ball over the top of the Arsenal defence, but with Song and Gallas chasing in vain, Manuel Almunia was swift off of his line to block his effort. It was a relief to see Almunia make the correct decision to leave his line, following his error on Sunday and credit to him for being brave enough to make that decision again. It would have been easy for him to hesitate. Adebayor came on and registered our only shot on target, a tame header easily saved by Vorel. Arsenal had the point they needed and qualify for the knock out stages. But Wenger cut a frustrated figure as he loped towards the tunnel. Matty Flamini might have been relieved to see Gilberto and Denilson put in rather unremarkable performances, whilst Walcott is currently no threat to Hleb's right wing berth. There were a lot of players with a point to prove, I felt sorry for Bendtner. Perhaps the only one who really shone was Diarra, who proved to be a tenacious and effective right back, he definitely deserves a shot in midfield next time out. We got the point we needed, but I hope this game hasn't effected our rhythm. Truth be told, if ever there was an Arsenal game in the last six years where the influence of alcohol was most welcome, then it was this one.LD.
Date:Thursday November 8 2007
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