Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 5 2009
With Arsenal getting a head of steam prior to the international break, there was always the lingering anxiety that our rhythm had been disrupted- particularly as messrs van Persie, Diaby, Eduardo and Nasri had hobbled home amongst the walking wounded (none of the aforementioned strangers to the comforts of the treatment room). Still, as we supped our afternoon ales in the glorious London sunshine, the feeling of bullishness was tangible, a winter of frustrations forgotten in the Highbury sunshine. 'An early goal will see us right today,' was the chipper prediction from yours truly. Clairvoyance indeed.
Four minutes in Bacary Sagna raced down the right flank, only to be barged not once, but twice by a helpless Wayne Bridge. He would hobble off injured not long after. From the resulting free kick, Cesc Fabregas flighted a free kick into the box away from the keeper, Onouha got sucked in towards the bucaneering Toure leaving Adebayor completely free in the area to check his watch, correct the wind resistance, rearrange his boxers and head the ball into Shay Given's far corner. It was a gratefully received favour from the Citeh defence to leave Arsenal's sole aerial threat unmarked in the box in the first five minutes. However, City were in no immediate mood for abject surrender. Wright Phillips was their most clear and present danger, as he sauntered down the right hand side, his cross took a ricochet off of Gael Clichy and Manuel Almunia had to be sharp to react to prevent the ball snaking past his front post. Almunia was again at the forefront of the heroics when he beat away Wright Phillips shot with his legs.
The Gunners were showing signs of being their old effusive selves in attack though. The excellent Denilson was once again smartly onto a loose ball on the edge of the area, Adebayor took the ball from his toes and had his shot blocked by Richards. Toure took the ball on the right, sauntered into the box, dancing around Zabaleta, before having his shot held at the front post with Song on for the pull back. Even so, I can't think of many centre halves in the Premiership that could dribble into a crowded area with such poise. But once again, defensive frailties would be exposed by the visitors. de Jong used the full back instincts from his youth to manouver up the right touchline, fed Wright Phillips who picked out Gelson Fernandes who had found a pocket of space vacated by Gallas, fortunately for us he snatched at his shot and clipped the outside of the post. A collective intake of breath sucked the air out of the stadium momentarily. City used the chance as fuel for a further forray, yet another Wright Phillips defence splitting pass sent Bellamy clear, but Almunia was smart off his line to thwart the chance. My principal criticism of Almunia has been how cumbersome he is off his line, yesterday Almunia looked a much better keeper all around and while the victory ended up being relatively comfortable, amongst the literatti of praise for Fabregas and Adebayor, it is worth remembering Almunia's contribution in the first half.
The Gunners had one final flirt with goal with a quite startling piece of interplay. Arshavin fed Clichy on the left hand side with his options limited, he tucked the ball back to Arshavin whose radar suddenly flickered and he fed Adebayor, he returned the favour with an improvised first time backheel flick and Arshavin's low shot was beaten out by Given. It had been a fairly impressive first half with some positive attacking play, however, with Arshavin being asked to play behind Adebayor, City found joy down our left hand side in the diminutive shape of Wright Phillips. In the second half, Fabregas moved further forward and Arshavin stayed more steadfastly on the left. It meant his effectiveness was slightly subdued yesterday, some tinkering and adapting to be done there before everybody is on the same wavelength. To be expected really. Injuries to Kompany and Bridge had slightly interrupted Citeh's flow at an important time.
However, if an early goal in the first half was exactly what the doctor ordered, an early second half strike was the prescription for a fever. It arrived through the same symbiotic partnership which forged the first and the same duo that tore up Premiership defences last season. Fabregas, with the incredibly able buffer of Denilson and Song behind him, moved further forwards and gave us all a reminder of what we have been missing. An inch perfect chipped past floated over the follicles of Richard Dunne, Adebayor showed commendable poise and composure to take the ball into his stride, saunter past Given and slot the ball into the empty net. The Adebayor of two years ago would possibly not have controlled and finished quite so elegantly. Fabregas was probably making those sort of passes in the womb. Adebayor's finishing has come on a lot this season, I can't recall too many he's missed yet this year.
City really did throw in the towel at that point and Arsenal, at the beginning of a punishing schedule, had the sort of game they really wanted heading into a key Champions' League game in Spain on Tuesday. Alexandre Song headed Fabregas' corner inches over the bar, it would have been a goal richly deserved for him. Whilst Denilson's progress, demonstrated ably again yesterday has been obvious for some time (well, it has been to those of us who do not falsely consider Flamini some kind of demi God all of a sudden), the progress of Song over the last month has been astronomical. Seeds of talent have been visible, but he really seems to feel at home in this team now. Fabregas and Adebayor were to combine again to nearly complete a hat trick of destruction, Fabregas pulling back from the touchline for Adebayor, but his shot was well saved by Given. Wenger was afforded the luxury of removing Fabregas, Walcott and Adebayor. The Gunners could have had a third, Clichy played a through ball to Adebayor only for Coward Webb to pull the play back senselessly for a non injury to Arshavin and Richards. Arsenal were then asked to give the ball back to Given. An incredibly easy match to referee ruled completely incompetently by Webb. The Gunners final chance came when Sagna pulled the ball back to Eboue, only for the Ivorian to slice wildly over. We have our Eboue back it seems and right now, it seems we have our Arsenal back too.LD.
Date:Sunday April 5 2009
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