Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday May 5 2008
I have spoken before about my disdain for lunch time kick offs. It has become customary to enjoy Goals on Sunday with a cuppa and a mouth that tastes like a mixture of Guinness and monkey piss. So it felt a little odd to view it with a Guinness in the Arsenal Tavern pre match. We arrived in the stadium in time to watch Cesc Fabregas pick up his well deserved PFA Young Player of the Year award and for Arsene Wenger to announce on the screen that Jens Lehmann would be leaving. More on that later.
The game began in a moribund, anti climatic atmosphere between two sets of players who just seemed to want the season to end. With Arteta, Cahill, Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini all peering on from the sidelines, it is hardly surprising that the game was bereft of fluency, the best player on display was probably Everton's Steven Pienaar. Walcott, looking lost on the left, had the first shot in anger as he curled an effort well wide on his right foot. Everton were compact and looking for the point they needed to secure UEFA Cup qualification. In truth, with a little more ambition they could have pushed us for all three. Fabianski, starting in goal, had an indecision that permeated him that one expects from a young keeper. Fortunately, Alex Song and particularly William Gallas were on top form. His detractors seldom mention it, but even before he was made captain, it has always struck me how he looks after younger players.
Everton only created one opportunity in the game when Arsenal were at their most contemplative. Pienaar played a ball into the right channel, Andy Johnson homed in on goal, but Fabianski beat his effort away with his right foot. Pienaar followed up, but Alex Song blocked and cleared his effort. This seemed to spark Arsenal into something approaching life. Another of Toure's pinpoint diagonal balls found Adebayor, he controlled brilliantly out of the air but Howard saved his shot. Emmanuel Eboue made a rare forray down the right and played in a teasing cross, which Adebayor stretched his neck muscles and could only glance it wide.
The match continued in much the same vain in the second half, until Wenger added a touch of sentiMENTALity by bringing on Jens Lehmann for a chance to say a farewell to the home support. It was a fitting tribute to one of football's, ahem, characters. I have to pay my own tribute because Jens gave me the single greatest moment of my Arsenal supporting career when he stopped Juan Roman Riquelme's penalty. He gave me someof my funniest moments too, a guy who absolutelyloved to be the villain. Who would sometimes agitate opposition supporters for his own amusement. But above all he has been a top class goalkeeperand I have expressed here my belief that he should have been reinstated following the defeat at Stamford Bridge. Cheers Jens, it's been emotional. But it was the other substitute, Armand Traore, who would make the difference. Bendtner was playing a slightly withdrawn role as he did at Derby on Monday night, he picked up the ball between Everton's midfield and defence, pushed the ball out to Traore on the left, Traore flighted in a beautiful cross which Bendtner climbed to power home an unstoppable header.
Everton were unable to respond and Bendtner's goal proved to be the decider. Bendtner is still rough around the edges, but he does make a difference, many of his goalshave been winners or equalisers and I think there's plenty more to come from him. At the end of the game Gallas persuaded Lehmann to take a virtuoso bow in the centre circle for a well deserved ovation. And what to do with Gallas? Firstly he refuses to move from the pitch at St. Andrews, now he is encouraging his team mates to do the same! What will be the psychological effect on the team? The traditional lap of honour took place, with Matty Flamini waving the Arsenal fans goodbye. The result preserved an unbeaten home record this season, which is quite an achievement and testament to the side's consistency. Unofrtunately, it hasn't contributed to any silverware, but their is a solid foundation to build on. Next up a long trek to Sunderland, every time I go there it seems to be a meaningless end of season encounter. After that, I am left to contemplate becoming a normal, functioning human being again. A chilling thought indeed.LD.
Date:Monday May 5 2008
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