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Fener-Bitch Slapped

Last night was an incredibly surreal experience for me. Watching Arsenal on television is not something I am particularly accustomed to and it`s not something I particularly enjoy. It feels too removed and distant and I feel a good deal more nervous. Particularly last night, does our defending always look that amateur on television? Anyways, fiduciary constraints/ work commitments meant I could only do two of the three group away games and when the draw came out it was an easy choice which one to ditch if I`m honest. Those in my number that did go reported no problems thus far which is a plus. So I settled down with a bottle of Fursty Ferret to listen to ITV4s commentators twitter on for ninety minutes. Pleat, aside from his infuriating name pronunciations is a decent pundit, unlike Lawrenson he actually bothers to do some research before games. Plus, when we were in Prague prior to the Sparta Prague match in 2005, me and my mates saw him wander into a sex museum. (That anecdote has no relevance to anything, but I promise it`s true).

So anyway, Wenger started with the makeshift centre back pairing of Silvestre and Song. Makeshift here being a synonym for cluelessly inept. Silvestre looked like he`d prepared for the game by spending two days in a shop doorway nursing a bottle of Famous Grouse, merrily pissing himself and dropping off to sleep, before the manager nudged him angrily and said, "Mikael, kick off`s in five minutes! You`re playing centre half!" Meanwhile, Gael Clichy decided to use the night to experiment with being a lazy and disinterested, it didn`t suit him. Thankfully, Arsenal`s attacking charges were a little more bumptious, Abou Diaby in particular catching the eye in an advanced role. It is ironic that much of the talk surrounding Arsenal`s midfield has been of an anchorman freeing up Cesc, yet it was Diaby`s advanced role that took much of the focus off of Fabregas. Denilson tucked in behind and looked much more assured with two midfielders ahead of him, in fact, Denilson was asked to cover for Clichy at left back so often it wasn`t funny, whilst Walcott`s express refusal to do any sort of tracking back gave him plenty of work to do. The fact that Fenerbahce`s usually ubiquitous danger man Alex was so anonymous spoke volumes of how effective Denilson was. As early as the second minute Clichy`s idleness on the back post allowed Senturk to ghost in unmarked, only for skipper for the night Almunia to make a domineering block that set the tone for an exceptional performance from Arsenal`s custodian. Diaby`s marauding early on led to the first goal on nine minutes, with the Frenchman occupying a couple of Fenerbahce defenders, leaving Cesc to slot a precise through ball to Adebayor, Walcott desperately scrambled to get out of his way with the linesman`s flag arm getting twitchy, Ade kept his composure to slot past Demirel. The ideal start. Things got a lot more idyllic seconds later too; once again Fabregas was left in space to deliver a slide rule pass to the onrushing Walcott, he skipped around Demirel with joie de vivre before turning the ball in from a tight angle. Walcott embodied Arsenal`s performance on the night, irresistible going forward, but I don`t remember one occasion where he even tried to defend, which inhibited Eboue. The one time Eboue could get forward with any confidence was after he set up Ramsey`s goal as Walcott watched on from the bench.

But more shoddy defending ensured that the night would not be easy. Wenger spoke pre match about how he expected Silvestre to be a leader, well in reality he looked the most scared and frightened player on the pitch. What I did not expect was for the only member of our back four who is a first choice to be quite so insipid. After a needless foul by Song, Alex swung in a free kick from the left; Clichy bizarrely took up a position on the centre spot, which was strange because I don`t really see him challenging for any headers in the centre of the box in any serious way. The upshot was that he left his station at the back post unmanned, allowing Guiza time to rifle a low shot across the box which Silvestre deflected into his own net. As the leader of the defence you`d have expected Silvestre to tell Clichy he was in an insanely bad position, as a first choice member of our back four, you`d have expected Clichy not to have to be told. But in keeping with the kamikaze nature of the game, Arsenal quickly corrected their two goal advantage. Diaby latched onto a high ball, jinked his way past Edu and fired a low shot past Demirel and into the corner. It was turning into an extraordinary game, as the Turks came back again. Guiza latched onto Senturk`s through ball, with Clichy, well, I don`t know where he was but it certainly wasn`t left back, absent Guiza snick into the right channel and fired a low shot just wide of the post. Almunia would spare his defence`s blushes once again after half an hour, the tenacious Sehin this time put through easily by an unpressured Alex, but Almunia bravely rushed out at his feet to prevent the Bosporus from getting back into the game. Half time and it was breathless stuff, I cannot decide if Fenerbahce defended slightly worse than we did (which is a very damning thought indeed) or whether we attacked better than they did. Statistics suggest the latter as Fenerbahce finished the game having had almost twice as many shots as Arsenal did.

The next goal would be crucial, you could sense that much. Predictably it didn`t take long to arrive in the second half either. A cynical foul by Maldonado on Nasri gave Arsenal a free kick on the left, in an identical position to the free kick which bought Fenerabahce`s goal. The Turks decided to copy our devil may care defending too. Fabregas swung in the corner, the home side`s defence tried to play the campest game of head tennis ever seen in their own area and Alex Song was on hand to lash home a low volley from close range. Still I couldn`t relax and assure myself the game was over. Not with Silvestre dribbling and mumbling to himself at the back, Clichy off for a burtons and Song looking like he`d woken up in the middle of a shitstorm. My pre emptive nerves were proved semi correct. Once again Guiza squeezed through our impediment defence; once again the onrushing skipper Almunia foiled him in the first instance. The ball ricocheted back to Guiza, whose shot was blocked on the line by Eboue, the Ivorian then rushed out to brilliantly throw himself in front of the lurking Senturk. The kamikaze defending could not continue to go unpunished and Almunia could really have done with his team mates pitching in and helping him out a bit. Yet another through ball, this time from Boral, was allowed to ease between Silvestre and Song and Guiza lifted the ball over Almunia. There were really only so many times he could keep bailing his defence out.

Fener did not appear to have the energy to use it as a catalyst for a stirring comeback, something the Turkish national side made a habit of in the summer. Ramsey and Djourou entered the fray and Ramsey immediately looked to involve himself, Djourou looked accomplished in the defensive midfield role as he has done before. But the finishing touches were applied in injury time, Eboue, with Walcott now off, was liberated to burst forwards. After some nice skill on the edge of the box, he tucked the ball back to Aaron Ramsey on the edge of the box, whose low, guided shot went in off the post for his first goal for the club. I didn`t see the Wales U-21 game but have heard lots about his performance; he is obviously carrying that confidence and, as Wenger said after the match, what was so pleasing was his exuberance and his willingness to meet the ball. The final score was 5-2 and though the margin of victory did not flatter us, given our exceptional offensive display, the fact that we only shipped two goals was massively flattering and largely due to a heroic display from the keeper. I`ve had my reservations about Almunia and his ability to produce when it really matters, but he did so last night. I am also no fan of Diaby but he was exceptional and has given us yet another option by playing that advanced role in a five man midfield. He has great feet and a real drive going forwards, his distribution still lets him down at times, perhaps that`s why playing high up the pitch suited him. A 5-2 victory against a team who had not lost at home for fifteen matches is not easily dismissible and confirms my suspicion that Arsenal is the best side going forwards in the world. However, we simply will not win anything with such awful defending. I swear at one point I almost laughed at Silvestre, Clichy looked so uncharacteristically idle I wondered if it was a pod person masquerading in the number 22 shirt. Denilson and Almunia were put under an awful lot of pressure to mask the shortcomings of the back four. Walcott, whilst scintillating in the final third, offered Eboue zero protection which stretched our midfield when the hosts had the ball. Add in a centre back pairing that looked about as comfortable as fish in a tree. Next month we play Villa, Man City, Man United and Chelsea, if our defending is anything approaching this woeful when we play any of those teams, we will be beaten in excess of four goals no questions asked. Much to enjoy and much to ponder, like nearly every other game this season.LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday October 22 2008

Time: 12:04PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Definding was pi** poor last night, shockingly amateur. But going forwards we are totally irresistable. No one can live with us when we attack like that. You can't really expect total defensive dominance when yu attck with such numbers and pace, but some of it was rank bad and would of got me substituted oin a Sunday league game! Why can't we just have one convincing total performance this season to dispell the doubts? Every game has raised as many questions as answers.
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22/10/2008 12:29:00

You take 75% of any starting defensive unit out of any team then they will have problems. It was disapointing yes, but certainly shouldn't be the focus point. We should have our proper defence back soon enough, and whilst that one isn't the best in the world it's still pretty good. A 5-2 win in hostile Turkey and all I'm hearing about is the defending .... it could be worse guy, we could have a cock and ball for a badge :)
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22/10/2008 12:35:00

No, I make you right there Rocky. Maybe thats typical of Arsenal fans in particular, we are highly critical of our team Maybe more so than any other set of fans perhaps??? Great result, great win great attacking performance!
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22/10/2008 12:46:00

i dun mind conceding 2 goals every game, as long as we score more than 3 goals a game.
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22/10/2008 12:47:00

Wenger has set the bar so high that we have been spoiled over the years, but nobody can expect a back four who have never played together before to be stout. Especially when one of their number is essentially a midfielder. I was just so happy to watch some truly exciting football. In the age of over-hyper sky sports matches, this really was a thriller. I watch football to be entertained and to be scared, and this game had the lot. Really happy with the result and the possibility of qualifying in the nect match.
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22/10/2008 12:57:00

I'm just trying to get a handle on what the score would have been if we'd defended like that at Stamford Bridge. We were excellent going forwards, but let's be honest, Fenerbahce were worse at the back than us, which took some doing. I take the point that 3/4 of the backline were out but a) we've defended similarly to that all season. It seems to be an attitude thing, "we'll outscore you." Like I said on Saturday, it will work more often than not, but it won't work enough to win the big prizes. b) It shows our squad is not good enough because the players that came in couldn't do a job, Clichy plays nearly every game and was woeful too. United have missed Vidic for most of the season, Chelsea have been without Carvalho and the players that have come in have made that a little known fact. Silvestre is supposed to be the experienced hand, I hope last night was a one off, because he looked scared to me. I'm thinking of Stepanovs at Old Trafford in 2001, Silvestre was worse than that last night. Walcott has to learn to defend too, at least get back and put his body there, because it makes us so open when he doesn't put in the effort to track back. Better teams will rip us apart in those circumstances. We play a lot of them in November and that must be worked on before then otherwise we will have an awful month.
Little Dutch
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22/10/2008 12:57:00

LD I don;t think we have defended like that at all this season. Last night was truly horrific but to say we have defended that badly at other times this season is way off base mate. We all know the standard will improve once the usual suspects get back!
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22/10/2008 13:04:00

I think Song was rather slow and that affected Silvestre even though he was also rather clueless the whole night. Also, almost all of our midfielders were too over zealous in attacking & didn't do much to help out our make shift defence.
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22/10/2008 13:05:00

Other teams have got player who can fill in for a player and so do we .... but how many teams have cover for three injured defenders at once? It's always going to be a struggle. I agree about Walcott, but Wenger see's it too and it's probably why Eboue get's the nod in games that we are playing with a style of play who might attack us down the flanks more. But he'll get there, he's improving week by week, and for a player who's more used to playing a striker for most of his career, suddendly being asked to playon the wing and defend, it's going to take time for him to get that into his head. It's the same with Denilson, it's not his usual position so he wanders, but as time is passing by, he's getting better at it. As I say, it wasn't ideal last night, and had we lost/drawn there would be cause for complaint, but we were wonderful going forward and I'm going to savour that till the weekend.
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22/10/2008 13:09:00

and I'm going to savour that till the weekend. - Rocky7 Until we play like utter dog pooh and drop 2 points to Stoke! lol
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22/10/2008 13:11:00

We're playing West Ham :P
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22/10/2008 13:14:00

United were without Vidic and Ferdinand last night, Johnny Evans played centre half at Stamford Bridge and last night to no discernable difference. Two years ago we went to Stamford Bridge without Gallas and Toure and played Djourou and Senderos, with Gilberto sat in front of them we did o.k and it took an absolute wonder goal to break us down. If we were to lose Toure and Gallas for SB this year, Silvestre and Song would play centre half.
Little Dutch
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22/10/2008 13:28:00

Oooops, typo! lol Why have I got it into my mellon we are playing Stoke???? Maybe a few jars too many last night at me local me thinks!
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22/10/2008 13:50:00

You're still thinking about Stoke after their glorious win!! lol
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22/10/2008 14:13:00

The defending last night was laugh out loud bad. I reckon that must've been the 2 worst set of defences in Europe last night, we'll get absolutely tonked at Chelsea. But i'm not moaning, i've already accepted it's an end of an era, just gonna enjoy the victories we do get.
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22/10/2008 14:24:00

Shewore, so who of the 3 injured defenders we were missing last night won't be back to face Chelsea then? You obviously know something we don't mate! Don't forget, that wasn't our defence on show last night. That was 4 complete strangers playing together as a unit for the first time away to a team unbeaten in 15 games in a bear pit atmousphere without a shred of help in defence from anyone except Denilson. It won't be anything like that when we play ChelskiSibneftDynamos..........!
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22/10/2008 14:55:00

Rocky7 Ahhhhhh t'was a glorious win was it not!
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22/10/2008 14:56:00

Say Chelsea lose Terry, Carvalho and Cole when we play them and we lose Toure, Gallas and Clichy for the same match. Whose defence would you be more confident in?
Little Dutch
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22/10/2008 15:00:00

Well LD, we don't have the money to bring in quality to sit on the bench for just such emergencies now do we. The disparity in payroll is most evident in this regard. If we sold out to an oil monopolist then maybe we'd have the same backup quality as Spartak Chelsea.
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22/10/2008 15:55:00

And one thing is for sure, we definitely don't need them back for the NLD!!!
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22/10/2008 15:59:00

I'm not talking about paying massive, massive money for replacements. Though Alex didn't cost much to my recollection. I happened to think we had someone in Senderos but we decided to get rid for some reason. If we're talking about winning things, Chelsea and United are who we are competing with so it's not unfair to compare ourselves against them, unless we're not expecting to compete with them anymore? Wenger has never spent much anyway and the money was there to spend in the summer, for whatever reason our squad is smaller than it was last season and it shows in the cover we put out last night. United's defence last night and has done on occasion this year included Evans, Brown and O'Shea, who cost nothing at all.
Little Dutch
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22/10/2008 16:06:00

I would like to know what Aragones thinks about Arsenal's defensive football. ;)
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22/10/2008 16:19:00

Its all about the combination really. I mean, if we play against an Evans-O'Shea-Brown defence I wouldn't be the least bit worried about it. At the same time if you replaced Song with Gallas or Toure I'd feel a lot more confident than with the combination we had out there last night.
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22/10/2008 16:37:00

I know it's churlish to focus just on the defense. It was a fantastic attacking performance, Diaby was brilliant, Cesc was freed to remind us why he is one of Europe's finest midfielders. But evern 4 goals up I never felt secure that we'd win the game because of that comedy defending. I was thoroughly shocked by Clichy's performance, where did that come from? We play like that in the league and it's not only the likes of Chelsea and MU who'll thrash us. Even lowertable teams could beat us. Djourou should've started but I assumed Arsene didn't want him to rush him in after recovering from a concussion. And Almunia was imperious. Keepers are never ideal captains but I'd prefer him to Gallas right now.
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22/10/2008 17:03:00

I'm not worried about the defense. As said above we had 3/4 of our defense out there
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22/10/2008 19:28:00

Talking about the weaknesses so often hardly adds any insight to the problem, does it ? We shouldnt ignore it, but we can always focus more on the positives. That was a good report, LD, although I felt that you harped on a bit too much about Clichy & Silvestre. The positives came from Almunia, who put in a very good performance. His judgment on when to come off his line has improved immeasurably (and I remember that you had some concerns about it LD), and his distribution has become a lot better. The game would have been very different if he hadnt made his 3 1st half saves. Also, special mention to Diaby who had a good outing when given the license to roam. Stewart Robson still rates him as Cesc' partner in CM. I didnt see any evidence of that last night, although it may be too early to tell.
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22/10/2008 20:09:00

Also, no mention of Adebayor who disappeared after his goal. He actually managed to be in offside positions for 2 goal kicks from Almunia, and that to me, is just plain lazy !
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22/10/2008 20:12:00

Listen, we play like that at Stamford Bridge. We'll lose 5-1 becuase a) Chelsea's defence wouldn't be as generous as Fenerbahce's was and b) Chelsea's attack would be more ruthless. So we get beaten 5-1 at SB and I come home and write a report saying, "yeah, we defended poorly, but didn't we pass the ball nicely?" What would you say> You'd think I'd lost it surely? Even if we played that defence, it was a makeshift defence that lost 6-1 at Old Trafford, I didn't recall too many flippant comments then. That's the thing about football, it's great when you get away with your obvious weaknesses, but when you don't, we all moan like bitches. Last April I wrote an article saying I felt it was scandalous we didn't strenghten our squad in Januray, but because I didn't express that in January, many of you, correctly, criticised me for doing so. I've learnt from that, so this present monster is your making! :-)
Little Dutch
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22/10/2008 22:04:00

And one final point. We won by three clear goals, yet as I type, the poll at the side of the page sees the goalkeeper with more than 50% of the MOTM votes, meaning he has more votes than the other ten players put together. So you guys don't seem to disagree with me that much.
Little Dutch
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22/10/2008 22:32:00

Just when I thought Gallas-Toure parnership is one of the weaker compared to the upper half of the league, I just realised we can actually play far worst! As much as we heap praise on the team for their attacking prowess, we at the same time should be vocal in pointing out their weaknesses. At the moment, I dont think we have adequate contigency plan in case any of our key player is injured & we know fairly well that there was no one team in the history that could play through the whole season with the same set of first 11! It is not an exclusive problem. We should compare ourselves with others who managed to deal with it effectively. Thus, LD is right because if we keep going on in our state of denial and keep giving excuses that we performed badly collctively or in some area because we were missing this player or that player, in the end of the season, would come up with the same summary like in recent years that we didn't win title because we were UNLUCKY and experienced some bad streak of injury during the season.
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23/10/2008 09:07:00

I dont think the partnership of Gallas & Toure are bad at all. I compare them to superman. They are good defenders who are comfortable with the ball and like to play football from the back rather than hoof. Unfortunatly because of a lack of height they dont fare well against long high balls and defending set positions. Like Lex Luthor discovered kryptonite, teams have found their weakness. Does not make them bad defenders, nore does it make superman any less super.
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23/10/2008 11:17:00

All though for the record, Batman was more kick as*
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23/10/2008 12:09:00

Paul_ownz, Toure and Gallas are 6 foot each, john Terry and Carvalho are 6 foot and 6 foot 1 respectively, so there is no difference in height and look at Chelsea's often quality defensive record. It's all to do with the players concentration and the training they receive. Arsenal's lack of height is a total fabrication mate!
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24/10/2008 09:48:00

True. But they also have Essien, Lampard, Ballack, Mikel, Bosingwa, Malouda, drogba, anelka who are min 6ft when it comes to defending set pieces. Compare that to Sagna, fabregas, denilson, nasri, walcott, eboue all under 6ft. Appart from Adebayor, Van persie & kolo toure just, we have a very short team at defending set pieces.
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24/10/2008 14:20:00


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