Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 20 2009
With Friday night witnessing some absolute carnage in the form of my work Christmas party, the blood was sloshing lazily around the temples in the freezing cold North London air. A party of nine of us took advantage of the late kick off and had an outstanding steak dinner at Galiano`s on Blackstock Road, conversation drifted towards whether Almunia should keep his place and my remark that Arsenal hadn`t scored directly from a free kick for over two years. Both assertions would have cause to crop up again for the post match diagnosis. After a bottle of red and a fine sirloin, I was in a much better fettle to enjoy the match and the return of the nefarious orange tosspot Phil Brown.
With two very tough away fixtures having taken place in the previous six days, the pace of the match was understandably docile in the opening stages. With van Persie and Fabregas sidelined, it was Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby who looked to take on the responsibility of pushing the side forwards. Hull were typically well organised with numbers back and it would take a patient build up to eke out the first chance. Alex Song found Eduardo out on the left hand side, Eddie cut the ball back to Samir Nasri who had found space in the penalty area, but he could not find a true connection and hit the ball straight at Boaz Myhill. A game that was sleepily drifting along was ignited into something more combustible on the half hour mark after Arshavin was fouled by Garcia, Richard Garcia refused to release the ball, culminating in Nasri treading on his foot. Garcia collapsed in faux agony, though Nasri was ill advised, it was a quite appalling attempt to get a fellow professional sent off from Garcia. Barmby waded in on Nasri and a melee ensued (ironically, we had also spoken pre match about an infamous encounter with Norwich City in 1990 which finished 4-3 and erupted into a 21 man brawl). The incident fuelled the crowd and seemed to give the players some impetus too. It was Diaby again who led the charge forward from the centre circle, exchanging passes with Arshavin before being brought down by George Boateng. Denilson stepped up for the free kick, the first I can remember him taking in an Arsenal shirt and he curled the ball over the wall and down into the bottom corner with consummate ease. It proved one of football`s great adages, if you get a free kick; you`re in good hands with a Brazilian! A few Hull players appeared to take issue with Nasri in the tunnel, Nick Barmby heroically pointing outside to suggest a bout of fisticuffs on the cobbles. It was unsurprising that Brown replaced him at half time.
With a goal in the locker in first half injury time, the match became a different prospect in the second half with Hull needing to push on. Five minutes into the half, the Gunners could have been out of sight, Andrey Arshavin had dropped off into a snatch of space and played the ball into the feet of Eduardo, he brilliantly turned and rolled the ball past McShane to put him in on goal, but the chance fell to his right foot and he scuffed it wide. I think it`s about time Arsene made Eduardo wear a slipper on his left foot in training. But the game would again have cause to ignite from dying embers; Stephen Hunt over hit a cross from the left, Craig Fagan had hold of Silvestre before then throwing himself to the ground in the area. Amazingly, Steve Bennett fell for it and awarded the spot kick for one of the worst penalty decisions in living memory. Craig Fagan is of course English, so he will escape censure for diving in the box, but that is exactly what he did. Geovanni stepped up unconvincingly and Almunia palmed away his poor spot kick, the rebound was about to nestle comfortably onto Geovanni`s head for a certain equaliser, but Stephen Hunt allowed his very suspect temperament get the better of him, rushing towards the rebound, barging Geovanni away and heading well wide. Almunia, who has come in for a volley of criticism of late had made a telling contribution. Interestingly, Almunia concedes a goal every 2.5 shots on average this season. Shay Given concedes one every 2.6 shots, one keeper is apparently world class and the other is a clown. Work that one out.
Justice had been served and Arsenal were in the mood to exact a swift and decisive blow. Abou Diaby again carried the ball forwards with purpose and vigour, he touched the ball to Alex Song on the edge of the area and then continued his metronomic run, Song slid the ball to the onrushing Diaby and he put the ball back across goal, leaving Eduardo with the simple task of slipping the ball into the open goal. It being on his right foot of course, he tried to miss! It was a deserved goal and one that will hopefully revitalise sagging confidence. The Tigers were visibly traumatised and Arsenal knew the three points were theirs. Again, the outstanding Diaby brought about the third and final goal, using the simple "pass and move" template which he had destroyed Hull with all afternoon, he pushed the ball to Arshavin and then continued his run into the area, Arshavin displayed typical intelligence to move the ball right back into Diaby`s path, Diaby feinted past McShane before powering the ball past Myhill. A very deserved goal. The supporters were in party mood with Phil Brown the butt of some acid tongues, "Tango, give us a wave" and "You`re getting tanned in the morning" being two sources of particular mirth. Arsenal might have notched another when Denilson`s cross field pass sailed over Zayatte`s head and into the path of Walcott, Myhill advanced to the edge of his area leaving Walcott to lob the ball over him and inches wide. In the end, it was a satisfactory three points and the team deserves credit for keeping their focus in the wake of two tough away fixtures. United, Chelsea and Liverpool all dropped points for the second weekend running, in keeping with the theme of the tallest dwarf competition at the summit of the table. Last season we were dismantled at home to Villa, the encounter the day after Boxing Day will be indicative of how far we have come in twelve months. On behalf of everyone at Vital Arsenal, I`d like to wish the readership here a Merry Christmas and a very prosperous New Year. Hopefully, come May 23rd, 2010, you can be reading my match report from the Bernabeu! It goes without saying that I shall still be producing match reports over the festive period, so do please stop by if you can tear yourself away from the booze and food for long enough!LD.
TEAM: 1.ALMUNIA(c), 27.EBOUE, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 18.SILVESTRE, 17.SONG, 15.DENILSON, 2.DIABY, 8.NASRI (16.Ramsey `68), 9.EDUARDO (14.Walcott `75), 23.ARSHAVIN (12.Vela `83). Unused: 3.Sagna, 19.Wilshere, 21.Fabianski, 38.Emmanuel Thomas.
Date:Sunday December 20 2009
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