Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 30 2008
We've all done it haven't we? We've all criticised a player only to have that self same man ram your words down your throat. After all, Nicklas Bendtner scored the winner on Tuesday night. Well those words taste very, very sweet tonight and I'll gladly let Robin serve them to me with more sweet and sour sauce this season. He's always had the talent, but it wasn't only the goals, van Persie put in an excellent team performance, dropping back into midfield to receive the ball and I swear, with five minutes to go I actually saw him cajoling his midfield and organising them! I said last week that van Persie symbolises a lot about this team and like the team, he now has to demonstrate that kind of altruism and work rate for the rest of the season, I'm desperate for both to do so.
My afternoon began at the our usual watering hole pre Stamford Bridge, having booked ourselves a table at the Sporting Page, we holed ourselves up in a nice little booth complete with our own TV to watch the United City derby. Half of us Arsenal fans, half of the group Chelsea fans, sharing a beer and a burger pre match. It's the sort of thing going to football should be all about. After several bladder swelling Guinesses, we were on our way to the ground. I swapped my upper tier seat with a friend for a lower tier one and was positioned on the corner flag in the 4th row. Little did I know it would give me a great vantage point to see how massively offside our opener was! (I've only seen flash compilation of highlights as I write this, but I'm convinced van Persie was at least a yard off. Maybe someone can confirm?) The travelling fans were in resonating voice throughout, mocking their hosts with a rumbustuous chorus of 'it's so quiet at the Bridge,' followed gamefully by, 'there's no history at the Bridge.' Ashley Cole was, predictably, the subject of our ire. But I was surprised that Chelsea didn't really seem to give Gallas a particularly hard time.
The match began fairly evenly, though with Chelsea more dominant in the middle of the pitch. But the first chance fell Arsenal's way, Adebayor drifted out to the right hand side, floated a cross to the backpost which van Persie contested, the ball fell to Fabregas on the back post and hislow shot was beaten out by Cech, Gallas just couldn't connect with the rebound. Arsenal were playing a decidely high line, which is probably why Wenger bought Djourou in for Silvestre, but Chelsea's attempted passes to Anelka were often slightly overhit. But Chelsea decided to try and utilise Bosingwa and it was his cross that presented Chelsea's first clear chance when he brilliantly found Lampard with a flighted cross but Lampard's glancing header was straight at Almunia. Chelsea began to turn up the heat and it got to Almunia, who released the ball too quickly, Chelsea smuggled it back high in Arsenal's half, Anelka tucked the ball out to Bosingwa again and the Portuguese right back sent in a low cross into the 'corridor of doom' as it were between defender and keeper, and Johan Djourou had the misfortune of turning it into his own net. Chelsea's classless twat of an announcer took great delight in announcing the own goal. You cannot buy dignity. There was little else he could have done, it was an excellent delivery from Bosingwa. In times like this, you'll find out a lot about a young player. Gus Caesar infamously crumbled after a defensive error in a high profile match, Johan Djourou kept his head up and was brilliant thereafter, dominating Chelsea's forwards in the second half in particular.
The Gunners responded with a chance of their own. Denilson was played in an unfamiliar role on the right and whilst it was clear he is not a natural wide man, he worked incredibly hard for the ream. It was he who received the ball on the right, clipped in a lovely cross which van Persie juggled excellently, before somehow bringing the ball down in the area and sending a shot goalwards which Cech clawed away. Denilson won the ball back from Colein the area before going down under Cole's riposte challenge. From where I was I thought Denilson made a meal of it, possibly I'm wrong. On the stroke of half time, Arsenal lost possession and Anelka broke away, but he appeared to lack belief and fortunately, sent the ball right to Bosingwa when Kalou was free to his left. Bosingwa provided another teasing delivery which Anelka could only glance wide. Half time and it was difficult to see a way back save for an incendiary team talk from the manager. The announcer was once again in the mood to fan the flames of hatred by being a gobby twat when announcing Tottenham's defeat and inviting a round of applause for Everton. Listen, I'm not flying a flag for the Spuddies here, but official respresentatives of a club proporting to be one of the world's biggest should show more class.
For the first ten minutes of the second half, I had all but accepted defeat. The home side should have extended their advantage. Kalou tried a cute through ball to Anelka, which Djourou smuggled away as far as Lampard, who tamely curled his shot wide when he should have tested Almunia. But from the ashes of despair,came the embers of victory. Adebayor contested an aerial ball from a Chelsea clearance,the ball dropped to Nasri, who beautifully cut the ball back to Denilson on the edge of the area, the Brazilian slid a through ball past the Chelsea rearguard with van Persie looking massively offside, but the linesman's flag stayed sagged and van Persie got his head down and put his right foot through the ball for a fulminating finish into the top corner. In December 2005, van Persie had a perfectly good goal chalked off against Chelsea at Highbury, the karma has been three years in the waiting. John Terry displayed his usual charm with a desperate lunge on Sagna, I couldn't tell if it was two footed from my angle, but he propelled himself with intent, probably aware that the rock solid Sagna was carrying an ankle injury. Sagna was quick to his feet after the tackle which probably saved John Terry a lot of strife, it was more chivalry than an individual like Terry deserves. What Terry's desperate tackle did reveal was that Chelsea were panicked in defence, it was bad leadership. The sort a certain Arsenal defender would have been forensically deconstructed for.
Arsenal fed on the fear and won a free kick on the left hand side. Skipper Fabregas floated a cross in, which was headed down by Adebayor and van Persie brilliantly swivelled in the box and fired a low shot into the corner. Delirium in our half of the Shed End, but the nerves were taut as ever given the occurences of the last two league outings at Stamford Bridge. But without the bullying Drogba and the brute force of Essien, Chelsea looked bereft of inspiration. Arsenal's full backs, who had ably supported an Arsenal midfield shorn of its width by injury, put in a resolute defensive shift. Djourou dominated aerially with Gallas hoovering up beside him. Song kept tabs on Lampard and Ballack, Denilson continued to check and enervate Cashley's forrays. Adebayor worked hard upfront and van Persie dropped back as a fifth midfielder when we didn't have possession. Chelsea did not trouble our goal again with a lack of attacking options on the bench, but the Gunners might have grabbed a clincher in injury time. Bendtner burgled Bosingwa on the left and carried the ball forwards, releasing Denilson on the right, but his touch was heavy and Cech smothered him.
The final whistle sounded to an eruption of joy in the away end, complimented with a harmonious chorus of 'there's only one team in London.' It was an excellent team performance in the second half, defensively we looked as solid as we had all season. One cannot help but wonder how different our season might be had this kind of effort been displayed in every game. van Persie looked like the player we know he can be, Alex Song showed he can be a defensive midfielder at the highest level of the game if he concentrates and Sagna and Clichy restored their form of last season. Now the Boss has to drill belief into his players, as well as the message that they have to show this sort of fight in every game. The togetherness was evident in the crowd too, despite his indiscretions, Gallas was given a rousing reception (probably more in an attempt to piss Chelsea off). Perhaps it's significant that our two victories this month have seen us concede the majority of possession, the Gunners looked to pressure the ball high up the pitch in an attempt to hurt Chelsea and add tempo to a passing gamethat has become all too ponderous of recent weeks. We were handed a large slice of fortune in the shape off an offside equaliser, but from there on, the confidence was evident and the way we struck whilst the iron was hot to grab the winner reveals the mental facilities are there. Mine, meanwhile, are somewhat dulled after some celebratory drinks in the White Horse next to Parson's Green. Even the awful state of the trains on the way home couldn't rob the spring from my step.LD.
Date:Sunday November 30 2008
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