Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday January 29 2009
I love it when the folk at the Premier League arrange midweek fixtures of this colossal distance, but nevertheless we 3,000 made our way to a misty yet mild Merseyside evening for a crunch encounter at Goodison Park. How disappointing then that the club should give us restricted view seats in the very back row of the Bullens Stand upper tier, Away Scheme members are promised the plum seats but it`s something that seems to happen very rarely nowadays. Probably symptomatic of the complacency with which the club is treating its fans nowadays. Particularly galling was the fact that only one player, the goalscorer, bothered to acknowledge the away support at the end of the game. Even Manuel Almunia who, whilst a painfully average goalkeeper seems a rather chivalrous fella, couldn`t be arsed to make the short journey from his goal to the Bullens Stand. When you`ve taken half a day off work, fully aware that you will turn up at the office the next morning bereft of sleep that more than takes the piss frankly. I`m not asking the players to dance the watutsi in recognition, but given that I also move house on Sunday, I could easily have been forgiven for eschewing the long journey, as could 2,999 other Gooners. Quite what our current team has achieved that gives them this sense of entitlement and arrogance I am not quite sure, but the next time a player is booed off at the Emirates, I won`t expect to hear any comment at all from the players or manager. Respect is a two way street and the club are demanding much and delivering little on this particular dual carriageway.
Arsenal began the game at a good tempo, a surging run from Adebayor at the heart of the home defence forced a corner early on, the Gunners forced a couple of early set pieces all of which were duly gobbled up by the imperious Jagielka and Lescott. Van Persie sent a free kick searing towards the top corner before Tim Cahill got his head in the path of the ball just as it was reaching prime trajectory. It wouldn`t be the only time Cahill`s head would give us cause to furrow our collective brow. The game was very much a lopsided affair, with all of Arsenal`s play coming through Nasri on the left, whilst Everton looked to deploy Pienaar from their right hand side, Arteta intelligently dictating the play from deep, allowing his lack of fitness to be amended by the legs of Fellaini and Pienaar. With Fellaini and Cahill pushing up high onto our defence, we disappointingly resorted to hopefully punting the ball at van Persie and Adebayor. It was a messy affair, with Song doing an adequate job defensively, but lacking the sangfroid to really dictate our play and Diaby voluntarily confining himself to the margins of the game, appearing only sporadically to horribly miscontrol simple passes and cede possession to the home side. The away side created one brief flicker of a chance when Nasri twisted past Hibbert and delivered a cross into the centre, van Persie arrived a fraction too late and his connecting right foot attempt flew wide. That was largely it for a first half that was very much a war of attrition.
The Gunners eked out a passable opportunity at the beginning of the second half, Adebayor led a breakaway, which saw Nasri feed van Persie on the left, his pull back was laid into the path of the onrushing Denilson, but his left footed finish was one of panic as he lashed well over on his weaker left side. Had the chance come on his favoured right foot, the result might well have been different. Everton snapped back with a chance of their own, Cahill nipped in front of the largely impressive Djourou, Diaby and Song looked on with the gormless elegance of retarded goldfish and allowed Cahill to ram raid his way into the area and fire a shot into the side netting. It was a warning Arsenal did not heed, Everton once again looked to attack Arsenal`s right hand side, with Pienaar and Baines cleverly worked the left hand side to take Denilson out of the equation, Baines was given time to deliver a searching cross and Cahill beat Clichy into the air and saw his header bobble into the net. It wasn`t a notable ricket by Almunia by any means, but a world class goalkeeper would have saved it. Arsenal were up against it with aimless long balls the only means of riposte. Song is a good defensive foil but does not have many other strings to his bow, Diaby is occasionally impressive, but overall a woeful midfield player and neither had the gumption or skill to take hold of the game, hence the centre backs need to bypass them entirely. Wenger brought on Eboue and Bendtner in the hope of offering more threat on the right hand side and it was from that flank that the stoppage time salvation arrived. Diaby launched another hopeful long ball and the law of averages worked in our favour as it found Robin van Persie at an acute angle on the left hand side of the box, with space and time at a premium, he controlled it excellently onto his dynamite left foot and unleashed a vicious volley into the corner from a tight angle to rescue a last gasp point. A moment of inspiration from possibly our only player on display capable of producing it. It had been a quiet game for the front two (both were given a poverty of service), but quality players make the difference even when they`re not at their best. I lost count of the amount of times I watched Henry shrug and pout indifferently throughout a game only to win it with a moment of brilliance.
Van Persie has hit an incredibly rich vein of form of late, being directly responsible for every single goal we have registered this month. I put this new found consistency down to two things (leaving aside the fact that I criticised him heavily just before he began to plunder said vein of form). The two goal cameo at Stamford Bridge was the first time RvP had won Arsenal a big game and it appears to have given him an extra inch or two in stature. I saw an interview with him shortly before the Chelsea game where he spoke of his annoyance surrounding the Spurs home game, having scored the goal to put us 4-2 in front, he really felt he had made the difference in a massive game for the first time. Secondly, being handed the captaincy for the Plymouth match also seems to have added a more altruistic dimension to his game where previously he was both outrageously talented, but decidedly individualistic. He appears to have realised both his seniority in terms of age as well as talent and the result has been pleasing. Football fans are legendary for changing their tune and I am no different. In the wake of the 3-0 defeat at Manchester City, I wrote the following, "If Arsene really is looking for a new captain he could do worse than to look at van Persie, who is the absolute paradigm of this Arsenal side. Talented? You bet. Greedy, arrogant and selfish despite a lack of notable achievements in the game? Absolutely. He has come to symbolise all that is lamentable and occasionally admirable about this disjointed side. Van Persie, like Arsenal, has the feet of a class footballer, but the brain of a small child." Well, I`m going to repeat one of those claims and argue that, in Fabregas` continued absence, I would give van Persie the armband. There are a real poverty of candidates, but if the armband prolongs van Persie`s new found responsibility and accelerates his maturity at the rate we have seen in the last three months, then I`m all for it. The man is carrying this team right now.
The result was not altogether unfair, in a scrappy game of very few chances, but for momentary lapses the defences were very much on top. From our point of view, the quality of the football was poor. On the few occasions we did not contrive to thump the ball aimlessly at the front two and tried a passing move, the likes of Song and Diaby were just not eloquent enough with the ball to produce any sort of free flowing move and attacks often broke down on the halfway line, usually with Diaby`s elephant feet the main culprits. The creative side of our game is non existent and we must remedy this in the few days that remain in the transfer window because, put simply, the current side will be playing in the UEFA Cup next year. Van Persie cannot carry this side forever. For the last few months, I have complained about the paucity of candidates for the player of the month award, without wishing to ruin the surprise too much, unless Robin van Persie repeatedly runs over my cat between now and Sunday, we have a clear winner this month.LD.
Date:Thursday January 29 2009
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