Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday October 4 2009
Having grown up in such a large family, there are always plenty of dates to mark down in the calendar. To be honest, there are so many of them, that I don`t take too much stock in them anymore. Yet this weekend there has been no small amount of rectitude in the calendar. It was 25 years ago yesterday that I lost my father. This week has also seen Arsene Wenger, something of a surrogate father I guess you could say, become Arsenal`s longest serving manager. Whilst today also marked ten years since the last time I missed an Arsenal home fixture (October 12th 1999 versus Preston North End since you ask). So it was especially nice to see Thierry Henry on the pitch minutes before kick off, acknowledging my testimonial game! I guess it was inevitable that the most odious opposition manager I`ve encountered in that ten years stood in the way of a perfect anniversary as it were!
Within four minutes of the match starting, that pervasive air of anti climax was made flesh. About the only thing Paul Robinson is any use for is an impossibly long punt up field and he made good on his one and only skill which caught Arsenal`s defence on the hop, Mannone had little command of his area as Steven N`Zonzi out jumped Thomas Vermaelen and Mannone did not readjust his feet and looked on helplessly as the ball looped over him and in off the crossbar. It was a goal atavistic of Fat Sam`s Bolton sides which plagued us so in the early part of the decade. The goal stunned an already moribund home crowd into contemplative hush, but the team rolled their sleeves up and set about rectifying the early ill. Arshavin dinked a beautifully weighted cross to the back post and Fabregas headed onto the crossbar as Chimbonda scrambled the ball away under no pressure. Chimbonda and van Persie were then caught in the midst of an exchange after Chimbonda`s high boot threatened to reassert van Persie`s Adebayor scar, the Dutchman`s rash challenge a minute or so later in retribution showed he still has some temper to curb in his older years. But it was perhaps that sense of anger that got Arsenal back into the game. Thomas Vermaelen carried the ball forward, only to see Keith Andrews cynically trip him, Walton played the advantage and Vermaelen took his frustration out on the ball, picking it up again from thirty yards before dispatching a low exocet of a shot into Robinson`s bottom corner. Lord Lowe and I talked during the game of how a long range effort is always worthwhile against Robinson as he`s incredibly cumbersome making it towards the ground. Unless of course the ball comes laced with onions and ketchup, in which case he`d be down to it like a shot.
Arsenal looked in the mood to inflict more damage prior to half time, Diaby flicked Rosicky`s pass into the feet of Cesc Fabregas and his curling shot was beaten out by Robinson. (I think he momentarily mistook the ball for a doughnut). The home side had again massively over committed, a mistake we probably should have learned from at Manchester City when we seemed to want to win the game in three seconds flat when there was still plenty of time left on the clock. Diouf released Emerton on the right with Clichy struggling to get back and Arshavin and Diaby not even trying to help, Emerton shifted the ball over to the left of our penalty area to David Dunn- I`ve absolutely no idea where Bacary Sagna was at this point. Dunn shifted the ball onto his right foot and his effort took a wicked deflection off Gallas and past the wrong footed Mannone. At this point I`m tempted to mention how well Denilson usually plugs gaps left by onrushing full backs. But Arsenal propitiated the 59,000 crowd within two minutes. Fabregas receiving the ball high up the pitch and playing a beautiful slide rule pass into van Persie, Blobinson was slow off his line, giving van Persie time to rethink the first time shot and set himself for a cool left foot finish into the bottom corner. If you believe the soothsayers of blogdonia and newspaper universe, Fabregas has been off colour thus far this campaign. I read an article earlier this week positioning him at number 2 in the season so far`s "Top Ten Disappointments." That was his sixth assist along with three goals in seven and a half games this season. He wasn`t done there either. If that`s poor form, I can`t wait to witness some average performances from him, that`s for sure. Don`t believe the hype.
Fabregas would be chief architect again as the Gunners moved into the lead soon after, threading another beautiful disguised pass into Arshavin, who made light work of the close range finish on his left foot. Whilst people bicker about who should occupy precise blades of grass amongst our front three, Arshavin and van Persie both popped up in the centre within minutes of one another to devastating effect, whilst Walcott and Bendtner found joy in front of goal cutting in from the flanks. The word is fluidity people. Arsenal might have had another before half time, Arshavin, popping up on the right this time (surely he should be glued to the centre at all times?) sent in yet another perfectly flighted cross which Fabregas headed towards goal, Robinson saved Cesc`s weak headed attempt and Givet scrambled away the rebound. 3-2 at half time and the Premiership`s entertainers were in audience-centric mode. Of course that means that we`re still obligated to defend like amateurs at times and when David Dunn jinked his way into the area he might have won a penalty early in the second period, Song and Vermaelen certainly appeared to stop in expectation for a couple of seconds before deciding that actually clearing the ball from one`s own penalty area is usually a half decent idea. Rovers scented some blood and when Emerton`s inswinging free kick was headed to the edge of the area by Vermaelen, Martin Olsson sent a sweet left foot volley goalwards which Mannone was equal to.
But Arsenal responded to those two quasi scares the only way they know how, with all out attack and due rewards were not long in arriving. Fabregas` attempted through ball was intercepted by Chimbonda, Rosicky showed good awareness to stretch those second hand hamstrings of his and hooked the ball back into the path of Fabregas on the edge if the area, he chested the ball down and sent a looping left foot volley into the top corner past the stranded Robinson. If ever a goal was deserved, it was this one. Fabregas had simply run the hottest show in town today. Arsenal were well and truly in the groove and Tomas Rosicky nearly added to the amusement when he cut in from the left and sent a scorching shot whistling past Robinson`s upright. The cork had been popped and Arsenal`s champagne football was pouring into the stadium like the early autumn sunshine. Diaby played the ball into Fabregas on the edge of the area, Cesc reciprocated with an impudent flick back to the onrushing Diaby who sent his low shot just wide. But further defensive frailties were afoot, Mannone failed to collect a Pedersen cross, the Arsenal centre halves showed their mistrust in the young keeper by parking themselves so close to the young goalie and David Hoilett`s scuffed volley was headed onto his own past by Vermaelen. Nice to see he knows which end to be the most clinical in. Van Persie might have continued his personal vendetta against Blackburn when Fabregas chipped another inch perfect lob into the Rovers area, van Persie chest trapped and shot towards goal, but Robinson`s love handles were well positioned to block the attempt.
Theo Walcott soon entered the fray again and exemplified the attacking value of the 4-3-3 by starting on the right, but happily drifting into the centre so that his pace gave Rovers more cause for existential angst. He crowned his reappearance with a fitting goal. Clichy won possession high up the pitch, Fabregas played into Arshavin, the Russian manoeuvred forwards, returning the ball to Cesc on the edge of the area, Fabregas intelligently shifted the ball to the right and Walcott`s first time side foot finish kissed the side netting on its way in. At the dawning of Arsene`s 14th year in charge, the current number 14 become Arsenal`s 14th different goalscorer this season with the most legendary number 14 of the Premiership era taking a watching brief in the stands. The Gunners should have added a sixth soon after, Ramsey used van Persie as a sounding board on the edge of the area, the Dutchman back heeled the ball into the path of Bendtner who delayed his finish a second too long and could only fire the ball straight at Robinson`s vast, vast frame. Vast.
Walcott moved into the middle this time to cause havoc and he latched onto van Persie`s excellent chipped pass, Chimbonda just took Walcott out of his stride as he prodded the ball towards goal. Robinson weebled and wobbled as he could only deflect towards goal despite the fact the shot was straight at him, Givet scrambled the ball off the line. I`ve said on these pages time and again that my favourite thing about Nicklas Bendtner is his mentality. All young players make mistakes. Young keepers let soft goals in, young defenders misjudge tackles, young midfielders misplace passes. For young strikers in the embryonic stages of their education, that translates into missing chances. Bendtner missed a presentable chance- as he had done many times in this fixture last season. But he demonstratably wants the ball in an attempt to rectify the error. Many young players shrink in that situation but Bendtner does not. He picked up the ball on the right hand side, evaded two challenges before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Robinson and in off the post from twenty yards. The relief was palpable in his celebration. In the end it was a comfortable victory with some salivating attacking play. Fabregas dominated the match in a manner not achievable for 98% of Europe`s midfield generals, whilst the interplay between the rotating front three was a joy to behold. Even when Bendtner and Walcott came on, Arsenal looked dangerous upfront. The defending still leaves massive concerns and better sides than Blackburn will not let us get away with such cumbersome defending. Mannone did not inspire great confidence in his defence and it`s still baffling to see us over commit from the back when we have three world class strikers and a peerless midfield general supplying the bullets. Particularly when we have plenty of time to win matches. Personally, it was a nice way to punctuate a small personal landmark. In the ten years since that Preston game I`ve lived in six different houses, with twenty different individuals, I`ve completed my GCSEs, A Levels and my degree, I`ve seen five trophies amassed in two different home stadiums, had three different hair colours, five different club captains under one exquisite manager. But one thing has not changed. A ticket to see Arsene Wenger`s Arsenal remains the hottest in town.LD.
Team: 24.MANNONE, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 4.FABREGAS(c) (16.Ramsey `76), 2.DIABY, 7.ROSICKY (14.Walcott `69), 23.ARSHAVIN (52.Bendtner `76), 11.v.PERSIE. Unused: 18.Silvestre, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs, 53.Szczesny.
Date:Sunday October 4 2009
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