Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday December 14 2007
I know, I know, my bad. Wednesday`s game might be a distant memory now, but having missed my slot for the Boro game, I`m determined to see this one through! So my apologies, my lunch break yesterday evaporated and, having had such a bastard week, I headed out for the dreaded "quick drink after work." And if you`re anything like me, a "quick drink" easily becomes six quick drinks followed by a subway (damn you jalapeños! When will I learn?!") So, anyway, it was quite difficult to feel excited about what was always a dead rubber match. Bucharest is a side in turmoil that had nothing but pride to play for and Arsenal rested most of their weary stars. Judging by the huge pockets of empty seats at the Grove, the feeling of anti climax was cancerous. I noted a hint of embarrassment in the P.A`s voice when he announced the attendance as 59 thousand and something or other. The club base attendance figures on tickets sold, which suggests large numbers of season ticket holders didn`t bother turning up. I find this infuriatingly arrogant; there will come a time again in the future when we are begging for Champions` League football, so to discard such a fixture as a nuisance is extraordinarily pompous (though I`ve the distinct impression these are the exact people who will bugger off when that eventuality arises). If you couldn`t be arsed to turn up yourself, surely you could have punted your seat to somebody who doesn`t get many chances to attend? It might have made for a better atmosphere inside the ground.
The sight of Robin van Persie starting gave cheer to those of us who did bother to turn up. Wenger`s contingency plan seemed to be to break him in gently (ooh err), with Walcott and Bendtner providing the legs around him as he played in a deeper role than that to which he is accustomed. It worked a treat in the early stages. In the opening two minutes, van Persie received the ball in "the hole" (that`s right, Wenger broke him in gently in the hole….oh dear), turned and released the rampaging Walcott, but he put his shot wide when he really should have done better. Once again it was Walcott who caused the porous Bucharest defence problems, slaloming past three challenges before putting his shot over when Diaby was begging for the pull back. Walcott demonstrated much better body strength; it is obvious that since his shoulder operation, the coaching staff have been working on his use of body weight. He was noticeably leaning into defenders to manoeuvre them off the ball. It was particularly pleasing to see him tackling back and working hard for the ball. At one point he rampaged back to the corner flag, won the ball, before toddling off with a few crowd pleasing keepy uppies. Arsenal inevitably took the lead in the first half, Sagna whipped in another right wing cross, which Abou Diaby controlled expertly before finishing emphatically. It was a gorgeous example of strength and skill and encapsulates his qualities. Diaby nearly added to his tally four minutes later when Zapata beat the Frenchman`s deflected drive away. On the opposite flank, Walcott was likewise causing problems; once again he linked up with Sagna on the right but put his low cross into no man`s land in the area.
The Gunners` grabbed a deserved second three minutes before the interval. Sagna fed the ball into van Persie on the edge of the Steaua box, the Dutchman was given ample time to turn and pick a subtle through ball to Bendtner. The impressive young Dane held off Gonea`s challenge and tucked home a cool finish.
Arsenal began the second half with the same swagger that had enveloped the opening period. van Persie fizzed a low free kick just wide of the visitors` post and Zapata raced off of his line to deny Bendtner when he would have been clean through. But as the legs of Diaby and van Persie drained, Arsenal`s focus left them as minds turned to Sunday. Van Persie was replaced just after the hour and Steaua immediately ceased Arsenal`s dominance. Ironically, it was Bucharest`s two subs who combined; Surdu whipped a cross into the Arsenal area and Zaharia looped a header over the helpless Lehmann. The gunners` threw on Eboue and Diarra in response and Eboue immediately provided an act of heroism, hacking Surdu`s cross from under his own crossbar. Hearts inside the stadium were a flutter when Petre`s ferocious shot flew inches wide. Significantly, as Bucharest grew in stature, news filtered through that Seville had assumed a quick fire two goal lead in Prague. Eduardo ran through on goal in injury time, fending off Gonea`s resistance, but Zapata called his bluff as he stood firm to Eddie`s attempted chip. There`s not really much to say in summary, suffice to say I don`t expect there to be so many empty seats come Sunday! Anyway, must dash, those blasted beer monkeys are setting their sights on me again for this evening.LD.
Date:Friday December 14 2007
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