Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 25 2010
The end of season feeling is becoming very pervasive now. Yesterday mathematically curtailed our chances of winning the title; it was the last Saturday of the season for Arsenal, the penultimate home match. Had it not been for last week`s pathetic capitulation and the return of a particular raggy-doll-a-like striker, there would have been zero anticipation for this game at all. The end of season feeling had been amplified by the glorious sunshine and the first time I`d been able to attend a game in shirt sleeves and shades since August. I spoke to friends on Friday with envy as they anticipated Millwall`s run in at the top of an incredibly close run race for promotion from League One. A lack of intensity in Arsenal`s last couple of fixtures has been a feature of the last few seasons now.
As I approached the stadium around ten minutes before kick off I could hear a venomous chorus of boos, no prizes for guessing who they were for. Of course Patrick Vieira was treated to a rapturous reception as the teams lined up, applauding all four sides of the stadium as his name was sung warmly. Emmanuel Adebayor was spared initially, named on the bench so that Mancini could adopt a more calcio style with Tevez ploughing a lone furrow upfront. Tottenham`s defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the day might well have influenced City`s tactics. From the off it was obvious that City were content with a 0-0 draw, with de Jong, Vieira and Barry sitting in front of the back four. Arsenal, shorn of Fabregas and Arshavin and with van Persie lacking match fitness, lacked the necessary guile to break them down. The Gunners did have plenty of brawn; Abou Diaby seemed to take his duel with Patrick Vieira very seriously indeed whilst Alex Song showed is what we had been missing in front of our defence. Arsenal took a good thirty four minutes to sting the palms of Shay Given when van Persie found a slide rule pass into the path of Nasri in the left hand channel and his left foot shot from a tight angle forced Given into a comfortable parry. The supporters seemed intent on trying to unnerve Fabianski too, there was a point in the first half when a back pass was rolled towards him, he had total control when he took an extra step back to add leverage to his kick, but the home fans began to scream nervously despite the fact Fabianski had the situation under complete control. City threatened only once, when Craig Bellamy picked up a ball on the left and found that Patrick Vieira had galloped into some space between the centre halves, but Campbell snuffed out Bellamy`s pass to deny his old Invincible colleague. That is pretty much all there is to say about a drab first half, other than the presence of an 'Eboue is my homeboy` banner on the North West corner of the ground and a 'Vote Eboue on May 6th` one in the North Upper. They might well have been the only decorations in sight that prevented my eyes from bleeding completely.
The atmosphere, if not the game, were briefly livened up by the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor. An interesting dichotomy was created as he replaced Patrick Vieira, who was given a standing ovation, whilst Adebayor was booed more brutally than I recall any player being booed by the Arsenal support. Cole and Anelka didn`t get it half this bad. It was interesting that when the teams returned to the pitch at half time and Adebayor moved back towards the bench, not one Arsenal player approached him. What makes the Adebayor situation different as that his ex colleagues appear to reserve the same disdain that we supporters do. But the cauldron like atmosphere still couldn`t stir the game into any life, with City increasingly happy to sit and hold the 0-0. From my lofty position, they had an extremely good chance to score themselves as Arsenal were open on the counter attack, but they didn`t seem to want to take it. Arsenal threw on Bendtner and Eboue in vague hope of producing something noteworthy in the final third. Nasri and Rosicky are good players, but both are a little too 'safe` for my liking. Particularly Rosicky, who seems to have lost the ability to take responsibility anymore. He made his name at Arsenal by being direct and positive, nowadays he almost never gives the ball away to the opposition, but seems increasingly accustomed to shuffling the ball to a surrounded Arsenal player before scuttling off into a position where he could not possibly receive the ball. Nasri too is a neat enough player, but lacks the bravery of a Fabregas or an Arshavin, who will try and create an opportunity if they see only the unlikeliest glimmer of one.
Bendtner did give us a little direction initially, combining with the jinking Eboue to put in a dangerous low cross which probably would only have been attacked by Bendtner himself of Arsenal`s current side. The Gunners first notable shot of the half came when Diaby powered forwards into space and drove a low shot which Given brilliantly tipped around the post, dislocating his shoulder in the process. In the few minutes it took to treat him, the RedSection got their chance to let Adebayor know their feelings. His constant touching of the posts and crossbar betraying his discomfort. City became all the more defensive as it became clear Arsenal were not going to break them down. On the few occasions they did fancy a flutter on the counter, the quite excellent Campbell and Silvestre mopped up with ease. The Gunners` last late chance appeared when Eboue tried to make inroads into the penalty area, only to be tripped by Zabaleta. Van Persie lined up the free kick and opened his body out, suggesting he was going to whip the ball into the far corner, but at the last moment he clipped a beautifully disguised free kick narrowly over the bar of the near corner with Gunnar Nielsen utterly deceived by the subtlety of van Persie`s run up. It was the only aesthetically pleasing moment of a dull, Serie A-lite encounter. City came for the 0-0 and had few problems in getting it. Arsenal were clearly scarred by previous defeats whilst Spurs` defeat left City with the room to play tactically. Without Arshavin and Fabregas and with van Persie still feeling his way back in, the home side lacked the x factor. In the end, it was an incredibly dull game and one that will not live any further in my memory once I hit 'publish.`LD.
21.FABISANKI, 3.SAGNA, 31.CAMPBELL, 18.SILVESTRE, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 2.DIABY, 8.NASRI, 14.WALCOTT (27.Eboue `68), 7.ROSICKY (52.Bendtner `68), 11.v.PERSIE(c). Unused: 9.Eduardo, 12.Vela, 24.Mannone, 30.Traore.
Date:Sunday April 25 2010
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