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Standard Liege 2 Arsenal 3

Had this tie fallen on any other day in the Champions League calendar I would have been there, alas, the UEFA demi-Gods were not smiling on me and I had to settle for a brief in front of my Mum`s television- work commitments getting the better of me. The text I received upon leaving work from my party that did travel to Liege proudly announcing that they`d spent their afternoon, shall we say, sampling the local delicacies, hardly smoothed my annoyance. Five minutes into this game and I was actually beginning to mutter words of mercy that I had not been able to attend. (For "utter words of mercy" read "scream words of invective").

With the fallout from Eastlands raging on, it was good to simply see Arsenal taking to a football pitch again. Unfortunately they did so in a cocksure and dismissive manner, wantonly underestimating their opponents. The sloppiness set in instantly, Clichy allowed Dalmat to whip in a low cross, confident that no Liege players were a clear and present danger in the box. Song did not get a shout from Mannone and put the ball out for a corner. Jovanovic`s corner was partially cleared with a looping header from Vermaelen, Eduardo senselessly attempted a back heel flick on the edge of his own area, the ball duly fell to Mangala who was given license to hit a low shot past Mannone, with nobody seeing fit to press the opposition player. Eight players were within twenty yards of Arsenal`s goal and not one of them mounted a challenge. As for Eduardo`s aberration, are you going to try and convince me he would have tried that one in the first minute at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge? It stunk of arrogance and got the reward it deserved. Yet amazingly, the Gunners maintained their aloofness further, Eboue lost concentration when trying to control a simple pass from Song, Jovanovic snapped hungrily at him, dispossessing him and running at the naked Arsenal penalty area. Gallas took the swipe of a rookie playing his first ever game rather than a seasoned and decorated international and Liege had a penalty. Jovanovic picked himself up and coolly slotted to Mannone`s right with four minutes and four seconds on the clock. It was another case of Arsenal trying to reincarnate themselves as Peter Pan; the team that just refuses to grow up.

Arsenal went from arrogance and complacency to wretched nerves, misplacing simple passes whilst Liege perhaps worked themselves into overdrive. Without the directness of van Persie, Arshavin, Walcott and Nasri, Arsenal looked meandering and lost. That Tomas Rosicky looked Arsenal`s lad most likely, trying to play probing passes and pick up positions off enemy radar speaks volumes of how much direct play was needed. Largely what we got was aimless and impotent. Bendtner did pick up a good position on the left, picked out by Fabregas, but drilled his low cross along the six yard box beyond Rosicky and Eduardo. However, Liege had dropped off too much- particularly with Arsenal vulnerable on the counter attack with their spongy soft centre. Is it any coincidence that Arsenal`s defending was markedly improved this season (the two centre backs ranking 1st and 2nd in Arsenal`s Player of the Month for August) right up until the time that Denilson hobbled off at Eastlands? His cover for the back four is difficult to appreciate until he is not there. Even then most choose to ignore it. Song doesn`t look half the player without his able deputy hovering up loose balls and picking up errant opposition runners. The 4-3-3 system also requires the wider players in the midfield three to track back- if you`re going to play Abou Diaby on the left hand side of that triumvirate, the opposition will always see some joy and I find it hard to dismiss the coincidence of Clichy`s poor form with Diaby`s inclusion in the side and the outright lack of protection that affords him. However, despite their poor performance, Arsenal produced a lifeline with their first opportunity of note. Just when you`re cursing the fact that Abou Diaby`s parents didn`t just decide on an early night 25 years ago, he manages to motor past three Liege players in the heart of midfield, Bendtner made an intelligent run into the channel which Diaby picked out and Bendtner angled the ball through the legs of Bolat. Game back on and such is life for Abou Diaby, unimaginably, woefully terrible for pretty much 89 minutes and 59 seconds, but turns the game with his only contribution worth remembering. It makes him all the more frustrating as a player when you realise he`s not a bad player when he manages to dislodge his head from his backside.

Arsenal had the impetus back, but nearly surrendered it with causal disdain once again seconds into the second half. Song`s wayward back pass was ceased on Mbokani, fortunately Clichy`s brain was still wired and he rushed to make an important block. Arsenal went straight up the other end and nearly atoned instantly when Tomas Rosicky`s brilliantly flighted ball found Bendtner, he took the ball in his stride only to be denied with a superbly executed last ditch tackle from Mangala. Liege were looking increasingly spent as they hung further and further backwards, though their prescience on the counter attack was elucidated but once, Dalmat raced beyond Diaby and Clichy- who had idiotically gone for the same ball- but Dalmat`s low cross was chopped over his own bar by Eboue. It seemed a matter of time though before a worn down Liege would concede and so they did on 79 minutes, albeit in very controversial circumstances. For once, Fabregas` free kick did not sail out of play or into the arms of the keeper, Eduardo may or may not have flicked on his left wing delivery, which may or may not have meant Song was offside on the back post. However, there can be no disputing that Song kept the ball in play with his arm before tucking the ball back for Vermaelen to prod home from about six centimetres. How the referee or his assistant did not see the erroneous hand is beyond me, it should have stuck out at them like an errant locomotive such were their positions. For now, I`ll take the fortune. Nobody seemed too bothered about Gareth Barry`s handball on Saturday and I do recall Henry being unfairly denied a late equaliser in Moscow a few years back for a handball that never was. Scant comfort for Liege though.

Arsenal were firmly on the front foot and Liege looked out for the count. Another Fabregas corner saw Vermaelen`s improvised back heel flick hacked off the line by Sarr. But Arsenal obviously had found their groove from set pieces, another last ditch tackle on Eduardo resulted in a corner. Fabregas swung in another precise delivery and Eduardo was on hand to guide the ball into the vacant net with his knee. Had that ball arrived at any other player, you imagine a foot or shin would have wildly been swung at the ball. But Eduardo has great sangfroid in the area and knew to just let the ball hit him. I am sure if Eduardo weren`t such an individual of class he might have dedicated that goal to Gordon Smith. Arsenal endured one last scare when Clichy had to block Dalmat in injury time, but the Gunners held out for victory. The ability to fight back from 2-0 down away from home without a cavalcade of our attacking players is no mean feat and one not to be dismissed. However, it papers over some very worrying cracks. Better opposition than Liege will stand in our way should we have designs on winning the competition and such kamikaze defending will see heavy defeat against the cream of the Continent. Once again, individual errors were strewn across the night and I worry deeply about the mentality of this team as such errors have been commonplace for quite some time. Is it a question of motivation or intelligence? Whatever the question, the answer does not make for pleasant reading. The lack of cover for the full backs is of genuine concern and perhaps a fallibility of the 4-3-3; the likes of Diaby and Arshavin when he regains fitness will have to work harder to protect their defence. The lack of cover becomes even more stark when Denilson is absent, his ability to plug gaps unmatched by any other player in Arsenal`s current squadron. This is not a question of the back four so much as the team defending better as a unit. However, that has been a question mark over Arsenal for some four or five years now. For now we`ll take the points, but it appears Wenger still does not have the balance of this team right.LD.

Team: 24.MANNONE, 27.EBOUE (3.Sagna '79), 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 4.FABREGAS(c), 17.SONG, 2.DIABY, 7.ROSICKY (16.Ramsey '69), 52.BENDTNER, 9.EDUARDO (19.Wilshere '83). Unused: 18.Silvestre, 28.Gibbs, 53.Szczesny, 54.Watt.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday September 17 2009

Time: 9:35AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Shakey performance to say the least but a win we will all take gladly. Also what was up with Song last night? slow, giving the ball away, and leaving the back four far too exposed. Brilliant at Everton, poor last night, although he wasn't alone there!
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17/09/2009 09:59:00

yep bang on write up, just shows if you go into a game with an air of arrogance/complacency esp at this level away from home it's not unreasonable to find yourself two down after 5 mins. A truly rancid 1st half and even in the second although we had the possession we still lacked the guile to work their keeper and put pressure on from any rebounds or parries. The meagre highlights of last night was Eboue not putting into his own net, Rosickys' continued adventures in the land of the living (how pinpoint was the pass to bendy?) Ramsey looking sharp and lively when coming on and Eddie snogging his knee. Still, hugely relieved we won to avoid any further malaise setting in and with the fixtures we have coming up a decent run really should be put together.
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17/09/2009 10:52:00

Cracks well and truly papered over...
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17/09/2009 11:24:00

nice he wins a pen from a blatant dive and then is allowed to carry on playing and steal a point from another team, very sad indeed, oh sorry it wasnt a dive was it wenger didnt see it the guy was protecting himself when the keeer never touched him he was passed the leeper lols cheating feckers
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17/09/2009 12:25:00

God sake..... get over it! Yawn....
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17/09/2009 12:38:00

Actually he stole two points. Who did Citeh play last night?
Little Dutch
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17/09/2009 12:43:00

Nice just like Adebayor was allowed to carry on playing after his blatant stamp and steal a win from our team, very sad indeed, oh sorry it wasnt a stamp was it Hughes. No malice involved he was jumping out the way to protect himself cheating feckers
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17/09/2009 12:43:00

I'm not going to focus on the performance too much sometimes we just need to say a win is a win. How many times have we watched man u, Chelsea, Liverpool play poorly and come away with wins and moan about how lucky they are. So while I would have wanted a more accomplished performance we got the result we wanted.
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17/09/2009 12:50:00

Same old mistakes though!
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17/09/2009 12:55:00

If these bitter blues wan't to stop being a comedy club and start being taken seriously they need to start acting like sane human beings
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17/09/2009 13:04:00

Why is everyone making such a big deal out of one dive? Is Eduardo the first ever player to do that? I swear people are so fickle!
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17/09/2009 13:41:00

The controlled workrate displayed in the 1st 4 games seems to have deserted us, last night and the latter stages against city and united even when we pressed it looked like 11 Matty Flaminis circa 2005. The boys need to get back to basics, conceeding this amount of goals when your centre backs are actually playing pretty well is disturbing.
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17/09/2009 14:13:00

bowie - act like human beings? Like the animals you lot keep defending who came up to the City game? Like the animals after the UEFA Final which you keep deflecting onto a Cup Winners Cup final? You lot here have lost all right to have a go at anyone defending racists and thugs.
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17/09/2009 14:24:00

As I said on the other thread though... congratulations on the result............
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17/09/2009 14:30:00

Trot along goatboy, there are a total of 19 articles on VMC written since Monday for you to whinge about Arsenal, why don't you trot over to one of them and chew the cud over there with your fellow lying inferiority complex ridden chums. This thread concerns a Champions League match so I'm not quite sure what fake ID you produced to get past the bouncers, but do trot along. Iceman, I really do think the inclusion of Diaby in the team has become a massive problem because he's simply no good off the ball. Arshavin showed signs of defensive malaise too, but Diaby in midfield minus Denilson leaves Song with far too much work to do. Denilson, Song and Fabregas seem to dovetail well but Diaby upsets that balance and doesn't cover his fullback to boot. I'm wary of placing the blame for all of our shortcomings on one player when Cesc has had two pretty below par games too, but it could be that the players required to step into the system just aren't as familiar with it yet as the first choice players?
Little Dutch
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17/09/2009 14:32:00

Good grief they're still here? They are definitely earning their moniker of "tottenham of the north". Give it a rest you utter freaks, we could give a ***** less about your club now kindly do us the same favour. Christ.
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17/09/2009 15:53:00

Diaby....just when you think he's a lost cause and its time to sell he pulls of a "Vieira on speed" type move and you think its worth perservering. Mr tumnus (Goatboy) still here with your delusions of racism and thuggery? "it's not racial sterotyping because they weren't dressing up as Arabs... they were dressing up as our new owner.. one person... not a race" was your take on your fans dressing in arab robes and headgear. So tell me what song we sung about a race? Because the sp*rs song you say we sang is about the lanky thugs father not all africans.
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17/09/2009 15:55:00

A few years back we used to blow the opposition away in the first twenty minutes breaking down any resistance early on. An odd goal conceded was nearly always consolation that never threatened the result. I think Wenger believes that he can recreate this approach today with this crop of players. I would certainly like him to, but I don’t think he can, not at the moment at least. The scintillating attack of Pires, Henry, Ljungberg and Bergkamp is difficult to recreate, and they had a fairly solid defence to rely on if it all went horribly wrong. Today we need to be more circumspect at the back and plug the holes first and foremost. Vermaelen, Gallas, Sagna and Clichy should be more selective when hurtling forwards and ensure a solid look to our back line. The creative players can take the risks, which they will do more effectively in front of a defence that they can be confident in. Diaby is a classic illustration of this. A solid defence can soak up his countless errors, making his one positive contribution have that much more of an impact. He needs to stay well away from the back though – far too maverick.
Sir Henry
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17/09/2009 16:08:00

Good write up LD. I would agree with everything, except for blaming Clichy's poor form on Diaby. Clichy makes huge errors on judgment at times (against Citeh for instance), which are not at all related to the help he gets from mid field. So, he needs to look at himself for answers to his poor form. I do agree with your assessment of the mid field - a combination different to Cesc, Denilson and Song dont seem to get things right which is a worrying sign. Also, the defensive frailty is something wrong with the squad, and I'm just not sure anything can be done about it, coz we've seen it with different personnel over the past 3 seasons. I'm stumped on that one, tbh.
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17/09/2009 16:20:00

I suppose I'm not quite sure why people are saying the midfield is only working with Cesc, Den, and Song. The goals allowed yesterday were from a corner and a penalty, the midfield can hardly take the blame for those goals. And when you consider we've had over 60% of the possession the last two games, it would seem as though the forwards and defenders are the one's letting down our squad, as it is the midfield's responsibility to capture and maintain possession.
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17/09/2009 16:36:00

that said, I do agree that Cesc-Den-Song give us the best chance against quality teams, though I'm not against rotating in Rosicky, Nasri, Ramsey, and even Diaby in order to give those three some rest from time to time
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17/09/2009 16:38:00

'Diaby doesnt know what to do off the ball' both offensively and defensively, he has no movement, no runs, nothing when we are attacking, till you give it to him, then he either takes an age on the ball and loses it or goes on an insane run and we get something, im hoping when Walcott/Nasri and Arshavin are all fit diaby will be back to the bench
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17/09/2009 16:38:00

Agree with LD by and large. Just that, as Prits pointed out, I'm not sure how much of Clichy's poor form is down to the fact that Diaby offers almost no protection on the left flank. Clichy himself made some glaring mistakes too. But the Clichy-Diaby combo is defensively awful indeed. Cracks papered over but I think the boss is fully aware of them.
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17/09/2009 18:11:00

I honestly think Nasri and even Theo or Jack can offer more than Diaby does on the flank at the moment. Rant over.
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17/09/2009 18:12:00

great, Denilson is out for "a few weeks" with a back injury...
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17/09/2009 18:46:00

For people who were able to watch the match comfortably, what was the opinion of Mangala (scored the 1st goal) and played at ... fullback ? 17 or 18 y/o French kid, but 6ft+, from the commentary I heard he seemed to be on hand to snuff out quite a few attacks.
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17/09/2009 19:29:00

Great first name for English Football terrace song-writers too! (Eliaquim). Anyone able to put together a decent suggestive/risque song without actually saying anything wude.. ?
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17/09/2009 19:31:00

He didn't look too bad. I must admit I was more impressed with the centre forward Eliaquim Mangala. He held the ball up really well when I was their only outlet. He's only 17/18 too!
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17/09/2009 19:56:00

*he was the only outlet (I wasn't playing, otherwise we would have won by a lot more)!
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17/09/2009 19:57:00

Actually, I'm not sure that's his name! It might be Deiudonne Mbokani. The one who was up top with the captain supporting anyway.
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17/09/2009 20:05:00

To the tune of your username EINY, he's no Brazilian, but he likes to keep it trim, he's El-i-aquim Man-galaaaaa
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17/09/2009 20:08:00

hehe - I never thought of using that song actually.. how ironic - nice one !
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17/09/2009 20:22:00

Mangala played at centre back, he made an excellent tackle on Bendtner when he was put clean through by Rosicky's pinpoint pass, seems like a good prosepct based on that performance.
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17/09/2009 20:38:00

The struggle to find a midfield balance that works is a real problem. What we can say is that it seems to work best with Denilson and Song in tandem. In terms of creative balance Nasri, Fabregas, Arshavin and Rosicky all provide excellent options for the remaining 2 or 3 places however we set up. Diaby and Eboue are useful, if not reliable, back up to them but there doesn't seem to be any reliable cover for either Denilson or Song.
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17/09/2009 20:40:00

"...just when you`re cursing the fact that Abou Diaby`s parents didn`t just decide on an early night 25 years ago..." lol! I think Clichy's current problem has to do with the pressing game we've started playing and that served us well in the first few games. The thing is, he's now rushing in at almost every chance to win the ball and not always getting there. The inbalance is a huge concern, because any injury to Song or Denilson (or African Cup of Nations) and we're woefully short of cover. We've got far too many attacking players - hindsight is telling me we should have sold Diaby and replaced him with a defensive midfielder. Or we should just promote Coquelin now.
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17/09/2009 22:44:00

Coquelin has looked good in reserve but I think Ramsey could do that role before him. He's not backwards about going into tackles! Plus he has quite a lot of composure on the ball, and a lot of 1st team experience. We'll see Coquelin on Wednesday I think.
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18/09/2009 09:01:00

Diaby always seems to me like a brilliant player, but obviously i dont see alot of Arsenal just highlights n match of the day stuff.
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18/09/2009 14:10:00

Somedays (or should I say for a bit of some games) he looks brilliant, and that's why you can understand Wenger keeping faith in him. Then...... he looks like a disorientated penguin on Beta Blockers.
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18/09/2009 14:34:00

I still can't believe we got AWAY the 3pts, after we played so badly!
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19/09/2009 10:47:00

Amos. Assuming that the ideal is to play 2 defensively minded midfielders, and 3 attacking midfielders buzzing around the central striker (with one being Fabregas and another being Arshavin assuming everyone is fit) - it's difficult to see how he's going to keep everyone happy as there is huge competition (Rosicky, Nasri, Van Persie, Walcott, Eduardo, Diaby, Vela and Wilshere (and not Eboue)). Yet when it comes to defensive midfielders he has 1.5 (Song + Denilson) with no competition. Opinions vary as to whether these two incumbents are up to the task (I don't think they are), but we also have _no_ backup so playing them both is risky. Furthermore he knows Song will be off to the ACN in Feb. Personally - looking at the squad, I can't fathom why Bendtner isn't a shoe-in for central striker and why he's being played wide right. Even more confuzzlingly Fragile van Persie has been taken off the right inside forward (his most lethal position) and plonked in front of Kicker#1 and Kicker#2 with his back to goal every match. Assuming all are fit, I would think that a front three (Left to Right) would be Arshavin, Bendtner, van Persie, with (a more attacking than I'd like) middle three of Nasri, Song, Fabregas (with one of Fab/Nasri dropping back to help Song out). You maintain a 5 man goal threat, a good blend of right and left footers, and good replacement attacking options on the 7-man bench (Rosicky, Eduardo, Walcott, Wilshere). However - there's still no adequate cover/competition for Song.
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21/09/2009 16:53:00


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