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Ours for the Taking

In the build up to the Blackburn match, I felt an apprehension that I have not felt in the build up to a league fixture in some time. I have enjoyed watching Arsenal prove everybody wrong with the wonderful season they have been having up to this point. However, it had always been my expectation that United would eventually supercede us for the title, I was just enjoying the ride. But with the weekend's results going our way, a win over Blackburn would see us in a most tantalising position. (Speaking of the weekend's games, if everybody is serious about binning this crappy 39th game idea, please ask the Premier League to run Liverpool v Chelsea matches on a repititive loop intercontinentally, all interest will wane in an instant).

Arriving in the Arsenal Tavern I managed to get my first ever view of Arsenal TV, being a customer of Virgin Media (not for much longer I might add) I haven't been afforded the privilege. (F.O.D has been on the case for some time over at Goonerholic). Being treated to a rerun of the 2002 F.A Cup Final, I considered that for the sake of my professional/social/love life it's probably better that I don't have it! The starting line up saw Wenger very restricted in his options, the substitutes bench had three full backs present, including the forgotten man Kerrea Gilbert. The Gunners' began at pace, relishing the opportunity to capitalise on Moan United's misfortune. The livewire that is Bacary Sagna raced up the right hand side on two minutes, delivering a precise cross to Cesc Fabregas, which the flu ridden Catalonian chested down in front of goal, only to be thwarted by Friedel. It would only be another two minutes before Arsenal distilled threat into fruition, Eduardo's right wing corner firmly headed home by Philippe Senderos from six yards. It was the start that everybody had hoped for.

Roared on by a jubilant crowd, resplendant in their 'who the fuck are Man United?' chants, Arsenal looked to hammer home their advantage. Cesc Fabregas' header put Matty Flamini in the clear, the Corsican bore down on goal only to see his shot beaten away by the legs of the evergreen Brad Friedel. But Arsenal lost their mojo around the 25 minute mark. I think the enormity of the occasion got to them, their limbs imbued with nerves and apprehension. Passes began to go astray, Fabregas' influence on the right was minimal. Tugay began to pull some strings for Blackburn. On 36 minutes, Brett Emerton whipped in a dangerous cross which was flicked on by McCarthy and headed wide by Roque Santa Cruz. Minutes later, Ooijer's low cross just missed Santa Cruz at the back post as Arsenal begged for half time. In the build up to the match, I had feared a phonecall from Sparky's old mentor Fergie might have seen Blackburn employ some 'robust' tackling. To their credit, they were playing the good passing game. I really hope Rovers' uber violence days are over, they have better players than that.

A Bentley free kick pushed wide by Lehmann looked to set the tone for what would be a nervous second half. But Blackburn could not really provide much of a cutting edge. If ever there was an illustration of why we let David Bentley go, not only was it provided by another average performance against quality opposition, but watching him share the same flank as the majestic Alex Hleb was ample evidence as to why Bentley was never Arsenal material. Hleb was at the heart of Arsenal's every move, beating his markers with either a burst of pace or his gravity defying trickery. Do any Arsenal fans seriously doubt this guy anymore? Eduardo was instrumental in our build up play, with Adebayor playing constantly on the shoulder of the alst defender. In it was our two creative pivots that provided the next chance, Eduardo put in a low cross from the left, picking out Hleb and his left foot shot thumped the base of the post.

Adebayor's influence began to grow, he collected Eduardo's chip forwards, accelerated past the half fit Ooijer but saw his shot saved via the legs of Friedel. Arsenal looked to be caught between two stalls, defending their lead and extending it. Blackburn were afforded more possession than was comfortable for the 60,000 crowd, but just could not do provide a cutting edge. This was thanks largely to an impeccible display from the back four. (People might be interested to know that the only game Senderos has missed in the last month was the 5-1 reverse at Tottenham). Another Hleb left footer, this time from outside the area, stung the palms of Friedel, Eduardo could not control the rebound. But with the crowd growing ever more anxious, the Gunners finally sealed the result in injury time. Once again, Hleb found himself a pocket of space on the edge of the Blackburn area, spun a low ball into Adebayor, who took one touch before despatching a low shot past Friedel. A collective exhalation of relief followed all round.

Five points clear and we find ourselves in a great position. But as a word of wanring, almost exactly five years ago to the day, the Gunners went five points clear after a 5-1 win at Maine Road and promptly blew the title. Though only Toure and Gilberto survive from that squad, the manager will surely have this in his mind. The performances of Sagna and Hleb were huge plusses, whilst Gallas' leadership skills continue to draw absolutely no attention from anybody outside of the Gooner consensus. Possibly because he's not an attention seeking poster boy and concentrates on playing football. If elucidation were needed fro Matty Flamini's inclusion at the expense of Gilberto, watching them play alongside one another last night was it. Whilst Bert did his defensive duties relatively well, his distribution was shocking and he often sold himself easily in the face of running Blackburn midfielders. Flamini on the other hand, looked the seasoned professional, plugging gaps left by forraying defenders and providing several telling interceptions. Ironically, with matches against Manchester United and A.C. Milan on the horizon, the Birmingham City games that proceeds it is surely the most vital.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Tuesday February 12 2008

Time: 1:32PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Damn right it is. As always, great write up LD. We have a decent programme in March, I hope we can take advantage of that.
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12/02/2008 13:50:00

Watching Hleb play this season has been a joy to behold, the guy's untacklable on his day. Reminds me of George Best
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12/02/2008 13:59:00

I think the nerves felt last night were the nerves you only get when silverware is at stake. Sounds silly, but I haven't felt that anxious since the Champions League final. The job is far from done, but I am convinced that had we dropped points against Blackburn, then Man Utd would have definitely gone on to win the league, as it stands, last nights three points means we are still very much in contention.
Professor Calculus
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12/02/2008 14:15:00

Hleb is the most unappreciated, ignored player in the league. How he controls the ball is the closest thing to impossible I have seen. If he was anything other than Belarusian he would receive a lot of hype. If he was English... forget it, the hype would be off the chart.
Professor Calculus
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12/02/2008 14:21:00

made me proud watching them roll up their sleeves and really fight for each other and the result last night. as the red nosed alky always says "winning games when your not at your best can decide championships." before the weekend i have to admit that i was a little pessimistic as to whether we could sustain a real challenge. i now firmly believe the ball to be in our court. also just wanted to single out messrs Hleb and Flamini for another collossal performance. COME ON BOYS!!!
arsenal nutter
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12/02/2008 14:22:00

If the distinctly average Bentley is apparently worthy of the hype he has received, then one can only imagine what Hleb would be worthy of were his sunrmae more Anglican.
Little Dutch
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12/02/2008 14:28:00

I agree that Hleb's ball skills do at times seem impossible. If indeed he was English what would he be worth - £30-35m maybe? Although we wavered last night, Sagna (how many years has he been with us now?) had a good game, and Eduardo did well too. Credit to Senderos though for an excellent contribution. A blogger at the Guardian had a great summary of Big Phil's game, and (while holding back laughter) I quote: "Philippe Senderos stood tall like Sol Campbell had done before him, indeed his 4th-minute header was typical of the now-Portsmouth centre-back and reminiscent of the way Campbell had given England the lead against Sweden in their opening match of the 2002 World Cup; a cross between a salmon and a bulldozer."
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12/02/2008 14:34:00

I think it's bit perverse, i believe last night's performance from big phil was his worst of the year, he certainly looked shakey in the 1st half.
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12/02/2008 14:41:00

Good write up as always LD. The belief is finally cemented, that we can go all the way this season. Thia team has always delivered when it mattered this season, and last night was another example of that. ManU, for all their talk of a strong squad, has wilted repeatedly under pressure. I really hope our team can hold it together now, for the crucial run in. I really dont care that much about the FA Cup & CL (though it would be sweet if we could ALSO win one of those), the one I'm really keen on is the Premiership. Come on Arsenal !
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12/02/2008 15:13:00

somehow its a pretty good thing Hleb isnt english...we can all see what the pressure is doing to Walcott..
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12/02/2008 15:38:00

just like Senderos, Gilberto needs a few games to get his form back and get into his rhythm, he was ok last night, and i'm sure he will get his form back if he is given a run of games..
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12/02/2008 16:53:00

I thought Senderos was great last night. He made one or two misplaced passes, but so did everyone else. I admire a guy who works as hard as his ability allows (ala Ray Palour) even though there are players with more talent around him. next time you are at a game watch him warm-up and see how hard he even works on that. The game against West Ham (I think) he did this whole routine with Pat Rice for about 15mins ahead of the game. I prefer Toure as a player, but you need an understudy that is not demanding first team football and therefore has an eye to a move, but does the business on the pitch and Seneros is increasingly doing so in this run. I suspect his standard will drop with a few games on the bench, but in the meantime credit where credit is due.
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12/02/2008 16:58:00

Hleb's approach play has been the business this year, but unless he's on the 6 yrd line he's reluctant to shoot. If he works on that part of his game he could turn into one of the best players we've had in a very long-time. Seems to be a common theme with this team. Wenger really know's his stuff!
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12/02/2008 17:00:00

Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot! 5 points! 5 points! Come on you Gunners'.
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12/02/2008 17:57:00

and it was 4 years to the day with 12 games to go that Arsenals' leading striker scored his 19th goal in injury time to go 2-0 and open a 5 point gap on Manure.....and they went on to greatness. History repeating itself
fran merida
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12/02/2008 18:17:00

Senderos with Gallas alongside him seems a different proposition from Senderos with Toure beside him. Gallas is a defender of the highest quality. He rarely seems hurried and always seems aware of what is going on around him. Central defense is often about partnerships. It just seems of now that one of those partners has to be Gallas.
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12/02/2008 18:43:00

Yeah fran, its written in the stars. Agree about Gallas. a lot of us were worried about our defence lacking height, but gallas wins most balls in the air. And i dont understand why hleb doesn't shoot more often, he's got a terrific shot on him. hit the post with his right, and had that great shot from distance with his left. That would get him more recognition.
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12/02/2008 19:20:00

Red3, I remember seeing Hleb shooting at least twice around the edge of the box and was delighted. I also admire how he performed on the left flank in the 1H, then switched to the right in 2H, providing width as well as cutting in to support Ade and Cesc. Fantastic player! And here's his post-match interview with Ade:
Lou the Gunneress
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12/02/2008 19:35:00

the prof said helb was like george best, i have to admit, i was thinking exactly that as he danced and skipped past players right down infront of me last night, and i thought WOW ! also big shout for Sagna, he was superb last night, that kid has got some sheer pace !
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12/02/2008 22:31:00

and its only two more games to go for St Tottering day! god bless them
fran merida
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Yeah.. I was wondering when that would come up.. surely a lot sooner than a lot of ppl predicted at the end of the season eh? We were efficient against B'burn.. that's all we needed to be.. now, we need to turn on the style against Utd and Milan.. c'mon!
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13/02/2008 02:06:00

I thought I'd relax after we went 5 points clear. But I'm still nervous! The boss said we'd have Kolo, Eboue and probably Rosicky back for the FAC game at OT. It also sounded like he might rest Cesc as he was ill before the Blackburn game. But with Eboue, Rosicky, Hleb and Flamini in MF, Eduardo up front or LM if need be, guess we should be ok... yes?
Lou the Gunneress
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13/02/2008 03:11:00

I think that's a bit unfair on Toure Amos. Where was Gallas during our record breaking run of clean sheets to the CL Final? Gallas is a good leader and an excellent defender, but so is Toure. I dont think that Phil finding form is as much to do with who his partner is as you would think, I would say it has a lot to do with playing time and the confidence that comes from a few clean sheets. If anything I think when Toure is beside Phil, the extra bit of pace he has over Gallas allows him to better make up for Phil's errors.
Ozi Gooner
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13/02/2008 03:38:00

I dont think thats unfair at all Ozi. There is no doubting Toure's ability as a defender, but Gallas edges it as a leader. And thats important when dealing with a youngster through a confidence crisis. You have to admit that Senderos beside Gallas DURING HIS LEAN SPELL looks more assured and confident. Gallas seems to be a calming influence, on the defence as a whole, and certainly, some of it has rubbed off on Senderos.
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13/02/2008 06:55:00

We should not get carried away. Arsene has got it right - keep taking it one game at a time. We are really just getting into the business end of the season.
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13/02/2008 10:07:00

Guys, I was at the game, I know that Senderos has improved but I have to say he doesn't fill you with confidence. He doesn't seem to be able to judge the flight of the ball when defending. he's quite rash in his tackling and decision-making, and his general lack of self-assuredness makes him make mistakes and affects his decision making. He also seems quite cumbersome in his movement at times.
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13/02/2008 11:26:00

It's not meant to be unfair on Toure Ozi. I think that Gallas and maybe Campbell before him adds that extra experience and composure that Toure doesn't quite have just yet. This is bound to be more helpful to Senderos and for the same reason Gallas/Campbell are more helpful to Toure than Senderos is at present. As well as playing his own game Gallas keeps an eye on Senderos and is often calling him into position. Toure tends to focus on his own game a little more.
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13/02/2008 11:29:00

That's quite true, and the only reason for that at the moment is experience. Gallas has a good five years on Toure, I think part of the reason for making Toure vice captain is to give him this quality, and its something I think Toure is doing more of now. By the age of thirty Toure has every chance of being as good as Gallas and Campbell and Keown at organising the chain as it were. Toure's leadership skills are still blossoming, Gallas' are in full bloom and there for all to see.
Little Dutch
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13/02/2008 11:44:00

Before you rip out the old Bubbly here, let´s just hope you don´t repeat the 2003 ordeal shall we?
Blue is the colour
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13/02/2008 20:48:00

BITC, before commenting on articles, do you even read them? LD has said the exact same thing in the last para of the article, you idiot.
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13/02/2008 21:17:00

I think we all know theres a long way to go and we have 2 good teams chasing us (even if 1 has toad from wind in the willows as their manager). I think the next weekend of league games could be interesting, Birmingham for us and Newcastle for the mancs...oooh id love it, just love it if.........(Hell opens a portal at Wembley that weekend so Chelsea dont have a league game)
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14/02/2008 00:06:00

yes BITC you numpty, bit of a school boy error there old chap, we are not as arrogant as you chavs in thinking we have bought the title and it deserves to be ours, we are now starting to think we have a chance, when in the summer all we heard from our rivals is we wouldn't even finish top 4.
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14/02/2008 07:44:00

PG, we have the receipt.
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15/02/2008 00:06:00

LD another reason is that Gallas started out as a defender and grew up as a defender. Toure has only been a defender for a few years and is naturally a midfielder during his yonger years! Maybe thats why he and gallas are looking better and better together, one is a "stopper" and the other is a more gifted defender ala ferdinand and Vidic or Bruce and Pallister as an example!
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15/02/2008 17:47:00


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