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Robin Hood

Robin Hood

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.

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

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday January 29 2009
Time: 10:24AM


Interesting thought that. Has RvP really changed as a player or has his current run of injury free form just changed perceptions of him a little? In an article last season he spoke of how he had made decisive contributions in a few games before his injury. I think he has always been aware of his own worth. I think you do the ball from Diaby an injustice. He put it where he wanted it to go - no hopeful punt that. Our performance wasn't great but Everton had conceded only 3 times in the previous 8 outings so they have been pretty good at what they do best. Shame we haven't been quite so good at what we usually do best.
29/01/2009 10:47:00
I think there's been a massive shift in attitude from van Persie recently, he is clearly passing when once he used to shoot, he has become much more of a team player. His talent and ability to make the difference has never been in doubt, but I always thought his decision making was entierly self centred. That has changed markedly of late. He had a run in the side unbroken from August to December without much change. He is also not quite so combustible with his own team mates as he used to be. Who knows, perhaps Gallas' comments have had a positive effect afterall? As with Diaby, I felt it was a launch into the box, something we tried to do about fifty times prior, this one came off in a crowded box. The law of averages said it had to, percentage football I believe they call it. But it isn't a lack of confidence that has meant we have not played attractive football this season, it's a lack of quality. We simply don't have players good enough to produce fast, one touch football with Rosicky and Hleb gone and Fabregas injured. A draw was fair, both sides created one decent chance apiece (though RvPs was possibly only a half chance) and both scored. If anything, we're much more clinical nowadays than we've possibly ever been udner Wenger, but we certainly don't create the chances we used to.
Little Dutch
29/01/2009 11:24:00
Great write up Tim, and summing up the feelings of many Gooners quite nicely. I'm already trying to come to terms with UEFA cup football as I can't see much changing between now and Monday (Just trying the reverse jinx ;) ) I've never seen an Arsene Wenger team play such consistently poor football. And oh yeah, I agree with Amos, Diaby's pass for the goal was quite deliberate & perfectly weighted.
29/01/2009 11:27:00
Edit: I've just noticed the video review above. If you watch the video the last piece of footage is from behind Diaby and you can see his technique for the pass, certainly didn't launch it, no follow through looking to put a bit of back spin on it. Great pass in my opinion ...... but still, that single pass isn't enough to convince me of Diaby's place in the team.
29/01/2009 11:34:00
Good report, LD. This team is poor and its shocking. Our 1st half performance was just about average without being poor. We've had similar 1st halves earlier in the season and actually built on it with improved 2nd halves. That didnt happen last night. The mid field of Song & Diaby was poor creatively, and Nasri is still a little dodgy away from home. As for RvP, that side pass to Denilson illustrated your point - earlier, he would have opted to take the shot on, but he actually found Denilson in a better position. Very impressive from RvP. Its pleasing to see the lad turn his quality into consistently good performances.
29/01/2009 12:15:00
As for Villa, I believe they are now a genuine threat to the top 4. I've been waiting and waiting for injuries, bad luck, suspensions, fatigue - something to catch up with them, but thats just not happened. Wenger has focussed only on Arshavin in this window where the need was for 2, maybe 3 signings IMO. Wenger's transfer market moves this season havent cut it for me and may well determine our final placing this season.
29/01/2009 12:18:00
Good write up. You know what? I actually hate half of these players more than some other side's. Maybe a bit extreme, but at least Robbie Keane acknowledges us when he scores...last night was same old, same old, for this season unfortunately. Only one player would get into any of the top 4's...
29/01/2009 12:49:00
Id love to see him try dance the watutsi
29/01/2009 14:14:00
I believe that we have been poor this season, but I have watched a lot of Villa this year. They are not that great. I believe that if they were Arsenal, we played like them and got the same results, we would all be *****ed off with how we have played, perhaps more so than we are now. Villa deserve to be where they are, but that is mostly down to how poor we have been this year. van Persie? Fantastic player, Premier League player of the month by far! We need a winger and a partner for Denilson fast!
29/01/2009 16:39:00
Fair play to you LD on RvP. I too am not sure if it's the armband or him making his mark on big games that made the difference in him. As Amos said, he wasn't a flat track bully per se, but he's shown his confidence in a positive, mature and more altruistic way. Maybe it's just him growing up in general, I don't know. Yeah unless he burns my books and throws away my pretty shoes, I've certainly got my personal PotM already.
29/01/2009 17:15:00
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