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Arsenal 2 Fulham 1

With the snow that has hit the capital over the last few days beginning to thaw out, London seemed a more relaxed and slightly warmer place as we trudged though the slush and into the stadium. Vast pockets of empty space were again visible, as people had clearly decided not to bother because it was an ickle bit cold for them. Why these people don`t make their seats available on the ticket exchange I`ve no idea. Arsenal have not lost three consecutive home matches since March 1977 and it looked very unlikely they`d be repeating that unwanted triumvirate again this weekend. The Gunners were off to a flying start, Jack Wilshere curled in a wicked free kick which Sebastien Squillaci headed up into the air and the ball searched out Andrey Arshavin, unmarked on the back post, but his volley was blocked by the advancing Schwarzer. Fulham fans booed Arshavin throughout the game, presumably for his involvement in FIFA`s opaque trough snouting World Cup host selection. Polonium sandwiches all round next time we visit Craven Cottage.

Fulham were looking more nervous than a Russian investigative journalist as Arsenal threatened to tear into them from the off. Arshavin and Nasri the prime architects of their distaste. Arshavin and Chamakh played a tidy one two in a tight space and Arshavin once again drove at the heart of the Fulham defence, playing a deft ball behind the Cottager centre halves for the run of Nasri, but the Frenchman flicked the ball wide. But the two wide boys continued giving it large and it wasn`t long before their irresistible combination broke the Fulham deadlock. Aaron Hughes miscontrolled Simon Davies` pass and Arshavin was alive to the error, picking up the loose ball before releasing Nasri on the right hand side of the area. What followed was a sublime example of composure and control. He first feinted inside Hangeland, sending the giant Norwegian sprawling on his backside, before repeating the trick on Aaron Hughes, sealing his humiliation and then unleashing an emphatic left foot finish into the roof of Scwarzer`s net. The strains of KC and the Sunshine Band were warming the cockels of the Ashburton natives.

From here the home side looked ready to re-establish home soil as an impenetrable fortress. Song and Nasri played an effective one two on the right, Nasri cushioning the ball out of the air and swaggering past young Fulham left back Briggs in one movement, Nasri motored into the box and pulled back for Arshavin, but he can only prod his finish into the grateful arms of Scwarzer from close range. Young Briggs was then spared by Mark Hughes, suc h was the torrid time he was getting from Arsenal`s creative sophisticado. The Gunners` next threat emanated from the right again, but this time it was Tomas Rosicky who clipped in an inch perfect cross, which Alex Song contrived to volley wide from 10 yards. But just when you were questioning whether Arsenal would extend their lead and by how much, Fulham were back in it. Squillaci and Koscielny were guilty of miscommunication and a sickening clash resulted, with the back of Squillaci`s head smashing into Koscielny`s face. Koscielny did not go down but the referee still should have stopped the game. The nature and the severity of the clash was very, very clear to everyone in the stadium. Kosciely didn`t go down it`s true, but the rule doesn`t say he has to and though he tried to carry on initially (to his credit, some idiotic bloggers have chastised him for not going down. If you`ve ever received a very hard blow to the face you will know that your brain goes a little bit fuzzy. Car crash victims have been known to get out of their vehicles and walk for several yards with broken bones and severe internal bleeding), it was soon clear that he couldn`t as he buried his face in his hands. Clint Dempsey flicked a ball through to Kamara, in the exact position Koscielny would have been defending and Kamara slotted a smart finish past Fabianski.

Koscielny was soon laid out and had to be carried off. I don`t care that he didn`t go down, everyone in the stadium could see Koscielny was staggering and in big trouble. A referee`s number one priority, before anything else, is to ensure the safety of all participating players. He was in dereliction of duty on that occasion, you can`t just think that because a player has not hit the deck that he is not suffering a bad head injury, you have to be a bit more attentive than that when the players` safety is your responsibility. As it turned out it wouldn`t have been a difficult judgement call had some common sense been applied. It was crystal clear Koscielny was suffering a head injury to everyone inside the stadium. If a guy is staggering after a facial blow of that severity, you have to stop the game. At one point in the second half, Foy stopped the game when Etuhu was down holding his ankle. Is it any wonder players` constantly manipulate this rule? But the Gunners seemed to symbolically reel from the blow too, staggering punch drunk, Fulham could have moved into the lead. Etuhu`s prodded through ball somehow made it through to Kamara again, who was about a foot offside, but was allowed to go but Fabianski made a smart block on this occasion.

Half time and we were once again left to wonder how exactly the game was level. Fulham began to close us down ravenously in midfield and with our dangerously high defensive line and Kamara constantly looking to peel away on the shoulders of the centre halves, the Cottagers suddenly looked dangerous. The Gunners struggled to establish a rhythm in the second half, Song was crowded out in the area and the ball popped up to Rosicky, whose volley flew just wide. Arshavin saw a shot blocked on the edge of the area, the ball cannoned into the air and Wilshere intelligently headed to Nasri. Samir Nasri nudged the ball to Arshavin who dummied past Hangeland, only to find Mark Schwarzer`s legs blocking his path to goal. Fulham were finding opportunities, Aaron Hughes flicked on Simon Davies` corner to Zoltan Gera on the back post, Fabianski flapped and was fortunate to see van Persie on the line to hack Gera`s header away. The away side looked to get high balls into the area to trouble the Arsenal backline and it was Hangeland this time who flicked on a Murphy free kick and Gera`s bicycle kick drifted narrowly wide.

Arsenal were in a little spot of bother and needed one of their big players to step up with a piece of magic. Their biggest player of the season so far did not disappoint. Arshavin played the ball into a marginally offside van Persie, the Dutchman had the presence of mind to control the ball and play it into the onrushing Nasri., He ducked, weaved and bobbed past Hughes and Pantsil, Schwarzer looked like he had forced Nasri wide enough to limit the danger, but Nasri spun at a tight angle and hooked the ball into the net. A quite exquisite goal, the close control was even more impressive than in his first goal, where the ball was totally under his spell. On this occasion he was tip toeing without full control of the ball, amongst a littany of legs in a crowded penalty area. The crowd audibly dropped when he took the ball wide of Schwarzer, my first reaction was to look at who was coming into the area since I was fully expecting a cut back. The spin was a fantastic piece of thinking and execution. If the Player of the Season votes were being cast now (the PFA votes are cast in February!) this guy would be close.In any successful season, you see players step up to become heroes. Think of 2001-02 and Pires and Ljungberg playing above themselves.

Thereafter, it was clear that the poor recent home record played on the players minds as a nervy final 15 minutes endured, an edgy crowd exacerbating the stomach knotting finale. Johan Djourou headed a Davies cross just wide of his own post. Then Gera`s cross caused consternation in the area, Murphy won the flick on and the ball ricocheted to Dickson Etuhu, who swept the ball inches wide. Nasri and Song were both limping by this stage, but with all substitutions made, they were left to soldier on. Danny Murphy played yet another high ball into the Arsenal area, Etuhu chested it down and Gera`s dipping volley was well saved by Fabianski. The goalkeeper did particularly well to palm the ball away from danger with the ball dipping just as it reached him. In the end, te final whistle was music to some edgy ears. News that Chelsea had conceded a late equaliser against Everton filtered in to add to our sense of bonhomie. The early signs in this game were very good, with Nasri and Arshavin wreaking havoc, but we took too long to recover from the blow of the Fulham equaliser. Fulham caused us problems, both with Kamara`s pace and with high balls into the area. But ultimately, Nasri was the difference, he had the class and poise in the area that Fulham could not match- despite their opportunities. The game was symptomatic of a Premiership season which provides few easy games. Hopefully, the win will dispel the sort of nervy "what we have, we hold" tactics of the last 15 minutes. In the second half we got the job done and that`s the important thing. Nasri is fast becoming the most important player in our team, with Fabregas hamstrung, Nasri`s rise has been as necessary as it has been impressive. Long may it continue.LD.

21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY (20.Djourou `33), 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE (14.Walcott `73), 7.ROSICKY (c) (10.v.Persie `63), 8.NASRI, 23.ARSHAVIN, 29.CHAMAKH. Unused: 15.Denilson, 28.Gibbs, 52.Bendtner, 53.Szczesny.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday December 5 2010

Time: 2:42PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
The boy is majestic...and I say boy, many people forget he is still only 23! Lets just hope his head is not turned by the whores of spain who will no doubt be prostituting themselves for him this summer. Hopefully he is well aware that former Arsenal players who thought the grass was greener in la liga were proved very wrong! Hleb bit the apple and now hes plying his trade at Brum.
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05/12/2010 14:54:00

It appears, LD, you know something we don't when writing 'it's going to be a big season for...' Last year, after featuring in your pre-season miniseries, certainly in the first half of the season, like Nasri this time around, Diaby was the one who nailed down a first team place with a series of terrific performances and started becoming a fans favourite (albeit he wasn't as influential as Sami has been so far this year). I'm impressed, and, to keep this omen going, can you please predict that van Persie will stay injury free, Cesc will sign a new 28-year deal and tell Barca to ***** off and leave him alone, and that Clichy's occasional brain farts are eradicated? Cheers. Onto the game, I can't say anything about Nasri that hasn't been noted already, but what a player he's becoming. Big shout outs to Sagna and Djourou who defended admirably throughout. Big few weeks coming up, let's hope the boys can come through it relatively unscathed.
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05/12/2010 15:55:00

I had always believed that Nasri was one of our best finishers. Look at the goals he scored against Hull and United in his first season. It was just frustrating that he was rarely in the box to put away those chances. We all saw in pre-season how driven he was after Domenech snubbed him, but that was a completely different player as to the one we are seeing now. In pre-season he was more of playmaker much like Cesc, but now he is making more runs almost Walcottesque into the area and putting away his chances, I think its the third game running he has rounded the keeper. The two goals at White Hart Lane really kick-started his season I think, he really started believing he should be scoring more goals, and he now doesn't rush his chances and plays naturally and if there is a more natural dribbler in the premier league then I'd like to know.
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05/12/2010 16:24:00

It's great to see a player at Arsenal breaking his programming and trying to go and make things happen, instead of always feeling he has to pass and make pretty shapes.
Tony Rocky Horror
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05/12/2010 19:33:00

Don't look now, TRH, but you sounded genuinely dignified back there; almost complimentary, even.
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05/12/2010 20:48:00

I thought the lads played a little with the brakes on, perhaps with the week ahead in mind. Owing to the failure to qualify early to the Knock-out stages of the CL, we now have to play the midweek game with a strong squad, with Man U to come on Monday. On the other hand, our Monday opponents have had the weekend 'off' and can afford some rotation midweek. I think we are in for a nervy December but it will be one we will end up being proud of, in the end. I am certain of it.
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05/12/2010 20:59:00

Instead of always trying to play football?
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05/12/2010 22:32:00

RVP was ON side for the second goal
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05/12/2010 22:42:00

RvP was momentarily (literally nanoseconds) offside when the ball was played to him and onside by the time the ball reached him. But pretty nigh impossible to have been able to say for sure with the naked eye.
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05/12/2010 23:40:00

I find it hard to fault the ref for not stopping the play when Koscielny was injured. In real time, with a lot of stuff happening around him, it might not have been immediately obvious that Kos was in such a bad way. I agree, it's sad that players have to hit the deck in order to get noticed by referees, but unfortunately that's the way it is. Credit to Kos for trying to stay on his feet actually, it's the kind of determination we are often accused of lacking. I actually thought Clichy could have done better for the Fulham goal; he was in his LB position but with no Fulham players anywhere near him, perhaps he should have came over to cover Kos.
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06/12/2010 00:26:00

LD - I know you're a stickler for detail when it comes to your match reports so I thought I'd point out a bit of a flaw in this particular article - In the sub heading you're two "na"s short :P
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06/12/2010 07:54:00

Great from Samir, but another unconvincing performance in terms of defensive play. And, like Arseblogger in his piece today, reading Wenger's remarks about positioning Song are truly startling. I can't believe Arsene was pointing our defensive frailties as the cause of our problems last season and yet ask Song to bomb forward and leave us even more exposed. Little wonder that the team looks so open to play against and we're conceding so many goals.
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06/12/2010 09:54:00

We've actually conceded less goals than at this stage last season and have the 3rd best defence in the league. Song going forward isn't a problem if one of his team mates fills in, which is one of the reasons Wilshere has fitted in so well, because he knows when to sit and when to go forward. Wenger's comments about fooling the opposition are an acknoweldgement that the midfield is more fluid and the threat is harder to identify.
Little Dutch
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06/12/2010 09:58:00

It would be interesting to know whether we are conceding fewer free kicks around our box this season. One advantage of having our more agressive midfielder playing further forward is that any fouls committed should also be further up the field. Winning, or attempting to win the ball higher up the pitch can be a positive in that sense. I don't think that our defensive performance was unconvincing at all against Fulham. Take away the unfortunate incident with Koscielny and we weren't threatened that much really.
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06/12/2010 10:08:00

I'm not entirely sure about that. Our high line was almost breached a couple of times, only a couple of wrong lino decisions prevented 1 or 2 one on ones.
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06/12/2010 10:37:00

Good write up, can't have a pop at the ref though in my humble opinion - one thing that we'd need to do to really reach the top is master the dark arts ala Inter vs Drogba / Barce last year. Kos should've gone down.
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06/12/2010 10:42:00

That's another advantage of playing a high line. It's a tighter call for the lino when the other side are playing it from so far back. Plus you give yourself more recovery space. Our defence did ok. What affected our play more was conceding the equaliser. We looked a little unnerved for a time after that.
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06/12/2010 11:07:00

Playing a high line does give you more recovery space, but that doesn't really help when we've got Squillaci and Djourou in the centre. If Kamara had played a little smarter yesterday, he would've been through many times. And the times he did get through, we were nowhere near catching him.
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06/12/2010 11:13:00

I don't think any of our central defenders are particularly slow but part of the trick would be to stop the ball reaching Kamara in the first place - or to make sure he's offside. It's as much about us playing smarter as it is Kamara. Seeing as Kamara was taken off mid-way through the 2nd half it's fair to assume that our defence was getting it somewhere near right.
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06/12/2010 11:31:00

That's about right, Amos. If Kamara was doing such a terrific job, the Manager would obviously stick with him. Truth is Djourou made nonsense of the long-ball-over-the-top threat while the high line ensured some doubt in the linos mind for most of Kamara's break aways; rightly too, on all the occasions (Yes, Rocky 7).
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06/12/2010 11:48:00

I remember at least two wrong calls, one was clearly wrong. It's a risky business, I'm not sure they are risks we should be taking.
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06/12/2010 11:54:00

Well, Amos we'll really see whether your theory's correct next Monday up north. Not against relegation candidates at home. I think if Song plays too high up the pitch we're gonna get crucified, luckily not as bad as if they had Ronaldo, but beat, none the less. If you can't see issues in there that need addressing then you're watching the game through different glasses to a lot of us, i'm just hoping all this Wenger's "i tell song to play up there" is just PR on his part and we see a very dsiciplined game from him this week and on Monday, if not then we're in severe trouble.
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06/12/2010 11:58:00

Apart from the first 25 minutes when we seemed to be tearing Fulham apart, I never felt sure we would win. More so after the clash of heads Fabianski seemed not to be able to kick from the back to any of our forwards; in fact at times he failed to even clear pass the halfway line. It is true he made a few saves but he seemed to return to his old ways. Clichy I'm sorry to say has not filled me with any confidence at all and I'm at loss as to why Gibbs is still warming the bench. Theo seems to have lost his confidence also. Apart from a few passages of play RVP was just making up the numbers. Or am I being to critical?
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06/12/2010 12:17:00

So you reckon the whole theory will be proved or disproved on one game away at OT do you shewore? Simply on the deployment of one midfielder. No differences in approach depending on whether we are playing home or away or relative strength of the opposition? Of course there are issues to address! Who is arguing anywhere that there isn't??? All that's being discussed is the relevant advantages and disadvantages of playing a high line or employing midfielders in a more flexible role- not some great struggle to decide who is right or wrong. It can easily be the right tactic on some occassions and wrong on others.
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06/12/2010 12:34:00

I have to say I thought Clichy was absolutely terrific on Saturday, only Nasri and AA were better.
Little Dutch
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06/12/2010 12:37:00

I thought Clichy, Sagna, Squilacci and Djourou all played very well. The fact we still looked vulnerable in defence and they all had decent games sums up the ridiculous situation in midfield. Song playing high up the pitch is causing more problems than its worth, it hasn't increased out goal output (40 at this stage last year compared to 36 this) and at times we are a shambles at the back.
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06/12/2010 12:48:00

Alwaysgunner, think you are wrong about Clichy on Saturday. He was almost back to his best, anticipating passes, staying close to his man without committing the tackle too early, covering for the CBs (except for Kamara's goal, which was understandable with Kos out for the count, on his feet) and going forward defending from the front well. Theo worries me, though.
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06/12/2010 12:49:00

Rocky 7, perhaps I had Arsene's glasses on, but I thought the offside calls were spot on, every time. Why, I still feel Kamara could have been slightly offside for his goal, even. Well, these things do happen and who's complaining this time?
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06/12/2010 12:52:00

The problem I find with Song's "new" position is that it invariably means that when we are chasing a game, Song is further forward than Wilshere and I know who I would prefer to have the ball on the edge of the box. When we were behind to Newcastle the one time I remember Wilshere on the edge of the box he played a lovely ball to Walcott who hit the bar. Also, had Song's change fallen to Wilshere inside the box on Sat I think he'd have done better ala his volley in pre season.
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06/12/2010 13:11:00

Whatever the concerns about Songs positioning it had nothing to do with the goal we conceded at the weekend. He was where you'd want him to be - though he committed to a tackle too early. I'm not sure that the passing chalkboard that Arseblog uses is neccessarily the best indication of positioning on the pitch - you are more likely to step forward and make a pass when the team is in possession. It matters more where he is when we don't have the ball. A wider measure of his positioning is available on the telegraph site where you can have the option to select the balls played by zone (as in this link ). I'm not saying that he doesn't venture too far forward at times but it isn't quite as dramatic as might be believed from the Guardians chalkboards.
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06/12/2010 14:09:00

Kind of makes me think how much I underestimated him.
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06/12/2010 15:44:00

The ref needs re-training. I had to watch the highlights on MOTD but could see that Kos and Squillaci had a very nasty coming together. It must have been sickening to witness it down on the pitch but the ref seemed to think that Fulham’s attempt on goal was more important than the well-being of Kos. As far as our defence goes, everyone knows that it is fragile and has been for a few seasons now. Yes, everyone else is as inconsistent but there is little point in comparing our poor stats to theirs. I’d rather not be the tallest dwarf (LD’s expression), I want us to be a giant. We have to focus on defence.
Sir Henry
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06/12/2010 17:48:00

Been watching football for over 40 yrs (played it in high school & college, still do on occasion). Watched a LOT of games in person and on TV. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've seen something as extraordinary as what Nasri did on Saturday. At my local "soccer bar" in Brooklyn (with fellow gooners and rival supporters) the entire bar fell silent for about 4 seconds before reacting. Just unbelievable. // As for AW's comments re we finally know the player's just been doing what AW has told him to do. It means what I've believed for some time now: AW does not prioritize defense at all, he doesn't prioritize balance between defense & attack at all. It's just not very important to him. He doesn't care about conceding a lot of goals as long as we score more. And now he's decided that the position of the defensive midfielder is an unnecessary luxury for Arsenal-we don't need one apparently. We don't need anyone to protect the back four. If we were Barca who almost never lose possession and who are in perfect synch with each other and pass to each other quickly and precisely, we'd be ok for the most part. But we're not. It beggars belief that a manager so intelligent and experienced, so attuned to developments in the modern game, has decided that no one in our team needs to play as a defensive midfielder. No wonder it's pretty easy to figure us out.
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06/12/2010 17:54:00

Also, Song has clearly struggled in his new role, it's not what he does best, he's had a terrible season, he was awful on Saturday. Saying Wilshere can just sit back while Song goes forward is a ludicrous waste of talent.
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06/12/2010 17:59:00

Song has not had a terrible season if one goes by hard stats and chalboards. He has had three bad games but then also seven or eight good ones - that doesn't make a bad season. He is definitely learning to be a box to box midfielder and doesn't seem to have the most tireless of engines but he has undoubtedly been more effective than he has been given credit for. Some match winning goals and two excellent assists.

Wilshere would be excellent further up the pitch as well and could get that chance as he develops further. For now he has been assigned to be a defensive midfielder who can be a deep lying playmaker.
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06/12/2010 19:24:00

I think the point is that both Song anf Wilshere are adding strings to their bows in a bid to make them more complete midfield players. Seemed to work for Vieira and Petit. The team and the individuals work much better when you have felxible individuals as opposed to rigid individuals. It makes the players better and it makes it more difficult for the opposition to detect the threat. Nobody can tell me Wilshere looks a worse player this season now he's learning to play slightly deeper.
Little Dutch
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06/12/2010 19:44:00

I agree LD, AW has always had the philosophy of turning every young player into the "complete" player. When you have players on the opposition who can pretty much interchange with everyone else, it kind of makes the opposition's job that little bit harder. For one your harder to man mark....when instructions are given out to players from the gaffer to "keep him in your pocket", That's all well and good if he wants to stay in your pocket! The way we play with players interchanging, it pulls opposition players all over the park....creating acres of space. It will only do the likes of wilshere, and the team the world of good of being able to play comfortably all over the park (within reason) obviously. After seeing how good nasri can finish (especially his composure in front of goal) Im surprised that AW didn't play him upfront instead of Arshavin last season when we were in an injury pickle! I actually think he could do a job there! Saying that his best position is just off the striker in my opinion, but its a nice luxury to have. Be interesting to hear your views on him playing up top (when needed of course).
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06/12/2010 22:26:00

In one of Wilshere's interviews he was saying how much he enjoyed working with Song because they comunicate with each other, when one goes forward, the other one holds. If you watch they do, do this 90% of the time. Logically when you're on the attack the more people you have there the better so i don't see Song pushing forward as a bad thing at all. As long as Wilshere (or whoemever) holds. Rocky7 - i'm pretty sure only one of Fulhams runs was onside and it wouldn't particually have been a one on one because he (Kamara i believe?) was quite far out to his left. Nasri i think is simply playing to his potential, he's always been an exceptional talent but i think the last 2 seasons have been a little bit held up with inuries for him to get where he is fully (also he was still very young and new to the PL). Just think, against Man U We could have Cesc, AA, RVP & Nasri all in the starting line up ...can anyone remember the last time that happened? That's a forward line to make any defenders panick.
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07/12/2010 06:37:00

@jaelle: did you see the Barca-Real game a week back? Was that one of the handful of extraordinary things you've seen? It was definitely for me!
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07/12/2010 14:31:00

Fuikaka: They are 4 world class attackers. Not many teams bar Arselona that can boast having that in there starting 11....dont forget Wilshere. Mouth watering indeed!
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07/12/2010 17:19:00

If Nasri can stay on this amazing form and Fabs and RVP come back to they're form ...well, it would be rather quite amazing.
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08/12/2010 04:06:00


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