Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday October 1 2008
Having dislocated my jaw as I left the office for the game last night and then pulled some neck muscles reinserting it, I had the awkward feeling that, contrary to my over riding feelings that we would win comfortably, perhaps it would be one of those nights. (Besides which I have dislocated my jaw about fifteen bloody times now, you`d have thought the pain would become more manageable). Anyway, enough about my oral functions (ooh err), what we needed was a response and having seen the team line ups in the Tavern reveal that only Eboue would make way from the team that haemorrhaged so badly against Hull, I was more convinced than ever that the manager had given the culprits I outlined from that game in such lurid detail a good shoeing.
Cobwebs from Saturday were still apparent in the opening minutes as the team appeared to be gripped by nerves. Though that is a slightly more assuring sign than a team in the grip of arrogance and apathy. A couple of early Porto corners had the crowd nervous, a feeling exacerbated when Almunia elected to punch a corner he should easily have taken. Indeed Port forced the first real opportunity of the game, ironically from an Arsenal corner. The Portuguese side swept down field in true Invincibles style, Costa went racing down the right hand side as Rodriguez powered into the area, Costa`s cross was pinpoint and Rodriguez connected with a firm downward header which clipped the crossbar on its way over. Fabregas had let Rodriguez drift past him, leaving Toure to fight manfully back and just do enough to rush the Uruguayan. The concerns surrounding the defensive capabilities of the midfield remain. The concerns became enlarged minutes later when Lisandro Lopez was allowed time to line up a shot from thirty yards and let fly, Almunia stretching full length to beat his effort out with a smart save. My concerns about Manuel are slowly fading. The resulting corner was not cleared effectively by Toure and the ball ran loose to Lisandro again, but his close range effort was brilliantly blocked on the line by Gael Clichy. Had any of those chances rustled our net, it might have been a different game.
But the warning was heeded and the Gunners sparked into life, Cesc and the front two in particular took responsibility. Having looked listless and disinterested since his brilliant performance against Blackburn, van Persie began to show for the ball and link with his midfield again, a priceless function which gives our attack greater variety than when we are forced to punt aimless balls at Adebayor. Fabregas received the ball on the edge of the area and threaded the eye of the needle to feed Adebayor on the right hand touchline. Ade showed a calmness in the area that he certainly didn`t have in 2006 and waited for his strike partner to come and join him. Van Persie did just that, showing an insatiable desire to meet the ball, bustling Alves out of the way to convincingly meet Adebayor`s cutback. I can only infer, but I`ve a feeling van Persie and Ade had the manager`s words ringing in their ears, because they were playing like they had actually met each other before. Shortly before half time, the two would link up again, albeit in slightly less contrived circumstances. Van Persie and Cesc stopped performing their ineffective corner routine and Robin plain old swung the ball into the mixer guv, the byword once again was desire as Adebayor craned his neck to superbly head the ball down as it bounced in off the underside of the crossbar. In fact, it was a similar effort to Rodriguez`s earlier header which hit the bar and went out. When that sort of thing goes against you, it makes you feel a bit like Bruce Banner when they hit him with gamma rays. When it goes for you, well you just tend to ignore it.
Three minutes after half time, it was very much a case of job done. A much improved Gallas collected the ball on the right hand side, tucked the ball into Walcott who had Porto peddling backwards, he slipped a disguised ball to van Persie which both van Persie and Bruno Alves seemed to let the ball run, but yet again the Dutchman showed greater desire to muscle Alves out of the way before toe poking the ball past Helton. (Who looked like he was wearing some dodgy pyjamas). I hope this signals a renaissance for RvP, who looked generally much more rumbustuous and willing to fight for the team, the fact that he bagged himself two goals in doing so was a rewarding by product of the unselfish play he exhibited so well in the games against Newcastle and Blackburn. Keep it up Robin, there isn`t a sane man on earth who`d question the man`s talent, but exterior factors still loom large, feel free to continue dispelling them.
The Gunners were on fire at this point, Toure sprinted over to Fabregas for a short corner completely untracked and cut a smart cross back to Walcott in the six yard area, who somehow managed to rebound the ball wide. Minutes later, Theo got the engine warmed up and careered down the right flank, leaving Costa trailing in his wake, his first attempted to cross rebounded back to him, leaving Theo to pick his man, firing a cross into the box which was met by Nasri, but with the force on the ball he could only thigh it wide. Nasri demonstratably bought us another dimension, his movement is constant, once he has released possession on the flank, he immediately races into a central position to become involved. This was exemplified in the first half when, in his own half and facing his own goal, he delightfully nutmegged Meireles before arcing a beautiful crossfield ball to Sagna, before racing in field to join up play.
Wenger bought on Bendtner and Eboue who made lasting impressions for different reasons. Bendtner`s first involvement was unfortunate when Adebayor tried to tackle him. But when left with free reign with the ball, he cut infield from the right before lifting a lovely ball into the path of Adebayor in the area, but he snatched at his effort as it went wide. Bendtner would again be at the forefront when he was tripped by Guarin in the area with twenty minutes left. Adebayor predictably placed his penalty low and to the keeper`s left and was again successful. The resulting dance with Eboue appears to be the only routine he is varying in this situation! The badge kissing was again unnecessary and a bit unsightly. Keep doing your talking on the pitch, when you kiss the badge you just remind everybody of what a dick you were this summer. I know that when I act like a dick I usually do my best to let people forget. By now it was party time when Vela came on for Walcott, and he immediately made a huge impression. His touch is so easy and comfortable in tight situations and he proved it with a mazy dribble through a sea of blue and white bodies in the area, he should really have passed to Bendtner in space on the six yard line, the ball scrambled its way to Super Nick anyway, but his effort was blocked by Alves. The true piece de resistance came from Eboue in injury time, having successfully executed seven light speed step overs on the edge of the Porto area; he promptly tripped over the ball. A moment worth its weight in comedy gold as most around me were falling off their chairs laughing. Had the score been 0-0 at the time I think most would have fallen off their seats in fits of rage.
At the final whistle all of the players notably made a sustained effort to acknowledge the supporters, only Gallas has executed that particular courtesy on Saturday. Given most of the press junkets I`ve seen from the players this morning, I would suggest that that was a contrived move. It barely makes up for the fact that eight of them walked off without acknowledging us in Kiev though. It was a rousing response and one we needed to lift the veil of doom that has engulfed the club since Saturday. However, it may have been a very different game had Porto converted one of their early chances and once we assumed the lead, their heads really dropped. Nobody is in any doubt as to what we can do to teams that allow us to have our wicked way, but Sunderland won`t be doing that on Saturday and it`s important that the marked improvements in performance and attitude from the strikers and Gallas continues to Saturday and beyond. This has to be it now, the players need not be in any doubt as to what happens when they allow concentration levels to drop and the manager has to make sure this is no short term geyser in the desert before settling back into comfortable complacency in three games time. The pleasing cameos from Bendtner and Vela should keep the front two on their toes and I saw Gallas get a mouthful from the manager at Bolton which suggests he is in last chance saloon. The axe must be hovering like the sword of Damocles ever o`er their heads to ensure the Hull hell is never to be repeated.LD.
Date:Wednesday October 1 2008
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