Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday February 3 2008
You just cannot trust Tottenham to do anything can you? In fairness, it's still been a great weekend for the Gunners with United dropping points and Chelsea joining United, Liverpool and ourselves in being unable to win at Fratton Park, which sees the Premiership pendulum swing back our way. In fairness, we ran into City at the right time, they are a team low on confidence whose season threatens to slide into obscurity. So it was with some confidence and not a little fatigue that I left my humble abode to arrive at the Grove at 5.30am (cheers sky) to board the coach North. The wind was bitter, but the sky was relatively clear as we made our way through Eastlands into the stadium. The whole area appears to relfect Citeh's current renaissance under Eriksson, boarded up council flats sit directly adjacent to brand new uber modern complexes, a street ironically entitled 'Temperance Street' which houses a huge industrial wasteland, which looks to be undergoing much needed renovation at long last.
I'm not a fan of midday kick offs, not just because of the ungodly hours that us erstwhile travelling supporters have to endure, but it leaves for a moribund atmosphere inside the ground, as it proved yesterday. Both the home and away fans appeared to still be rubbing the sleep from their eyes as the game got underway. There has always been a good level of bonhomie between Arsenal and Citeh fans, through a mutual dislike of United we have forged something of a bond. However, a good deal of that geniality probably evaporated when City fans decided to resurrect those awful chants about Arsene Wenger. Perhaps the Citeh fans should concern themselves with the character that currently bankrolls their football club.
Arsenal were not suffering the same mental inertia as the support and started brightly, looking to have rediscovered the flow that had deserted them over Christmas. Eriksson's man looked to be compact and hit us on the break, but afforded the Gunners too much respect. They were punished on 9 minutes as they sat off of thr majestic Hleb, who picked out Sagna on the right, he skipped past Ball before cutting the ball back to Adebayor who proved that, as the Gooners' sing mercilessly, if you give him the ball, he will score. The ball looped in off the sprawling Hart and a surreal two second delay ensued in the away end as nobody could tell if the ball had gone in or not, before Adebayor wheeleed away, confirming our advantage. City continued to sit off with the visitors happy to pick them off. The home side were again made to pay as Diaby found the onrushing Clichy on the left, he produced another delightful cross, which Adebayor had the awareness to nod down to Eduardo. Eduardo flaunted his immense composure in the box by chesting the ball down back to goal and hooking it beyond Hart. There was certainly a hint of offside, but it depends which of the thousands of subsections and sub paragraphs of the rule you wish to apply. My understanding is that the 'daylight' rule has now been replaced with if the receiver of the ball has a part of the body that can score beyond the last defender then it is offside. I think nowadays referees, linesmen, defenders and managers alike have a better grip of Fibonnachi's golden ratio theory than anyone has of the current offside rule.
But complacency would creep in once more, it has been a mistake that has cropped up in games against Sunderland and Birmingham this season, which makes Clichy's uncharacteristic error all the more frustrating. With City looking beaten, Gael tried to beat Corluka on his own touchline. Corluka dispossessed him, beat the recent French call up and pulled the ball back for Gelson Fernandes to half the defecit. Suddenly we had gifted City a lifeline in a game we were coasting. The Gunners continued to target City's left, with Michael Ball a weak link in an otherwise resolute defence and with Petrov not the most defensively industrious. Hleb picked out Sagna again, whose cross was headed goalwards by Adebayor, but his header was well saved by Hart.
The second half began with Eduardo pushed out to the left hand side and Diaby tucking in. Diaby did not reproduce his good performance from midweek, the amount of times he successfully took the ball down, bat two players only then to lose the ball with a careless pass or with his dithering drove most of the travelling factions to distraction. Sunburn looked more likely than a City equaliser for most of the half, with the Mancs lacking the confidence to try and hurt Arsenal. Indeed the Arsenal should have had a penalty, Fabregas' slide rule pass sent Adebayor through on goal only to be bundled over by Richards in the area. If somebody can view the replay and show me at which point Richards connects with the ball I would be very grateful. Unless of course, Ade dived, when he's through one on one with Hart in the goalscoring form of his career? But City came to life on around 75 minutes when Petrov looked to latch onto a Dunne long ball only to be flagged offside for Vassell's idiotic run. The sense of injustice appeared to galvanise them. A Corluka long ball this time saw Gallas only able to glance the ball back towards Lehmann with Vassell baring down on the German, Lehmann was out sharply to challenge, but the ball fell to Elano, who held off Senderos but put the ball over with Lehmann not home.
From this point, City came forwards but lacked any penetrative impetus, they were left open on the counter attack, as Eduardo and Hleb time and again scurried into the wide open spaces. Fabregas hit a stinging volley which swung wide, but Arsenal sealed the points with a minute remaining. The ball broke to Adebayor, Gelson cynically tripped him, but the referee played a commendable advantage as Hleb carried the ball down the right, he found Fabregas in the channel, who in turn fed it back to Hleb, Dunne got a decent challenge away but the ball broke to the imperious Adebayor who steered beyond Hart. As the final whistle sounded, the players were prevented from coming over to acknowledge the away support by some over officious stewarding. News of a last ditch United equaliser silghtly dampened high spirits on the way home, but with those around us dropping points, you could not deny the weekend belonged to us. From our perspective, it seems as though the fluency has returned to our play with Hleb and Fabregas back at something approaching their best form, while Adebayor continues to scale the heights with his all round play together with his awesome scoring form. The only disappointment was that the game should have been over much quicker and much more ruthlessly than when it was eventually slain. But for now, Adebayor continues to stretch certain journalists' lexicons with his match winning displays.LD.
Date:Sunday February 3 2008
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