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Highway To Hull

My day began in ominous fashion, a few too many light whiskies on Friday night sawme fall asleep on the train and end up in Lancing (apparently it's near Brighton), after shelling out a monstrous amount for a cab home I arrived home a mite late and consequently overslept by some 45 minutes on Saturday morning. But not even a troublesome hangover would prevent me reaching a few personal milestones (or millstones probably), my first visit to Hull's KC Stadium which is drab and characterless on the outside, in fact, there's nothing to suggest that it is a football stadium from the outside, it looks like a massive warehouse. Having hauled myself through the turnstiles I managed to reach the magic seven year mark since missing a domestic match (January 20th 2002, a 1-1 draw at Elland Road).

The stadium on the inside was a great deal more impressive than it appeared from the exterior, despite an obnoxious stadium announcer whose vocal chords must be shredded into something resembling bacon rinds this morning, a reading of William Blake's 'Tyger, Tyger' as the teams emerged fromthe tunnel whipped the home crowd into a frenzy. Having heard Villa's seemingly never ending serendipity continue at Sunderland it was a case of win or bust for Arsenal. Hull welcomed two new signings into the fray whilst Arsenal's parsimony meant an unchanged side was fielded. The home side began brightly earning two corners inside the opening seconds, the second one saw Mendy easily shake off Diaby but miss the ball unmarked in the six yard box. If this is Diaby's big chance to impress himself on the central midfield position, he is blowing it big time. Gradually, Hull's early animation gradually faded and the visitors began to gain a foot hold courtesy of comfortably the best player on the pitch.

Diaby was bought down 25 yards from goal and Robin van Persie wound up for a free kick which deflected off Michael Turner and flew just wide of the upright. It was van Persie again galvanising the attack after some good skill from Eboue on the right saw him bought down and van Persie's ensuing free kick was brilliantly tipped onto the underside of the bar by Boaz Myhill. The fourteenth time the Dutchman has troubled the woodwork this season. Perhaps Robin should start wearing claret and blue. The pair of exorset free kicks visibly lifted Arsenal and they were able to exert the pressure until it told. van Persie swung in an inviting corner which Emmanuel Adebayor climbed brilliantly to loop a header into the far corner. 12 goals and eight assists this season compared to 15 goals and six assists at this stage last year, his contribution is far in excess of what Arsenal fans are prepared to give him credit for this season.

The home fans' response was the bizarre chant of 'you're not English anymore.' Was that supposed to be an insult? I'm not sure, what it did leave me asking was which part of England Messrs Mendy, Geovanni, Cousin, Ricketts, Kilbane, Halmosi, Stelios and Manucho were from. (A point audibly made by the away fans when Manucho came off the bench). The Gunners briefly adopted the Wengerball of old, though the passing was still frustratingly and needlessly slow, but Arsenal carved Hull open when Nasri slotted the ball into Adebayor in the left channel, the Togonator swivelled those elastic hips, fooling Turner before pulling a cross back to the backpost which Eboue horrendusly scuffed wide when he really should have scored. Butat half time Arsenal were in the ascendancy and deservedly so.

Arsenalbegan the second half in ernest and should have had a second but for the finicky referee. Kilbane attempted to shepherd the ball back to his goalkeeper, using his body to obstruct van Persie, but the Dutchman was smarter and stronger, completely legally getting himself around Kilbane and through on goal, but Wiley gave a foul for reasons only he himself will know. van Persie had only repaid Kilbane's compliment by using his body to outsmart the Hull debutant. I watched Arsenal and Hull players perform exactly the same action on countless occasions thereafter unpunished. It was a poor decision. Though Hull can probably feel aggrieved not to have had a penalty when Djourou mistimed his jump and clattered into Mendy. Had the challenge happened outside the area you can bet a free kick would have been given. Wiley was having a poor game. Adebayor wasn't however, and when he received Nasri's pass in the area, he once again twisted and turned his way past Turner but his ensuing shot was beaten away from his near post by Myhill.

Once again, Arsenal's defensive frailties came to the fore once again. Ashbee turned a ball out to Hull's right, Clichy made the wrong choice by backing off of Mendy and subsequently delflected Mendy's cross sumptuously into the path of the onrushing Daniel Cousin who headed past Almunia just as he had done in September. Due to Arsenal's caprice, I truly felt we would lose the game at this point, it's tribute to our resolution that we didn't. Hull fans implored their manager to 'give us a wave' and he did with an ostentatious salute. It was onehe would later regret. Wenger's response was to throw Bendtner on on the right hand side. Just as it had been last Saturday, it would prove to be the tactical move that changed the match. Bendtner started a move on the right hand side, feeding the ball in field to the peerless van Persie, he showed the awareness to shift the ball left to Samir Nasri, who provided a deft finish across the goalkeeper with his left foot. In the autumn, I'm certain van Persie would have eschewed Nasri's run and shot for himself. The improvement in attitude from him since the two goal salvo at Stamford Bridge has been astronomical. Once again, a crucial goal scored in the last eight minutes and once again it was Bendtner who made the difference from the bench with his attacking impetus and the consequential shift in style which the opposition found it difficult to adjust to.

Once again, Bendtner began the move from the right, cutting in with intent. van Persie again took up a position in the channel, a move he has repeated to devastating effect several times already in 2009, Bendtner lifted the ball into his path. Bendtner continued his run into the area, van Persie once again demonstrated the altruistic streak he has previously lacked by putting the ball into the Dane's path for a well deserved goal. 'Browny give us a wave, Browny, Browny give us a wave' came the mocking retort from the away fans. To Browny's credit, he did acknowledge us.
Bendtner nearly helped himself to another goal when Clichy's left wing cross was headed onto the inside of the post by a man who clearly has some of his confidence back-even if fortnue was slightly against him with that effort. In the end it was a satisfying result and an adequate performance, we still clealry miss Cesc as the ehartbeat of the side, largely because Diaby is no kind of replacement with his dithering and general idleness and proclivity towards holding onto the ball for an ice age longer than is necessary. But the positive thing is that the side's two remaining creative outlets, van Persie and Nasri, have shown enough self awareness and analysed the team sufficiently to take on the responsibility. van Persie in particular is in outstanding form and 5 assists and 2 goals garnered this calendar year is testamant to that. The defence still does not instill one with the utmost confidence but it's nice to see we have the mental and physical resources to win games late on and that the manager has had the tactical nous to change the match from the bench. A little more incision will be necessary in our attacking play, but with Villa due a run of incredibly bad fortune, the hunt for the Champions' League spot is most definitely on.LD.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday January 18 2009

Time: 12:32PM

Your Comments

Good report Tim. Apart from 10-15minutes after Hull scored we didn't look in any trouble at all. Such have the results and performances been so far this season that it is hard for supporters to feel confident in the outcome of the game no matter how much we dominate play. That same lack of confidence is seen in the players with the exception of those with 'natural' confidence such as RvP, Nasri and Bendtner. Too many of the others seem to be afflicted by doubt and uncertainty. I wouldn't claim that Diaby is a replacement for Cesc but he put in a pretty good performance yesterday, passing well and intelligently, showing decent control and ability while winning tackles and making interceptions as well as anyone. Not perfect by any means but a good 7 out of 10 for me.
Amos.
Great headline LD :). And a good report. Your observation about RvP and Nasri was spot on, as they are the only creative outlets for this team, which is quite risky, esp if one of them is injured or has a bad day. Overall it was a good performance, given that there was pressure on us with the earlier results.
prits
What was Clichy thinking? What confuses me is that he was doing that (backing off Mendy) not only when we conceded the goal but also in other occasions, and not only in this game. Is he following orders or is he just switching off? He has been making high-profile mistakes continuously for a year now and should be held responsible for a number of goals. I can only imagine what would the edgy Arsenal crowd do to Eboue, Song, Ade or NickB if they made such an error.
G4L
yeah i pointed out clichy before concerning his costly mistakes...he seems to make one every game which more often than not costs us a goal, i think its a confidence thing stretching back probably to birmingham away....also bendtner should stick to being our supersub for the forseable future
fran merida
Amos,I thought Diaby's passing was below par tbh. And I have thought that mostly for all recent games. I'm not saying he doesn't care but the way he plays it certainly sometimes looks like he doesn't. I don't see a future for him at Arsenal if he keeps this up all season.
Fabby69
great title, love it!
The Fear
anybody else watching the pompey game? Traore is having a pretty good game on the left wing (granted its against the worst team in the league). I think we should seriously consider bringing him back if we can, he could be part of the answer to our problems.
TPowell
Diaby's passing in the last two games has been pretty good. He made a few bad passes in the home game against Bolton but no more than anyone else. Unfortunately the bad passes he did make against Bolton were rather blatant and it is those that stick in the mind more than those that reached the intended target. Against Hull he passed frequently, accurately and intelligently.
Amos.
TPowell I'm watching it (with the corner of my eye) and I can say he's been decent. However his defensive play is on par with Clichy's and considering that Gibbs is another MF turned left back (and so is Botehlo) I am genuinely worried about our LB position. They all need to improve their positioning (some tackling, too)
G4L
I'm not talking about him coming back to play LB but rather LM. I'm not as worried about Clichy as some of you seem to be.
TPowell
I thought Diaby played well, nothing spectacular but got involved. Denilson seemed a bit anonymous in a game in which we dominated possession. Clichy had an awful game against Mendy even without considering the error. He does make an occasional mistake in oher matches but I've not seen him perform so poorly over 90 mins in a long time. I can only assume it must be tiredness. Think he's suspended for the next match so lets hope he come back looking a bit sharper and refreshed.
jubair
Diaby's passing is poor in the final third, that's what stands out to people. He seems to lack ability to thread weighted through balls to players making runs. His making and timing of decisions in this area are also suspect, but I reckon he'll address these in time to save his Arsenal career.
G4L
I agree with "The Fear" Great Title Tim! The game it's self was no classic, and it showed that we can grind out a win away from home, so that good enough 4 me.
hackneyval
Clichy is still a World Class left back. To think that he could be replaced by another player (other than Evra) is as ridiculous as people suggesting that we should replace Gallas with Upson or Hangelaand.
Tom14
tom I don't see anyone saying we should replace Gael. There are two issues here: 1. he has made numerous high-profile blunders that have been punished with goals, thus costing us points - and he seems to keep repeating them. 2. If he gets injured, we don't have a lot of options there: Gallas&Silvestre are injured, Traore is on loan. Gibbs has played there recently, and Eboue a couple of times which and both don't exactly instill confidence.
G4L
Him getting injured is a whole different issue. We were discussing him playing for us. If he is injured we play Gibbs. Simple as that.
Tom14
LD why do yu think we are only playing for a CL spot? Chelsea are only four points ahead of us and look shadow of the team they were at the start of the season. Liverpool will ***** it up yet again, i've been saying that from the beginning of the season and i believe it will happen yet again. United keep getting these results and surely they are due a bad run too, cuz in the attacking sense, no way are they the best side in the league. Villa im not even worried about them. all we need is to keep this run going and quietly keep getting the three points and the table will look a lot different in a few weeks time. with Ahravin coming in next week, Eduardo in two weeks time, and Cesc, Theo, Rosicky all on their way back in March, if we keep getting the right results till then, we're in with a real chance for the championship..
luckys_10
Luckys, I agree with you to a certain extent. None of the clubs have been particularly impressive this year, and are capable of being caught, but at the same time (even as optimistic as I usually am) I don't think our current side has what it takes to win it. Though I could be wrong, and if we get Arshavin and he adapts to the league as quickly as Nasri did, then perhaps we have a shot.
TPowell
United will run away with it, they have not hit form at any point this season yet are still top, they are capable enough and experienced enough to go on a long run and I think they'll have it wrapped up around two or three games before the end. I agree Liverpool will ***** it up, Benitez played a horrible, horrible card and has probably cost his side any chance (not that I really thought they had one). Chelsea are a shadow of the side they were but do youknow what? They're still a lot better than us. Villa have been excellent all season and we didn't beat them in two attempts, when they went 2-0 up at our place we never looked like coming back, we went 2-0 up at Villa Park against the run of play and could not hang on and did not look like hanging on. We are not a cohesive unit with a lot of average players being asked to do the jobs of big players, our defence still does not look sturdy, our midfield is horrendously unbalanced. We'remore than caoable of getting 4th but no higher, that's quite simply because there are 3 teams clearly better than us, Villa are currently above us after 22 games entirely on merit. We have no chance of the title and I'd bite anyone's hand off who offered 4th place now because that's a true reflection of our team and where we're at. United are streets ahead of us in every department right now and if Villa stay injury free there's a good chance they'll finish above us with the players we have missing in the long term.
Little Dutch
LD, what would you say that our fundamental problems are at the moment? I would say that Djourou and Toure are both not good enough at the moment and our defensive coaching is worse than terrible. Also, our midfield seems to lack creativity other than Nasri. I no not see a great problem in terms of a CDM because Denilson is improving with every game, but I ho however think he needs a better partner than Diaby. He is not up to the task of replacing Fabregas, neither is Ramsey (or Denilson if paired with Song). I would either like Nasri put in there or a new signing, ideally a loan (with Cesc back next year). I also want Eboue out of the team. To do this effectively we would need Arshavin in the team (just watched a youtube video and he is fecking incredible on the wing!) with Nasri on the left. Up front I see little problems ther than sticking the ball in the back of the net. I would love to see RvP and Eddy up together. I like Ade but he is by no means as threatening as those two. Your ideas?
Tom14
well it's a matter of opinion lads, dun really agree with everything that yu say LD, i still feel that with all those problems that yu say that we have, we've still have a chance. we've had so many big players out as well that i dun think we ourselves have hit top form this season. & if we can somehow hang on till march when all those guys will be back, we have a chance as well, a very small one, but nevertheless that chance is still there. i know our defence isnt as sturdy and consistent as it should be, but hey thats how it's always been for a longtime. we always seem to conceede a *****ed up goal every single game. but that's ok with me cuz if we can sort out the creative and scoring side of our game, find the balance in that aspect of our game (which Ashravin & the injured lads coming back will surely give us) doesent matter if we conceede a goal every game cuz we will always score more than what we conceede. and last thing, we will surely finish higher than 4th place, i'll bet my life on that with anyone here..
luckys_10
Hi All ... I'm a new member, from SA - Durban ... Appreciate the great articles and responses from you guys, keeps me really intouch with the team ... LD great article, don't share your pessimism on our chances for the league - I believe we still have a chance ... If utd have not hit top form, its the same for us ... With the players we got coming back if there is a 5 pt diff by the end of march, then i expect the last game at the theatre of teens will be a classic ...
Topgun-89
BTW - have you guys stopped with player ratings for matches, have not seen one for a while ...
Topgun-89
I think you are spot on LD with that very honest and objective assessment of the current state of our team. At the moment only RVP, Nasri, Sagna and perhaps Clichy (in spite of his mistakes) truly stand out. Cesc, Theo and Eduardo are injured as it is Rosicky and I'm not sure if Eduardo and more particularly Rosicky will make it back to past form. Ade, Bendtner, Denilson, Djourou, Ramsey, Wilshere, Diaby, Gibbs, Song and one or two others may make it to the standard we need but may not. I think we have had the best of Kolo, Gallas may well be off some time soon, Silvestre is really past it and Almunia is only OK. You are correct in that the balance of the team is wrong with too many players having to play in unfavoured positions, we have also been forced into having to bring too many young and inexperienced players into the side at one time. Introducing just one or two young players into a strong and confident side is one thing but having to bring in four, five or six is too many however talented they may be. The side is also bereft of natural defenders, most of them being converted midfielders as you point out. Did anyone see Sol Campbell playing on Sunday - magnificent - and don't forget he is past his best. Why oh why did le Boss let him go? I think we'll struggle for fourth place but if all the injured players return and find their form and the side continues to collect 3 points per match confidence will build and you never know. I always live in hope. As Wenger says think about only the next game and see where we are in May.
norfolk dumpling
I don't think we've particularly hit form, nor do I think we have been woefully off form at any point. I think what we're seeing is a true reflection of what we are this season, inconsistent and the 5th best side in the division thus far. Though we've been putting wins together of late and look more resiliant- a consequence of some very harsh lessons that it took us a very long time to learn from- I don't honestly think we'll put together a mammoth unbeaten run. The signs are that United will, they've quietly crept up the league despite the fact that their attack is still learning to play together and the basis of their success has been at the back. Since Nasri's 2nd goal in November they haven't conceded, that is an amazing statistic- particularly as Ferdinand has been out for a period of that time. I read an article a few weeks ago about how there isn't a stand out for player of the season yet, and I think that's absolute ********* because Nemanja Vidic has been far and away the best player in this league this season. But defenders will never get that sort of credit. United also have great balance in that the focus is always on Tevez, Ronaldo, Rooney etc. but they utilise players like Fletcher and Park that give them the balance that we greatly miss. Andy Gray made an interesting point this weekend that United don't really have a DM as such, but they have great understanding in their midfield. We really don't have that and nor do we have the players to do that this season. Injuries have really hit us hard and the likes of Bendtner, Song, Diaby and Eboue have been asked to play more significant roles than they are probably capable of for a side with title winning ambitions. But even putting that aside, Chelsea, United, Villa and Liverpool are better balanced sides and United and Chelsea certainly have better players (don't forget that injuries haven't been too kind to Chelsea this year either). If Villa get a couple of significant injuries, I've no doubt we'll finish 4th, Villa also started their season early, but they are an incredibly fit side- as evidenced by their lack of injuries, I'm told O'Neill ruthlessly checks a player's fitness record before signing them. Something we should probably do too. In the end, I am a massive believer in the sanctity of the league table. No excuses, no hard luck stories, you finish where you deserve and the table puts you where you deserve to be at any one point in the season, whether it be the 3rd game or the 38th. At current, we are the 5th best side in the division after 22 games and if you gave me an improvement on that after 38, I'd be foolish not to take it.
Little Dutch
I don't often say this, but I have to completely agree with LD on this one. Tho I may have Alonso as a contender for player of the season along with Vidic so far.
jubair
Arshavin is a player that is better than any midfielder we currently have, but would that mean we lose out of defensive security?I have rarely watched matches and been impressed by his tracking back (although the matches I have seen him play in were up front) so we could have the same problem that we had with Walcott. Look at it this way, could you play Arshavin-Denilson-Nasri-Walcott in the same midfield with a leaky defence, or would we have to sacrifice Walcott and sign a more "Barry/Bullard" type midfielder whi can defend but also goes forward? maybe Diaby can play that role but I doubt he is good enough. Had Cesc been in that team I would feel certain that we would finish fourth. but he needs to be replaced by Ramsey/Diaby/new signing.
Tom14
From an Arsenal point of view, I think Van Persie is a serious contender. All ifs and buts, but if he he was a bit luckier with the woodwork then he would of been top scorer by now as well as top assister. I also think Sagna has been brilliant.
paul_ownz
van Persie is the second best player in the league at the moment and he would finish in the top ten of the World Player of the Year votings if they were polled through talent, not ability to run past a player.
Tom14
Our current league position reflects our form so far this season. In the first 11 games of the season we picked up 20 points. We only picked up 21 points in the 2nd 11 games but those included 5 games (villa twice, manu, chelsea and Liverpool) against teams currently above us. Our midfield is still not perfect but it is better balanced than the early part of the season. We still need more/better options in the wide areas but there isn't a huge gap between us and the teams above us. Let's not end the season too early.
Amos.
This weekend would of been so much better if the 3 teams above us who played didnt get late winners. And when will Villas luck run out. 5 O.Gs in last 8 games, a couple of questionable penalties, handball goals and a reversed decision on a penalty by the ref.
paul_ownz
What's so great about the title of this article? I think there's some maybe English humour that in it that's totally lost on this soon-to-be 30 year old Kenyan. Ok, I know we hit three past them tigers, but I still don't get it.
Gaga
A play on words of "highway to hell"
paul_ownz
With the squad as it currently stands; injuries, etc, I agree with LD. But if we had our full squad, I truly believe we'd be there with United as easily the best teams in the league. Curse the ruptures.
ChaosTeaCup
Liverpool are doing about as well as they normally do in the league, it's just a measure of how below par Arse/Chels/Utd are, that Liverpool find themselves 2nd, potentially 1st again tonight.
ChaosTeaCup
A league table of this time last year(played 22) shows Us & Man united with 51 points, Chelsea with 47, Liverpool with 39(21 games played). Chelsea are 2 points better off, we are 10 points worst off, Liverpool are 7 points better off and united about the same.
paul_ownz
l_10 I'm in your camp, LD maybe correct and the Fat Lady is tuning her voice but I think we may come round the rest of teams and win on the flat. Manu have a very full program, which will take its toll. Rooney out Rio out just a few more and they too may have problems. Villa have been riding their luck and soon the tide will turn. The other two pool and ski are in the mix but they both have manager problems. Our boss has said there will be a few dropped points and I do bow to his better judgment. Anyway I have my rose coloured glasses on and I'm not going to take them off.
alwaysgunner
two results, thats all it takes. if only we would have won the spurs home & the villa away game, the table would look so different. even those 5 defeats wouldn't mean much. thats how fine the margins are in the league, and two results can easily change it again between now & end of the season. i really hope the team plays every league game like its a cup final without worrying too much about anything else, and the table will look so different. the only thing i'd like to see the team do is play with a bit more urgency and quickness at the start of games and try to score early, cuz that would make things so easy for themselves for the rest of the game. hopefully the addition of Ashravin and the injured quartet coming back will give the players this boost..
luckys_10
keep the faith alwaysgooner. agreed we took sometime & 5 defeats to learn all those harsh lessons this season, but inspite of all that, we are still in with a shout. lets look at the league table end of march & it will look a lot different to what is right now. United are the team to beat no doubt, but if there is anyone who can catch them, it's us. i believe in this group of players NOW & always believe Arsene..
luckys_10
We will not win the Premiership. 3rd, 4th or 5th is where we will finish this year. But hopefully the signing of Arshavin will help us win a cup.
Tom14
Actually if the players make a fist of catching up with the leaders, I'll be pleased even if we lose ultimately. It could happen, but I fear that the lessons may not have been fully learned and will let us down again at crucial times in the season.
prits
*and the players
prits
can bendtner possibly be our solksjaer?
gooner_till_i_die
T14 o thou of little faith, we shall see. Tommy looks as though he may play for us soon, how do you want your cap served LD hot or cold.
alwaysgunner
I'll believe it when I see it.
Little Dutch
Arshavin transfer might be even more tedious than the Nasri one. I have go to the stage where i wish the Transfer window would close tommorow so we can know one war or the other. Every day another 3 non stories on him coming or not. Its ahrd to ignore them, but so irritating none the less.
paul_ownz
p_o would not surprise me to see Arshavin go to Manc. They seem to be in the market for anyone,i.e. Bellamy; 29 yrs of age and worth 14 mill they have got to be joking, a club with money to burn. ope the rubbish doing the rounds about us off loading Nick is just that rubbish.
alwaysgunner
I missed the game and it's a nice write-up to fall back on. So Clichy will be suspended and time for Gibbs to get a run out at Cardiff?
GoonerLou
Yes i think so too. They will offer him 5 million more than us plus 100k wages. It seems obvious to me that he is after a large pay packet. It seems to me we have probably put all of our eggs in to one basket, so if we dont get him we will get no one. A few days after the transfer window Wenger will say he was not too bothered as we have Eduardo & Walcott coming back with Fabregas in April. etc etc
paul_ownz
Topgun-89 - Welcome mate, lived in Durban for nearly 4 years back in 2001 onwards. Great place to stay! LD gotta stop those Friday nights mate, they'll kill ya lol
LondonGooner
 

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