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Leggy Eleven

I'm afraid this is not going to be my most glowing match report. Following the all consuming, intoxicating joy of the victory in the San Siro, the doom and gloom has well and truly set in. From one gloomy, rainswept Northern hub in Italy, to a gloomy, rainswept Northern hub in England. I always felt the Wigan game would represent one of our stiffest tests, since going 5 points clear, Arsenal looked to have lost their nerve at the top of the Premiership table. But an oasis in the desert arrived in the shape of a San Siro evening, a geyser of glory that should have been the catalyst for our title chatge. Instead, we sit limply offering it up as an excuse. United's cup exit to Pompey confirmed their 4-0 victory over us at Old Trafford had been an exercise in futility. All they had gained was an extra match and surrendered the chance to immediately over take Arsenal at the Premiership summit and really apply the pressure. But Arsenal simply did not have the nerve or the legs to seize the initiative.

Much has been written about Arsenal taking to the more salubrious surroundings of the Giuseppe Meazza with greater ubiquity than the unglamorous surroundings of the JJB. But anybody who has been to Milan will tell you it is hardly the most picturesque city, and the San Siro is ostensibly an enormous concrete bowl with little in the way of aesthetic beauty. The conditions were not as far removed from Northern Italy as one would imagine. It is true that Wigan's pitch is an absolute disgrace and basically turns a football game into a lottery. But we knew that before we arrived, we had two big strikers perfectly capable in the air, and the pitch was equally awful in our last two league encounters there, both of which we won. In fairness, Wenger did not offer the surface as an excuse, though he rightly criticised it. But these are the circumstances in which Champions come to the fore and demonstrate that extra 5% that gets you through games like this. Arsenal did not look like they had it yesterday.

The Gunners should have taken the lead in the opening minute, Cesc Fabregas prodded a through ball past the last line of the Wigan defence, Adebayor ran through clean on goal but Kirkland thwarted a poor finish. The pitch did not make him miss that chance. That was pretty much it from Ade, a number of our players, Fabregas, Hleb and Clichy looked leggy but willing. Adebayor gave off the impression that the match was somewhat beneath him, so it was with some shock when it was Bendtner who made way for van Persie in the second half. Bendtner had been more willing and much more dangerous all game than his counterpart. Arsenal made another opportunity on four minutes, Nicklas Bendtner skipped through two Wigan challenges and as he proceeded to strike on goal from close range, the ball skipped up horribly at the moment of impact and the ball trickled harmlessly wide. Pitch very much culpable on that occasion.

A decent block by Emmerson Boyce prevented Adebayor on 7 minutes and Arsenal struggled to create anything thereafter. Wigan fans to our left decided to repeat several chants in celebration of Eduardo's broken leg. The away fans reply of 'you're scum and you know you are' was as accurate as terrace wit can be. (Confusingly, the Wigan fans proceeded to boo Fabregas for the rest of the game for holding his face. How can people exhibit such a stupidly confused value system so loudly and so publicly without self knowledge? Snapped leg, funny. Hold face. Disgusting. It only goes to elucidate the quite unfortunate lack of intelligence of the involved parties). Wigan were determined and resolute opponents, using Koumas and Valencia as spring boards for counter attack. While Brown and Palacios didn't allow Arsenal any room whatsoever. (Note to Wigan fans, they didn't have to snap any legs or make any over the ball challenges to do it either).

With the Gunners lacking inspiration, Robin van Persie was sent for with Kolo Toure moved to the right wing and Gilberto spared any more of the excruciating agony that was his performance. It bears repeating to Lassana Diarra that, if he'd have waited, he would have had a decent chance of making it here. Arsenal laboured unconvincingly, with ten minutes left, Clichy combined with Hleb, Hleb danced past Melchiot on the touchline, only to astoundingly be pulled up by referee Rob Styles for a foul. (I wasn't aware that shimmying was against the rules Rob, thanks for clearing that up). van Persie made a difference and gave us some spark, particularly when referee Styles did not see him shimmy past two Wigan midfielders and sent a swerving cross field ball to Toure. van Persie it was again, who dribbled past two Wigan defenders and tantalisingly opened some space up for himself on the edge of the area on his favourite left foot, as he pulled the trigger the ball skipped up wildly off the surface again and the ball flew over the bar. As I looked down at the eighteen yeard area, I knew we couldn't score, there simply wasn't a patch of surface where we would be allowed to get a shot in without a wild ricket.

At half time, the Wigan groundsmen did not attend to the penalty area we were attacking in the second half. I somehow doubt it was an accidental oversight. In injury time, we looked to have made our chance. van Persie again demonstrated vision to put Cesc Fabregas through on goal, but the young Spaniard waited just a second too long to shoot and Kirkland was able to smother the effort. The final whistle came a glum travelling contingent made haste for the exits in the driving sleet. It is not just the two points dropped, again, that caused the pervasive feeling of doom. But the fact that we clearly just did not have the extra hunger needed to win a game like this. Flamini, Gallas, Sagna and Bendtner showed it, Hleb, Fabregas and Clichy were simply too fatigued. The squad is too small and these players just haven't been afforded any kind of break. It is easy to be wise in hindsight, but with our first choice left wingers the perenially injured Rosicky and Diaby, we were always likely to come up short in that area. Having squandered a five point lead to give United the advantage in less than a month shows that a lack of legs and a lack of nerve have hurt us. We have to count on the fact that United are not in great form themselves, but with matches against Liverpool, United and Chelsea on the horizon, we really have to win all three of those games, as well as dealing with the Premiership's 'filler' teams like Boro and Reading. With so many players missing, and our available players either too tired or too sure of their places, I have to confess, I don't see it happening.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday March 10 2008

Time: 1:18PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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I feel really blue about that result.....something tells me this will not be our year. 5 points clear we could afford to lose matches, but now we need to visit old trafford a stamford bridge and host liverpool without losing points......I cant see that happening.
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10/03/2008 13:24:00

On the flipside we are not playing well but are not losing so it could be worse, but a team who lets a 5pt lead slip is asking for trouble
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10/03/2008 13:54:00

Choked really, at least Arsene isn't blaming anyone/thing. We can't bang on about how rich we are, not spend any money, and then moan about fatigue. When we've got the likes of Rosicky in the squad, can we please get rid of him, Bendter's had too much football this season as well, scored a goal or 2 from a combined distance of about 6yds. When ade's good, he's very good, when he's poor, he's a glorified ball boy.
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10/03/2008 13:56:00

Blah blah blah blah, your worse than Wenger whats with all the cheating as well? 0-0 fair result we're not moaning just get on with it
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10/03/2008 14:04:00

Can people please actually take the time to read the articles before commenting on the content. Many above have managed it, but worbo, I reckon it's something of a challenge to ask you to READ let alone comprehend. But I hate it when the forum gets cluttered up correcting ill informed morons who just post pre conceived ideas without taking the time to absorb what is being said. If you can’t be arsed to read, don't comment on the content. (Your logic is strikingly similar to the thousands of Wigan fans who saw fit to air "amusing" chants about a player snapping his leg, but aired utter indignation when someone held their face for three seconds).
Little Dutch
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10/03/2008 14:12:00

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - that's all. One uncharacteristic mistake from Clichy against Brum, one freak deflection off Senderos' boot against Villa then a point against Wigan on a poor surface that might in recent seasons have been 0 points and things wouldn't look quite so gloomy. Had ManU and Chelsea's weekend flops been in the PL instead of the FA Cup we might be feeling even chippier. All we have to do is win our next 9 games and we are home and dry! It's been a good season so far whatever happens but let's not call time on it just yet - there are a few slings and arrows to be spent still.
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10/03/2008 14:13:00

we may have enough 'wingers' at the club but 3 of them are always injured (Ros, Walcott and Diaby) and one is diving cheat. Denilson is often injured too. these fringe players are never available to take advantage of injuries to the first team players. if players cant stay fit then we need to think about whether they should be in our squad at all.
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10/03/2008 14:17:00

This is worse than getting smacked out of the Cups by arch-rivals because its like lingering torture. Every recent league game feels like "the defining one" and we dont have quite enough about us! Kudos to Wigan though and the live-wires Valencia and Palacios. I wish we would sub people based on performance rather than stature though - Hleb, Ade, and Gilberto should have been off earlier. The thing that gives me some hope is that we might pull something out of the bag in the same way we have managed to do for most of the season.
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10/03/2008 14:22:00

I'm with you on that one Andy! It would be just like the lads to put us through the mill and then go and spank all the teams we don't expect them to. The Arsenal way. In reality the odds were stacked up a lot higher against us in the Mickey Thomas season and we seemed to come out of that just fine from what I remember 8-) I don't think we're quite finished just yet by any means.
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10/03/2008 14:58:00

I know Man U have a game in hand too, but that game has three possible outcomes and two of those are in our favour.
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10/03/2008 15:00:00

I thought Bendtner was awful, as much as he is a talented prospect, it seemed as though every time he had the ball, he gave away possession. I was watching the game with several mates of different clubs and they all remarked how poor his game was – I was having to defend his talent, however it is obvious to all that he is not as ready for the first team as he believes he is. Bring back RVP, I saw sunlight through the gloom when he warmed up.
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10/03/2008 15:28:00

That's a point I've vouched for myself Amos, as I say, United are hardly in glorious form themselves (despite what the media seem to think). But I really felt Milan would be the catalyst. The problem is, we just don't have enough players to freshen it up, Rosicky is still two weeks away, RVP's return is a huge boost, but I can't imagine he'll be fit to start for a few weeks yet (we can't throw him into games like Chelsea or Liverpool). I have to be honest, losing a five point lead so quickly just suggests we haven't quite got the nous to see it out. United's lack of strikers and defeats to City, Pompey and last minute reprieve against Spurs prevent me from writing any obituaries, but we have a run of very hard games which, in all likelihood, we have to emerge from unscathed, and I don't think we've got the energy in a series of tight, edgy, close games. If we go a goal up at the Bodge, will we have the wherewithal to see it out or the impetus to add to it? I don't know. The positive is that RVP showed yesterday that we do at least have an option from the bench to change things, which we have lacked in the last few weeks. As it stands, we're going to have to play pretty much the same eleven against Boro, Chelsea, Bolton, Liverpool, United and the CL first leg. I hope Adebayor's performance yesterday wasn't a hint of things to come from him, any case of the big time Charlies from him and he will finish the season potless. Let's hope Wigan was a one off.
Little Dutch
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10/03/2008 15:35:00

Is it me or do we seem to always have lots of injuries compared to other teams? I know that every team does, but we seem to have a lot more of those muscle pulls to the hamstring or thigh or calf than other teams. I'm no expert but wonder if it's our training methods.
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10/03/2008 15:36:00

Basically, I'm saying of course we're not finished, not by a long shot. But my gut feeling is we can't do it. I can't help wandering to that Clichy error at Birmingham and thinking that that was a big turning point.
Little Dutch
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10/03/2008 15:37:00

LD RVP should be ready to start vs Boro on saturday. that is realistically pur easiest game of the remaining nine. and by the time the Chelsea fixture comes around, he should be fit to start. Rosicky if he can be back for Boro, then he should be fit to start vs Chelsea also, because his was only a hamstring worry, and it's not that he has been out of action very long. and plus RVP looked really sharp yesterday. if he trains well this week, i see no reason why he cannot start games from this saturday..
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10/03/2008 15:46:00

Really gutted. Gilberto has become a pedestrian. No energy in the middle whatsoever. I really cannot believe how last year's best player has become like this. Adebayor was awful too. And I agree with Andy when he said he should have been off. All he needed was a little bit of composure and we would have led by two. We really really need a spark right now. I don't think it'll come from anyone from the Arsenal side right now, however, I do believe that should United slip up, it'll be the charge we need to go on and win the rest of the matches.
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10/03/2008 15:48:00

Bendtner was the most likely to make anything happen yesterday. He ran at the Wigan defence, tried to slot the through balls, he also understood that we had to graft to win the game and he did that. Basically, he did what Hleb usually does.
Little Dutch
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10/03/2008 15:48:00

and i take my mind back to the 89 season where we had blown away the title come the last game, and then we all know what happened. i'm a great believer in destiny and i have seen more signs than not this season which tell me this will be our season. i've always wanted the CL glory over the league title, but after the effort and all the hardwork the club has put in this season, these last few games cannot take all of that away..
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10/03/2008 15:50:00

Let's hope you're right Luckys. If footballing history has taught us anything is that the last few games can do *exactly* that. I think we have muffed it, personally. Love to be wrong.
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10/03/2008 16:33:00

I wander if they could of chanced it by playing Hoyte at right back and Sagna in right Midfield. Sagna is good at getting up and down and Fabregas was clearly wasted here. I know it could of been a bit risky playing Hoyte at right back.
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10/03/2008 16:57:00

Gooner_Vin - your injury tally is dragged up by RVP. We had the same thing with Robben. Something about these Dutch players. And was I the only one yesterday who noticed zero combination play between Adebayor and Bendtner - perhaps their off the pitch dislikes are spreading onto the field?
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10/03/2008 17:33:00

Damn right its spilling over onto the pitch and they should NEVER start together. Also Gilberto bringing his negativity onto the pitch has been a bad omen for us all season long, not once has bert played and the team done well..I cant remember a time. Anyway Little dutch you at least usually put a positive spin on things but this has got me even more down in the dumps, although its true. WE NEED TO GET PLAYERS BACK AND DIG DEEP.
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10/03/2008 18:02:00

No coincidence that our worst results of the season coincide with Gilberto starting. Of his last 11 games Starting. 0-0 Vs Wigan, 0-4 Vs Man U, 2-0 Vs Blackburn, 5-1 Vs Spurs, 1-1 Vs Spurs, 2-0 Vs Burnley, 1-2 vs Middlesboro, 1-1 Vs Newcastle, 2-1 Vs Aston Villa, 1-3 Vs Seville, 0-0 Vs Prague. Thats 4 Losses, 4 Draws and just 3 wins. He was brilliant for us last year, but if he is not starting every game then he has no use as back up. He seems rusty. If only Diarra stayed.
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10/03/2008 18:32:00

and to think if eduardo was one on one with the keeper like ade,he would have scored.....if only.the problem is that adebayor has completely gone off the boil,he has gone back to his "need at least 3 clear cut chances to score" mode,that plagued him before,maybe he was just flatering to deceive us all along.
fran merida
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10/03/2008 19:10:00

guys just relax. i'm worried if any of the players actually read all your posts here, it would dishearten them really. the lads have been fantastic this year and have given us a shot at the title which we didnt have for the last 3-4 seasons. the only difference between united and us is that they had a 3 match blip at the beginning of the season and we are having it now. but if u see the points tally, there is hardly any difference, and they still have to win their games to go above us and stay there. our players are humans after all, the long season has taken it's toll on them. we talk about us having a small squad compared to united n chelsea but we still have more points. if our luck was better with injuries, our squad wudn't look so small. and anyway what is done is over, no point in dwelling over it now, WE HAVE A DOUBLE TO WIN. so lets show some faith in these lads now the same way as our manager n guru is doing. they will bounce back..
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10/03/2008 20:21:00

and paul_ownz, if Gilberto wud have played all those 11 games in a row, we would have surely won more. just like senderos he needs a good run of games to get his form and rhythm back, and the problem is we can't give him that now, and that is why he looks rusty and shaky whenever he comes on. i'll say give him a good pre season in the summer and watch him play next season. i won't be suprised if he gives Flamini a real run to keep his place in the XI..
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10/03/2008 20:23:00

Your right Luckys and thats what i said. If he does not play a run of games he is no good. The problem is he wont ever be back in the starting line up unless (god forbid) Flamini leaves or is injured because he does not have the same energy and impact Flamini does. Flamini wins back and breaks down so much it gives Fabregas & Hleb the freedom to do what they do. He also can shoot and has a decent Pass range. The lads have been fantastic and have exceeded most peoples expecations which is why people are so disapointed and down. We have led for pretty much 7 months and now in the space of 3 weeks our lead has been cut from +5 to -1(probably) against teams we would expect maximum points from. But i have a lot of faith and will be there to cheer them on. Just got my ticket for bolton away and will be at Stamford bridge in 2 weeks
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10/03/2008 21:08:00

Wow what happened here, all doom and gloom again...? Come on, it just takes one draw on ManU's part to get them back behind us.. It's not like they'll definitely keep winning until the end is it?! Cheer up guys!
Lou the Gunneress
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10/03/2008 22:48:00

Paul good for you, please cheer the lads on as loud as you can especially at SB. Those 6-pointers, together with CL draws/results, will decide where the PL title goes this season. We have to really make our support count now.
Lou the Gunneress
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10/03/2008 22:53:00

I think you have to admit now that this season will probably be decided at Stamford Bridge. It's very much a three horse race and if any one of the three slip up at the Bridge, they're pretty much out of it.
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10/03/2008 23:26:00

Zola, you can say it's SB or OT. In terms of big games, ManU and Chelsea have actually got equally tough, if not slightly trickier, opponents. We face Chelsea (a), Liverpool (h), ManU (a), Everton (h). ManU face Liverpool (h), Aston Villa (h), Arsenal (h), Blackburn (a), Chelsea (a). Chelsea face Spurs (a), Arsenal (h), Man City (a), Everton (a), ManU (h). You see there's many banana skins there, and we haven't included the 8 teams fighting against relegation yet (basically all 9 teams below Spurs, but Derby won't get out of it anyway) so the race is still wide open IMHO.
Lou the Gunneress
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11/03/2008 00:02:00

its in our hands.. if we wanna win it, we shud go on and win the matches that lies ahead of us.. i think we hv a better chance at champions league as our player prefer mixing it up with the big boys.. and when the odds are stacked against us is when this team has performed.. i would prefer to be behind man utd by 1 point until we meet at old trafford.. win that and we're home and dry
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11/03/2008 00:40:00

I understand its a gut instinct about our season, LD, but a little bit more optimism could be infectious ;). The result was hugely disappointing, as was our build up play. We have some very tough fixtures coming up, but with RVP back and the a one week break for the rest of the squad, there is a good chance that this is just a (prolonged) blip. As you yourself have pointed out, ManU have promptly handed back the Premiership lead whenever they have been ahead. Lets hope it happens again.
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11/03/2008 02:53:00

we dont seem to play that well with gilberto on the field his tempo is juventuslike if you know what i mean
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11/03/2008 07:31:00

Come on, you miserable lot!!!! We have only been one game away from another invincibles season. ManUre have lost 4 and will lose again. At least when we have a dip, we're not losing. I sense more twists and turns yet. At least one of these trophies can be ours. You can't be licking all over the team for one magnificent, true reeflection of our abilities in Milan and then slagging them off the next as rubbish. This club's supporters need to stop prannying about and get behind the team. They need us for the run-in. If someone had told me last summer that we could be league leaders for most of this season, still sitting top come March and hammered AC Milan to get into the CL Quarter Finals, I would have bitten their arm off for that. Go on the Gunners!!!
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11/03/2008 09:20:00

Yes Julie, it does seem as if the goal posts have shifted somewhat. The expectations have been raised by the performance of the team itself. Now that we're in this position, what can we do with it ? Can we go all the way ? I believe these are valid fears to be raised at this point.
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11/03/2008 10:55:00

and guys we will hav eboue back from suspension s o hleb can play left and eboue on the right which is not very bad........and chelsea and man u hav difficult run in's too..u never know do'd be brilliant if man u drew liverpool..........then we'd liverpool before they take on manu ...and they'll rest most of the player...and we'll play manu after liverpool beat them 1-0 after manu hav all the chances and hit the post a zillion times........they'd be so demoralised.
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12/03/2008 08:57:00


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