Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday September 28 2008
Another 5.30 kick off as troubled Setanta desperately try to flog some subscriptions. Good to see an old uni mate Benj pre kick off for a fair few jars. With Chelsea and Liverpool winning, the Gunners would need three points to reassert their authority at the top of the table. A small number in the Red Section set the tone for a disappointing day, when Mikael Silvestre's name was read out over the tannoy, a small number in the Red Section booed. Seriously, who the fuck are these morons?
The Gunners started the game at a moribund pace as Hull surprisingly elected to play two upfront with Geovanni tucked in behind. After a pedestrian first half an hour, Arsenal briefly awoke from their slumber when Sagna's searching right wing cross found Adebayor on the backpost, but the Togolese striker's header was chalked off for a foul on Paul McShane. Frommy vantage point, there seemed to be little evidence of infringement. Buoyed, Arsenal slowly clicked into gear. Denilson played a sumptuous through ball to Theo Walcott marauding in from the right, but nerves appeared to infuse his limbs as Andy Dawson came back with a tremendous last ditch challenge. Walcott would again be guilty of lacking composure in the box when Eboue whipped in a left wing cross which just evaded the head of Michael Turner, catching Walcott by surprise as he miscontrolled in front of goal. Now I'm no member of the 'shooooot' brigade, but Arsenal's next opportunity was an example of trying to foolhardily walk the ball into the net. Cesc found a small corridor of space on the egde of the penalty area and executed a perfect slide rule pass to Eboue who had just the keeper to beat from ten yards out. But panic stricken, Eboue attempted to pass to a crowded out van Persie. Yesterday was a massive step back for Eboue, at one point his histrionics by the corner flag were booed audibly by his own supporters.
Presumably Wenger instructed his troops to raise the urgency in the second half as the first goal arrived six minutes after the break. Denilson played a ball wide to Walcott, who excellently weaved between two defenders before cutting a low ball back to Adebayor, who helped the ball towards goal for a hybrid of Fabregas and McShane to fumble the ball over the line. Hull's resistance broken, pretty much everybody in the stadium expected Arsenal to progress and win comfortably, myself included. Therein lay the problem as lamentable complacency set in. Geovanni had been allowed a searching strike in the first half, you don't have to conduct a great deal of research to gather that Geovanni is an excellent striker of the ball. But withiut a midfielder who specialises in winning possession back for the team and who protects the back four, Geovanni was again allowed to wantonly cut in from the left unchallenged and unleash an awesome swerving strike into the top corner. The idleness and reluctance to close down was really quite stark. But with nobody protecting the back four, you are always liable to concede this type of goal.
As well as eschewing the idea of a midfielder who can retain possession, Wenger chose to ignore the fact that we have two centre halves who cannot head the ball. It's an obvious weakness and one every team we have played so far has looked to exploit. Most have done so successfully. Daniel Cousin's low shot was desperately hacked over the bar by Cesc, who is still visibly suffering physically. The resulting corner saw Geovanni swerve an outswinging corner to Daniel Cousin who outlept Kolo Toure as Gallas watched idly by and looped an excellent header into the top corner. Three goals conceded from corners suggests the manager's decision not to buy a centre half in favour of a centre back pairing who simply cannot play together looks more baffling by the game. Gallas is having an absolutely terrible season thus far, but when there is no competition for places in a squad, there is little incentive for players to improve. That it is why it was always obvious Fulham was no one off, you'll see this pattern emerge over the season, a shocking result followed by a brief flurry in response, before the likes of Gallas, van Persie and co. slip back into their complacent apathy. It's exactly what happened in the 2005-06 season, the last time we began a transition. Wenger affirms faith in his youngsters, yet we used 13 players in the three away games at Bolton, Blackburn and Kyiv, which suggests he hasn't as much faith in him as he attests.
The Gunners were shellshocked and for the first time in the game, began to look urgent. Walcott cut in from the right and threaded an excellent ball through for van Persie in the right channel. I didn't even get to my feet, van Persie's right foot is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard. He inevitably dragged the ball wide under no pressure. If you cannot use 50% of your body, your effectiveness as a striker is massively impaired, I simply do not understand how guys who play football seven days a week can be so poor on their weaker foot. I also struggle to understand the good will shown to van Perse by our supporters when a guy who hasn't kicked a ball for us yet can be booed. Robin obviously has a great deal of individual talent, but individual is the by word here. I'm struggling to remember him passing the ball to anybody in a threatening position, which for a link player is poor. He's become our answer to Steven Gerrard, playing only for himself, punting the ball towards goal at every opportunity in an attempt to be the hero. This was exemplified when he brilliantly turned Dawson inside out at the byline, but with Adebayor and Denilson placed for the cutback, RvP attempted a ridiculous shot with the outside of his left foot. Robin could not strike up a partnership with Henry, nor Bergkamp and now nor Adebayor. This is because he is not a team player.
Wenger threw Bendtner and Vela into the fray, Bendtner was bafflingly deployed on the right and threw in a number of impressive crosses. Ideally, as our best header of the ball, you would want Bendtner in the area and on the end of said crosses. Hull's centre halves, Turner and Zayatte, dealt with them admirably, as did Boaz Myhill in the Tigers' goal. Though fortune would prove a frustrating mistress, Fabregas tossed in a late corner, Gallas crained his neck excellently and headed the ball onto the crossbar. The rebound hit Vela on the goal line but ricocheted wide. It would probably have gone in for him on Tuesday night and if only Gallas had been as aerially vigilant in his own area. Fabregas hit an injury time exocet which was brilliantly turned over by Myhill. The assistants tried to help the home side with four minutes of injury time. I'm really not sure where that mauch time emanated from but it was a gift horse I wasn't exactly looking in the mouth. Toure scuffed over from another Fabregas corner and van Persie's venomous strike flew narrowly over but it was all in vain as Hull had an unthinkable victory.
Arsenal fans redeemed themselves after the final whistle by sportingly applauding Hull off the pitch. They deserved it too, having set up to hit Arsenal on the counter attack they surprised the home side. The Gunners were guilty of the same complacency and lethargy that plagued them at Fulham and this is a result largely of at least ten of our players being absolutely guaranteed their places in the side. The two areas the manager refused to strengthen were the exact areas Hull punished us and I really do not know now what the manager can do about it, I hope he does. But I would put money on seeing a reaction now for the next three or four games before those same weaknesses are exploited again and that same lethargy will re emerge as there is simply no incentive for players to improve when the squad is so small and the manager does not have the faith in his younger players to displace more established pros like van Persie and Gallas. Fabregas is clearly still struggling physically, given his exertions last season and in the summer, this was always likely to happen. Quite how depleting the numbers in our midfield was supposed to offset that I don't quite know. But then there are a lot of answers I don't have regarding this squad. If Mr. Wenger has them he will need to be forthcoming and quickly.LD.
Date:Sunday September 28 2008
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