Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday May 15 2008
Arsenal moved into October astride the league table and in fine fettle. Late summer was being ushered out of view by early autumn, but the Gunners were looking positively evergreen. A Champions League match away at Steaua Bucharest was first up. Having already displayed the champagne football and physical attributes to win matches, Arsenal would demonstrate another facet to their swelling repertoire- playing badly and winning. For large parts of the contest in Romania, the Gunners were lacklustre, had Ghoncea kept his composure when through one on one with Almunia, the Gunners might have been staring down the barrel of defeat. Thankfully, he went all Darren Bent on our asses and fluffed his effort. Good work from Adebayor on the left, pulled back for van Persie, who fired a delicious shot into the top corner from twelve yards. Job done, smash and grab stylee. A home game with Sunderland provided the Gunners next test as they sought to remain top of the Premiership pile. Robin van Persie`s sixth minute free kick smashed the crossbar in a million pieces on its way in, causing a crazy woodwork debris storm in the Sunderland goalmouth that caused the game to be held up for several minutes, as the shards of shattered crossbar were cleared from the goal area and a new crossbar was fashioned out of bamboo sticks. As the ball whizzed its way to goal at three thousand miles an hour, Black Cats keeper Craig Gordon was heard to scream "not the faaaaace!"
Philippe Senderos put the Gunners two up shortly after, but complacency imbued our every move thereafter. Wallace pulled a goal back before half time and a Kenwyne Jones header restored parity for Sunderland. Walcott`s pull back was consummately smashed home by van Persie with seven minutes remaining. It was van Persie`s third consecutive winning goal, what a season he was sure to enjoy. Oh wait, he got injured playing for Holland immediately afterwards and was last seen being turned away from A & E on the basis that he was sucking up too much NHS resource.
After another stupid, imbecilic yet money spinning international break, Arsenal were to take on Bolton Wanderers at home. The game stayed very tight until Kolo Toure`s long range daisy cutter broke the deadlock with twenty minutes left. Tomas Rosicky`s dainty finish from Walcott`s cross sealed the points. Then came Arsenal`s coup de grace in the shape of a Champions League group match at home to Slavia Praha. If the match were a porn film, it would have starred Jessica Alba, Rhiannon and me. An early Fabregas bender set the scene as the Gunners laid waste to their Czech counterparts with some orgasmic football. An own goal followed by Theo Walcott`s first goal at the Grove saw Arsenal saunter into a three goal lead at half time. The second half would be devastating. Walcott`s very passable Thierry Henry impression gave Arsenal a fourth, before the piece du resistance. Hleb dribbled down the left, cut the ball inside to Adebayor, who shimmied past his defender before laying off to Walcott, Theo`s guiding touch saw Cesc Fabregas slide in a goal of such aesthetic beauty, that the Mona Lisa herself broke into a broad grin. The untouchable Alex Hleb bagged a sixth before Nicklas Bendtner betrayed the artistry of the evening by scoring a scrappy seventh. Perhaps that`s why he became so unpopular with his team mates? A bit like when a toddler leaves a grubby handprint over a freshly painted wall.
Liverpool at Anfield followed to give Arsenal their first 'Big Four` opponents of the season. (You have to include Liverpool in the Big Four despite the fact they haven`t challenged for the league in eons, they cry if you don`t). Gerrard`s early free kick gave the home side the lead. Almunia made a decent save from Crouch before Fabregas inexplicably missed an open goal. But he made amends on 81 minutes, Hleb`s Bergkampesque slide rule pass found Fabregas, who toe poked the ball past Reina. Bendtner decided to emulate Cesc`s initial effort by skying in front of an open goal in the last minute. The month finished with a shadow Gunners side walloping Sheffield United in the Carling Cup. A brace of cool finishes from Eduardo and a late deflected Denilson strike saw a comfortable 3-0 win. A Blades fan ran onto the pitch to throw his scarf at boss Bryan Robson, which was strange because it really wasn`t that cold. It was also the night that the first rumblings of "you need more foreigners" could be heard from the Arsenal contingent.
The Gunners piggy backed onto their early season momentum in October, again staying unbeaten for the whole month. Only some shocking finishing at Anfield prevented a 100% record and in the Slavia Praha, Arsenal had one of those "it all came together" sorts of nights that burn bright in the memory until senility burgles your senses. Hleb was accelerating his early season form, but van Persie was cut down in his prime. The team were spreading the goals though, the fact that Adebayor did not register on the score sheet in October bears testament to this. Gallas was proving the doubters wrong with his inspired captaincy and those that had written us off early season, were flame grilling their words and smearing them with condiments. Spurs were still in the relegation zone.LD.
Player of the Month: Aliaksandr Hleb.
Date:Thursday May 15 2008
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