Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 7 2008
Yesterday I witnessed two very differing sides of the coin with regards to chivalry amongst Arsenal supporters. The positive side came minutes before kick off. One of our usual number was unable to attend the game and a ticket became free at the last minute. As we walked to the ground some five minutes before kick off, Rich decided he would give the ticket away for free to the person who looked the most eager. Rich spied a group of lads standing outside the ground and offered the ticket to a young lad from Cannes in the North West of Australia, over in this country for the first time, and gave him the ticket on the sole stipulation that he join us for a drink after the game. It was a very quaint moment, a young lad fromthe other side of the world in London for the first time, who chanced his luck of a ticket at the team he supported and got lucky simply by virtue of wearing an Arsenal shirt and looking eager. He'll be backpacking across mainland Europe by the time of our next home game. I like to think Rich gave him an excellent impression of English football fans, some two hours later, that would likely have been rendered fallacious testimony by around 40,000 idiots.
It was down to the serious stuff and the game started very slowly for the home side with Wigan as well organised as you would expect them to be. The first strike on anger came from Wigan, Valencia's drive from the edge of the box was deflected by Palacios, but not with quite enough venom to sufficiently wrongfoot Almunia. Arsenal would take the lead with their first real opportunity, Nasri's corner was cleared to the edge of the area, Fabregas helped the ball forward hopefully, Alex Song smuggled the ball serendipitously into the area and Adebayor was alive and aware to latch onto the ball and slot it beneath the sprawling figure of Kirkland. The goal should have relaxed Arsenal but yet another injury to Nasri, who was victim of a mistimed challenge by Palacios, saw Eboue come on on the left flank. With Velaand Wilshere still kicking their heels on the bench, you have to question whether the manager trusts his young players as much as he proports. I'm sure he would point to Eboue's greater experience, but that acknowledges the lack of it in our side. Again, if the manager is acknowledging that inbalance, you have to ask why he didn't address it in the summer.
From there on, our lack of naturalwidth made us easier for Wigan to contain and we largely had to revert to the long ball (I really wish Toure wouldn't insist on hoofing it every time he gets the ball). Though route one presented us with our next half chance, Almunia hit the ball long to Adebayor who won the flick on, van Persie produced a delightful backheel back to Adebayor on the edge of the box, but the ball wouldn't sit down for him and he volleyed it well over. The half toiled on thereafter, like a flickering candle struggling in a stiff breeze. But in first half injury time, the Gunners might have secured the result. The lively Denilson raced down the right flank and cut the ball back to the eighteen yard line and Adebayor hit a low drive which smacked the inside of the post via Kirkland's fingertips.
Wigan began the second half brighter, Arsenal's tentativeness was there for all to see. With results against the perceived lesser lights of the league less than impressive this season, the nerves took hold of Arsenal. Wigan might have capitalised when Heskey found himself with a free header from Ryan Taylor's cross, but he could only head the ball straight at Almunia. Sagna nearly caught Kirkland off guard with a front post flick on from a Fabregas corner which reignited the home side somewhat. Denilson won the ball back from Taylor on Arsenal's right and fed van Persie, by far Arsenal's most potent danger in the final third, he brilliantly twisted and shimmied in the box, releasing a glimmer of space for himself before firing a left foot shot that crept agonisingly wide. Arsenal threatened again a few moments later when Eboue fed Fabregas, who sent the ball wide to Denilson, the young Brazilian lined up from the right edge of the penalty box and hit a low exorset which again hit the inside of the post. Adebayor headed a Fabregas corner wide when he should have done better. He was then the benefactor of some good work from van Persie, who enabled Fabregas to put Adebayor through, but Kirkland was equal to his left footed effort. But Arsenal then shrank back into their shell, as the crowd heaped the pressure on them with their barracking, which further inhibited the team.
The Gunners were grateful for the heroics of Almunia on 74 minutes. Valencia hung in a threatening corner which Arsenal failed to clear, the ball broke to Melchiot on the six yard line and Almunia spread himself excellently to block. Credit due too to van Persie, who didn't make life easy for Melchiot. Arsenal created similar panic in the Wigan area when the ball scrambled to Sagna, who volleyed into the ground and over the bar. Looking at the chance again, it's difficult to fault Sagna's effort and correct his technique. The last ten minutes saw an edgy stadium, which in turn made for an edgy team. Eboue gave the ball away cheaply three times in the space of five minutes and Wenger replaced him. The frustration boiled over, the idiots had their scapegoat's testicles handed to them on a plate by the manager, a man usually so single minded gave into the mob, it was a shocking piece of man management as the ironic cheers followed by the hate filled boos was an entirely predictable outcome. With Walcott injured for the next three months, we have to play Eboue with alacrity and the manager and the supporters have probably destroyed him irreparably. Eboue ran straight down the tunnel, the hurt visibly etched onto his features. I'm not saying his last ten minutes was anything other than a shambles, but I'm not sure how expressing bare toothed hatred towards the man is supposed to help. Perhaps someone can inform me because I'm a bit lost here. It's not only the player himself, but Eboue is a popular figure in the dressing room and the other players will have been shaken by that too. Maybe it's becoming apparent as to how difficult Arsene found it to recruit players this summer, who wouldwant to play in front of that sort of hatred towards anyone who makes a mistake? The story should be that Arsenal are back on track, but instead a feeling of negativity pervades the club again because of a few spoiled morons who have shamed the name of the club. If Eboue hits the winner in Rome in May, I hope these F*cksticks keep their heads down and their mouths shut.
After the match we headed to the concourse to watch the highlights, behind us a six year old girl said to her dad, 'Why do they have to pick on Eboue all the time?' My friend couldn't help but commend the fact that she showed more intelligence than 40,000 grown ups, the most sapient comment I heard from anyone in the crowd came from a girl who probably doesn't even know how babies are made. That really says it all. She recognised the disgusting futility of the gesture, how self defeating and moronic it was. She probably better understood that Eboue has been out for five weeks and was played out of position, every one of his mistakes were as a result of wanting to come in on his right foot. But whilst these reasons would wash for most players, Eboue bears a cross in our supporters' eyes and bears the brunt of the sins of the entire team. No Arsenal fans complain when Fabregas or van Persie dive, or when Walcott miscontrols the ball, they store it up and vent it at Eboue or Bendtner or whoever else they happen to dislike. It's a psyche I find quite disturbing and so self defeating. How ironic that, van Persie apart, our best player was probably Alex Song who did not lose a single header all day and restricted Wigan's biggest threat, another whipping boy named Heskey. It really is very sad that my pervading feeling after a hard fought win,the sort we haven't managed much this season, that the prevailing feeling is one of disgust, embarrassment and disappointment.LD.
P.S. I won't be posting a Porto match report as I won't be back from Portugal until Friday afternoon, so if someone else wants to give it a crack then have at it dudes.
Date:Sunday December 7 2008
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