Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday February 18 2008
First things first, apologies for the lack of a match report yesterday. T`internet is down at chez Stillman with seemingly no way to revive its ailing corpse. Virgin Media were already well and truly on the blacklist anyway for the whole Arsenal TV fiasco, they`ve just hammered the final nail in their coffin, been to the undertakers, ordered the tombstone and had its epitaph etched onto the marble. I am certain that this game would have been beamed to every corner of the world and everybody will have a painfully clear idea of what transpired, so I see little point in detailing a blow by blow account. Instead, I will seek to diagnose the abject performance. When you lose 4-0 and your goalkeeper is your best player, you know you haven`t performed well. As well as being our best player, Lehmann had our best shot when he kicked the ball at that dissenting and obnoxious twunt that is Wayne Rooney. (Though considering the size of the target, Lehmann`s success is relative I guess).
A defeat seemed to be on the cards days before a ball was kicked in anger. The crippling injury list, together with a game against Milan on the horizon saw the vibes from the Arsenal camp as very lukewarm in the build up to the match. That obviously transmitted itself to the players as Eduardo and Lehmann are the only ones who came out with any real credit. The likes of Hleb, Fabregas and even the usually industrious Gallas were clearly holding back with Wednesday`s match in mind. United, conversely, had a lot to prove after a couple of poor results. Arsenal`s fledgling full backs Hoyte and Traore were mercilessly ripped to shreds by Nani, who was incredibly impressive throughout. (Though not as impressive as Anderson, who dominated this game). Personally, I cannot see the fuss over his ball juggling antics towards the end of the game, there is nothing in the rules to say it is illegal and as long as he is keeping the ball for his team then he is entitled to do as he will. Don`t get me wrong, it grated with me too to see the ball perched on his head as he ran back towards our travelling ranks. But Flamini took the only commendable course of action and robbed the ball from him emphatically and within the rules. Gallas` kick out at him minutes later was petulant, but its worth pointing out that Nani had kicked Hoyte as the pair exchanged words immediately after. I`ve not seen that mentioned anywhere, but that doesn`t altogether surprise me. If that hurt Arsenal`s pride there is one recourse, show a replay of Nani`s juggling before every game before the end of the season and use it as motivation to ensure he doesn`t get a Premiership winners medal.
On a day of abject performances, the most scornful criticism must be reserved for Emmanuel Eboue. You really are a tosser mate. Firstly, I`d like to make clear that I`ve never defended any of Eboue`s actions, but I do feel Arsenal fans have used him as a scapegoat and ignored offences from other Arsenal players, storing all of the criticism up for Eboue. However, on this occasion he deserves nothing but consternation. Arsenal faithfully pay his wages for six weeks while he swans off to Africa and then he immediately gets himself a well deserved suspension. I would chance he won`t be seeing his wage packet for a couple of weeks. The challenge was nasty, cynical and unforgivable in the extreme. The game was already lost (a game he had contributed precisely zero to) and to leave his team mates to twist in the wind for forty minutes with ten men with a huge game on Wednesday was so incredibly selfish. Emmanuel I hope you`re ashamed of yourself, I hope your team mates are ashamed of you. I am definitely ashamed of you. Never have I known an Arsenal player to be so reviled by his own fans, you`ve got a long way to turn it around Manu. I had been told by those who watched more of the African Nations than I had been able to that Toure had a nightmare tournament, and that seemed to transmit itself. He looked far from his energetic self, I am not sure if fatigue or morale were at the core, but let`s hope he can restore himself. While Emmanuel Adebayor`s second half dive deserves our contempt as well, for fairness sake I would like to point out that Rooney did the exact same thing in the first half, he was unaware that the whistle had sounded when he threw himself to the floor. But of course Adebayor is African and Rooney is English, so it stands to reason that our pathetic excuse for a media will flaunt their own agenda and criticise the one what`s got a funny name.
For all of Wenger`s excuses about the pitch (and he is right, it was a terrible playing surface) the simple fact was that the players just weren`t up for it. If I can be self congratulatory for a moment, the travelling fans were exceptional. The defiance of "we`ll be back to win the league" was brilliant, but my favourite chant of the evening emanated just from my left, as the United fans began to pour out of the exits with four minutes remaining, the spontaneous burst of, "we`ll race you back to London" was tres drole. We really deserved more. That said, I don`t anticipate this having any effect on the title race, we patently weren`t interested because of our exalted league position (Wenger`s precursor to the match was that he would rather lose than draw), whilst United were a team who had to go and prove themselves to their supporters again. Now Arsenal find themselves in that position, they must re-establish themselves and recover their professional pride with good performances against Milan and, more importantly, Birmingham City. The Tottenham reverse seemed to have little effect on our fortunes, if anything it galvanised us and put us back on our guard. Let`s hope this has the same effect. I finally got around to watching the latest Rocky film last night and there was an interesting line in it which bears our consideration, "life isn`t about how hard you can hit, it`s how hard you can be hit and keep moving forwards." Arsenal, the gauntlet lay before you. Seize it.LD.
Date:Monday February 18 2008
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