Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 6 2008
I hate midday kick offs, they always throw out of sync. There's something not quite right about tucking intoa Beef and Onion pie at 11.45am. What with post match drinks meaning that you end up pissed by 6pm. I have toadmit that half of my beef and onion pasty ended updown in club level when I saw the team selection. I was surprised and a little annoyed. Why Wenger thought playing Bendtner upfront on his own would reap rewards I've no idea. I feelfor Nicky because he'sonly 20 and is never going to be able to demonstrate his talents as a lone runner. The selection was an example that we had surrendered the title and I just cannot accept that. It was improbable but not impossible and I think it was our duty to keep the heat on United. Our trip to Old Trafford now is little more than dead rubber and the manager has effectively thrown the two big domestic trophies in the bin. The fact that he has to continuallymake these gambles points to the paucity of options in our squad.
As expected, the visitors played a second string side but rather than capitalising and turning the heat up on United, we decided to treat the fixture with something approaching contempt. Picking and choosing which games you try and win is a dangerous strategy and I think this experiment is a very bad move by the manager. The game was of a terrible quality in the first half, with Liverpool simply hoofing the ball to Crouch at every opportunity whilst Arsenal were playing an unfamiliar formation and creating zilcho. The first opportunity of note arrived after around ten minutes, Justin Hoyte gave the ball away in midfield and Peter Crouch let fly from thirty yards, Almunia was at full stretch to tip over. Liverpool might have scored again, Crouch was proving to be the proverbial thorn in the side, and it was his through ball behind Toure, who had another terrible game, to Riise that had hearts a flutter, but Gallas was across to cover and force himtosky his effort. (As I type, Boro have equalised and I find myself looking on in patahy). The away side were marginally less awfulthan us and created another chance when Benayoun played a defence splitting one two with Lucas but dragged his shot wide when he should have scored.
Arsenal took 37 minutes to register a shot, Fabregas dragging a twenty yard strike wide. It seemed to inject the Gunners with a little belief and they were finally able to carve Liverpool open. Flamini fed Walcott on the right, Carragher's tackle fell to Bendtner in front of goal but he aimed a tame finish straight at Reina. It was an example of Walcott frightening an opposing defence. His decision making and composure still need a lot of work, but the discernable difference is he has a lot more belief in himself now and he's turning into a valuable player for us. Just as Arsenal began to improve on absolutely abysmal, Liverpool struck a fatal blow. Reina pumped the ball forward to Crouch, who beat Toure in the air and ran into space as Toure stood dumbfounded, Benayoun played Crouch in, who took a touch inside and fired a low shot past Almunia. The team were soundy booed off at half time which is infuriating as we were playing a lot of inexperienced players in a strange formation. Do these booing idiots realise how childish and spoiled they sound? What's more, do they think it helps?
Arsenal began the second half with more intent, it was impossible not to really. Toure headed Fabregas' corner inches wide with Billy the secret striker lurking. Jermaine Pennant demonstrated his abject crapness by fouling an ambushed Traore on the touchline. Fabregas swung in another excellent set piece and Bendtner lost Arbeloa in the area to head home the equaliser. Having unwittingly prevented a goal on Wednesday and missed a sitter at Anfield, Nicky managed to wrestle a Scouse monkey off his back. Say what you like about Bendtner, he's always involved which I take as a huge positive for a young player. The game opened up as both sides introduced their trump cards from the bench. As the Gunners chased a winner, Liverpool exposed them on the counter. First of all, when Stevie Me's cross was not cleared, and Andriy Voronin astoundingly hooked the ball over the bar. Voronin performed another passable Heskey impression when Gerrard played a through ball and Toure amazingly stood and watched as Voronin crept in behind him and rounded Almunia, only to fall over his own feet. Hilarious.
A priceless Gallas interception prevented Gerrard from running onto a Torres pass. But in injury time, Bendtner headed a ball across the area to an unmarked Hleb, who lost his composure and allowed the ball todrift past him. The final whistle sounded and the all too familiar feeling of frustration was evident again.I think Wenger has taken a stupid gamble by placing all of his eggs in the European basket. To have given up on the title is scarsely forgivable and the manager has placed enormous pressure on Tuesday night. Our entire season now rests with that result and Arsenal have shown that they find it difficult to cope with that kind of pressure. I understood and accepted us throwing the result at United in the cup(though in hindsight, had we beaten them we probably would have gone on to win the competition). The fact that we keep having to make these gambles points to our squad being too thin, the manager obviosuly realises he doesn't have enough players to sustain a tilt on more than one front. I hope this gamble pays off, if it doesn't and we end the seaosn trophyless, Wenger will have to hold his hands up and accept the blame. In closing, I'd like to say a huge congratulations to Pompey. I saw a lot of Pompey boys on my way back from the game and some top quality banter was had. One of them claimed to be an avid reader of Vital Pompey, so if you're reading mate (assuming you can remember our conversation,you were pretty pissed and so was I), we are the foreign legion and proud of it! Good luck in May.LD.
Date:Sunday April 6 2008
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