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Arsenal 3 Partizan Belgrade 1

Arsene spoke earlier in the month about Arsenal playing differently at home, "more direct" were his exact words. It appears after the experiment against Wigan last week and after last night, he thinks 4-4-2 might be the way to achieve that. When we saw the starting line up appear on the screen in the Tavern, I thought to myself that the system smacked of trying to accommodate players more than trying to find a way to play more directly. With Nasri, Arshavin, van Persie and Chamakh in your starting line up, you shouldn`t struggle to create chances. But if they`re all playing an unfamiliar role (which doesn`t really play to any of their strengths either), then you give yourself more problems than solutions in my opinion. Nevertheless, we trudged towards the stadium through the freezing, biting cold cautiously optimistic we could get the desired result against the group whipping boys.

However, Arsenal did not ever really establish a rhythm in the first half. Van Persie looked too far away from the areas in which he inflicts the most damage, Nasri and Arshavin were pretty well glued to the flanks, when both do their best work cutting in and interchanging, all of which left Chamakh completely isolated. The upshot was that Arsenal created very little to warm the cockles in the first half. Samir Nasri jinked on the right hand side and delivered a low cross which Chamakh prodded just wide. A soporific half was given a slightly maudlin feel when Kieran Gibbs hobbled off with a twisted ankle. Of his last seven Arsenal starts, five have resulted in early substitution. Hard not to feel sympathy for the guy, he should be a real challenger to Gael Clichy for that left back slot. The only time Arsenal really opened Belgrade up was when Arshavin delivered a defence slicing ball to Nasri, who had abandoned the rigid shackles of the 4-4-2 to drift to the left, Nasri attempted to stab the ball into the path of Chamakh standing in front of an inviting goal, but Medo just managed to toe end the ball out of the Moroccan`s reach. The Gunners rather laboured in front of a well drilled Partizan back line, until the half hour mark. Song flicked the ball into the path of van Persie in the area and the Dutchman was tripped in the area by a clumsy Jovanovic challenge. Such is his form and confidence that Nasri wanted to take the ball, but van Persie was aching to christen his number 10 shirt with his first goal of the season. Despite some heavy attempts at kidology by Stoijkovic, van Persie buried the penalty to the keeper`s left. That was largely that for the first half, Eboue showed a beguiling shift of feet to evade two Belgrade challenges and send a cross in with the outside of his right foot, only for Krstajic to slice over his own bar.

I was rather hoping that the system would change in the second half. I understand the need for adaptability, and I was all using the Wigan game to trial it. But this was a must win game and it wasn`t working. Much has been made by Wenger`s fiercest critics about his inability to shift in-game emphasis and watching him sit shivering for the whole second half offers him little defence on this occasion. That said, Arsenal did briefly brighten up at the beginning of the half. Arshavin played a through ball to Chamakh, but he was thwarted by Stojkovic. Denilson`s left wing cross then fell to Nasri, who got under the ball and lifted it over. But you know how it goes with Arsenal at home nowadays, the opposition only needs one shot to score. Petrovic found himself in an embarrassment of space in Arsenal`s final third, his lifted through ball found Cleo in a similar vacuum of tranquillity, allowing him to turn and fire a shot goalwards which took a wicked deflection off of Squillaci and ricocheted into the net. Unfortunate deflection you might say, but it was approaching a shambles that Cleo found so much time to turn and shoot on the edge of the area in the first place. Suddenly, nerves gripped the cold night air. Lots of possession, but lack of urgency, concession of soft goal with opponent`s first attempt. Sounding familiar.

The improvement on this occasion, was that Arsenal did not take too long to recover and reassume the initiative. Walcott came on for Arshavin and looked to make an immediate impact when Stefan Savic took Walcott out on the edge of the area, lest he latch onto van Persie`s flick. Stojkovic tipped over van Persie`s fizzing free kick. Nasri`s resulting corner caused anxiety in the Belgrade defence, the ball broke to Song on the back post but he tried to be too cute with his curling shot and got it badly wrong. But the pressure eventually told, Sagna`s right wing cross saw Savic stoop to head clear. He headed only as far as Walcott, who deftly chested the ball down and volleyed it into the corner of the net. The manager`s words pre match around Partizan fading in the latter stages of games proved to be prescient on this occasion. Arsenal soon had the game sown up. Alex Song`s nifty shift of feet saw the ball land at the feet of Nasri in the area, he tried to flick the ball back into Song`s path. The attempted flick did not come off, but when you`re on form, you tend to find serendipity and the ball landed perfectly back at his feet for him to swivel and steer the ball into the bottom corner. Relief.

The goal sees us equal the record with Spurs for the most goals cored in the group stages, with 18. (Real Madrid were the previous record holders with 15). But thoughts of breaking that record and claiming it for ourselves were put on ice when Lazevski found space in behind Sagna, the Frenchman ran to catch him and it looked from where I was sitting to be a tangle of legs. It`s harsh, but under those rules, Sagna has to go for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, whether or not he meant it. Arsenal were content to play out the result and secure the win they needed to secure progression. It was a night upon which we got the result and not a lot else really. The lack of competition Belgrade face in their own league means that have struggled to maintain for 90 minutes in this group stage, which is where we benefitted. I don`t think this performance would have beaten a Premiership side. The formation made us too predictable and left too many players either stuck in their pigeon holes, or else unsure of what they were supposed to be doing. It was disjointed and a poor display against a poor team. However, the recriminations are essentially worthless, we got through, though we were guilty of meekly surrendering top spot to Shakhtar with our complacency in Ukraine. That said, I am of the opinion that you have to beat the leading lights to win this tournament anyway, so finishing second in the group has never particularly troubled me. In fact, a win against a big team usually gives sides the impetus to go on. Madrid in 2006 gave us the belief to get to the Final, Porto`s victory over Manchester United instilled the belief that they could beat all comers in 2004. That said, I rather hope I`m booking flights to Germany next week and not Spain.LD.

21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS (27.Eboue `24), 8.NASRI, 17.SONG, 15.DENILSON, 23.ARSHAVIN (14.Walcott `65), 10.v.PERSIE c, 29.CHAMAKH (52.Bendtner `76). Unused: 7.Rosicky, 11.Vela, 19.Wilshere, 53.Szczesny.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday December 9 2010

Time: 10:40AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Good article, i think the problem is with the 4-3-3 both Chamakh and RVP would occupy the central role to be at there best. I know RVP could play on either side, but i think he is best down the middle. He is good at get the ball to feet in and around the box, laying it of or finding space and shooting. I think he would be wasted either side. For that reason i think wenger wants to test out a more central role even though it has not really worked. On a slightly different note, i moved upper tier to sit with my mate and did not realise that in CL games they give an upper tier allocation to the away support. Between 150-200 Belgrade supporters with 2 stewards sitting behind them(one female). Apparantly this is for the corporate fans etc, seemed a bit risky with a few of them kicking off.
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09/12/2010 11:18:00

That's why I sort of accused AW of trying to accomodate. If he was going to play RvP, I think Chamakh should have dropped to the bench. Chamakh is much more effective away from home, I think that much is clear.
Little Dutch
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09/12/2010 11:24:00

Wow, I just watched the goals again. I also though Nasri tried a flick that didn't come off for that third goal. However, seeing it again, he actually "fakes" the flick - that was just outrageous ball control.
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09/12/2010 11:41:00

I see what your saying, but does that mean they would never play on the same side? Its hard to keep two top class players out of the starting lineup. I think somewhere down the line he(wenger) had to test a different formation to accomodate them together. Home games against Wigan(with Bendtner) & Belgrade probably was seen as a good time to test it out.
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09/12/2010 11:46:00

With RvP and Bendtner fit, it's very difficult to see how we're going to accomodate all these forward players. Maybe it's time to give Chamakh a breather and instill RvP in his place and maintain the 4-3-3. But where does that leave Bendtner? I can see him moving on tbh because he'll think he's probably ranked third in his favoured position centrally up front. That said, you can't really rely on having a fit RvP all season.
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09/12/2010 12:44:00

Yeah Nasri was in complete control of the ball for his goal, he sold them all down the river without ever letting go, a cracking piece of skill from a cracking player!
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09/12/2010 12:47:00

Also - the record for goals scored in the group stages is 20 by Manchester United (And they didn't even finish top). Please don't give Spuddies all the more reason to gloat about their first outing in the the CL. lol
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09/12/2010 12:51:00

I fancy you against anybody except The 2 Spanish giants (I think they would destroy anybody) but your style is more suited to Europe i think and you would beat Bayern comfortably
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09/12/2010 13:38:00

An honest accurate read LD which I totally agree with apart from your closing statement about beating the top teams. Don't mean to be negative but that was the easiest group we've ever had in the Champions League and we just scraped out of it. Do you really honestly believe we will get to the next stage? I admire your optimism but I have more expectations in the Carling Cup.
Wyn Mills
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09/12/2010 13:40:00

Formation was more 4-2-4 at times, there was an appalling lack of fluency simply because it was too congested at the top end (With Song joining in at times). Hopefully we can get a settled formation in place, We weren't so terrible last year that we should be experimenting with Song Dashing forward, 4 strikers etc, just a few tweaks were all that were needed.
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09/12/2010 13:52:00

Song 'dashing forward' is one reason we are looking horribly exposed at the back in recent games. If Wenger doesn't get this sorted out by the time we meet Utd or Barcelona we could be on the end of a good tonking.
Wyn Mills
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09/12/2010 13:56:00

There again, Song set up two goals on an evening where we didn't create much. I think what happens in the group stage counts for little when the knockouts start, this is when the competition proper starts. Barca squeezed out of their group in the last game last season by beating Rubin Kazan. Basically, if we want to win the thing, we've got to play those teams, so why not now? Beating one of them early in the knockouts would give us a great boon. In 09 when we got to the semis, we got ***** easy draws then ended up getting tonked by United in the semis, which was a bit pointless really.
Little Dutch
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09/12/2010 13:59:00

Bah, glad you could make it!!
Tony Rocky Horror
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09/12/2010 14:07:00

Sometime or later we will have to beat a top seed or two. But it just makes more sense to me to limit the number you have to beat. What's the point in stacking the odds against yourself? Bravado?
Wyn Mills
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09/12/2010 14:16:00

Firstly, good report, LD. Secondly, credit to Song too for his controlled footwork prior to releasing the ball to Nasri for the 3rd goal. Thirdly, nothing wrong with getting a favourite or big side (we are big, too anyway) in the next stage, if that is going to be our lot. It is all about focus and preparation; as I recall, prior to reaching the finals of the CL in '06, we had to knock out some European "giants, including Milan, Juve and Real Madrid (if my memory serves me well). At this stage, nothing may be taken for granted by any side. My views.
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09/12/2010 17:24:00

Not every game goes to plan and the game against Braga was one such game. Finishing top would have been great and what we have been used to in the past but we cant take that for granted every year. Our expectation with regard to performance in the CL over the last decade has sky rocketed. We are European giants now but were only English giants a decade back. It will be great to progress against a CL title contender next round. Just like we dont look forward to playing the likes of Barca or Real they regard us as a dangerous team who can hurt them as well.
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09/12/2010 18:58:00

Nasri was the best player for me but Theo did change the whole game when entering the fray. A good win but shame about Sagna who I felt was extremely unlucky and at worst deserved a yellow.
SFC Forever
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09/12/2010 21:28:00

European giants? I don't think we'll really be considered European giants until we've carried off the European Cup. We're a good european team. That's all.
Wyn Mills
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09/12/2010 23:26:00

We should really find a way to get Chamakh and RVP to play together, because they have very different qualities and neither is the complete forward. RVP is rubbish in the air, while Chamakh lacks a striker's instinct with the ball at his feet. IF they could gel together, it is a very potent combination.The Chamakh-RVP conundrum is reflective of a broader issue with Arsenal in that Wenger does not have a single player who is a natural wide midfielder - they are either strikers or attacking midfielders. RVP was once a winger, I wonder if he could revert to that? He seems too slow these days.
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10/12/2010 02:35:00

I see Ferguson has banned the snood at Utd. I may not like the man much but I have to say he knows what he's doing. I hate this piece of clothing which to me can do nothing but encourage more of this player pampering culture. What on earth are we doing issuing massive blankets, scarfs and undoubtedly hot water bottles to the subs on the bench? Are these guys men or kids? If they're cold get them to run up and down the touchline!
Wyn Mills
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10/12/2010 09:13:00

It wasn't pretty, but we got there! I would love to see Robin and Chamakh in the same team, but I think for that to work we would lose the balance of the rest of the team. Lets just enjoy the luxury of having players on the bench who CAN make a gives us a plan B and plan C, which in recent years we havent had! Now on to the next round.....I would put money on it that every Barca and Real fan will be hoping they don't get US in the draw! As complacent as this team has been this season, I would fancy us more over two legs against the Spanish twins then anyone else. Over the last decade or so our record against the European "heavyweights" Is not a bad one. Juve over 2 legs....Madrid in the Bernabeu, both the Milans in there back yard....some will say Barca hammered us last year. In 4 half's of football (you know what I mean) They mauled us for only 2 of them. If there was an extra 10 mins in the first game, we WOULD have won....we had them rattled and they couldn't wait for the whistle! Ive watched a lot of Barca games recently and the first half against us and the second in the second game, along with the game against Real the other week are the best Ive ever seen them play. We were just unlucky to meet them with a patchwork team while they were shooting from all cylinders. Yes Barca are a great team, but very beatable. We were very unlucky not to beat them in the 06 final with 10 men. If Henry decided to turn up that night we would have beaten them with 10 men let alone 11. What I'm getting at is we are due a win over Barca, and I for one wont be flinching if we get them out the hat. With a fit RVP, Nasri, Arshavin and Fabregas with cameo's from walcott, Rosicky, wilshere and Chamakh anything is possible. And I have a feeling that Nasri has yet to announce his presence on the European stage! This is what big European nights are about....playing the creme of Europe! Now bring on the next round.
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10/12/2010 10:14:00

Patrice Evra says today "For me, Arsenal is a football training centre. You watch the match, you enjoy it, but are you going to win a title afterwards? That's what people remember. It has been five years since they won anything and, for a big club like Arsenal, that is a crisis. "We can lose against them on the 13th but, at the end of the day, what is there [for Arsenal]? There is nothing. There are no trophies, there is nothing. Our real enemy is Chelsea. We are more concerned with Chelsea's results than those of Arsenal, even if we know Arsenal are a great team who can beat Chelsea, us [United] or anyone." I seriously suggest Wenger prints this out and pins it up in the dressing room if he has serious designs on winning the league.
Wyn Mills
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10/12/2010 10:47:00

I have no problem with the Snood, if a player is warm and not freezing his tits off then he will perform better. I have lost count how many times i have played sunday league football where my toes and fingers are frozen no matter how much running i do. No fun kicking a rock hard ball or studded on when you can barely feel your toes. Arguably our best two performers have worn snoods this season. Also running up and down the line for 70 minutes, starting and stopping does no good. Lastly is this the same Ferguson who allows Ryan Giggs to wear tights? Mind games
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10/12/2010 11:05:00

Wyn, at least, Evra is conceding defeat, already; and I agree the team needs no further motivation to win something this season. Interestingly, I am not sure other players or his manager agrees as I understand the Manure site has a picture of Nasri up, with Nani acknowledging Arsenal as their main title threat, now that Chelsea seems to be wavering. In the report, he has named Nasri as the danger. Same club, two players, different views......
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10/12/2010 13:05:00

I agree with Norman Hunter that apart from looking ridiculous they also pose a health hazard. What happens if someone grabs you from behind? That thing could actually throttle you. Its like wearing a scarf FFS. If you have to have something round your neck then what about the thermal undershirt with a short polo neck that RVP wears? Can't believe it also doesn't get very hot once you've been running around for 45 minutes. Let's be honest when you're playing its exactly your hands and feet that feel the cold most. There's enough heat produced by your body to keep your neck warm. Snoods make our lot look like a bunch of soft pr@ts.
Wyn Mills
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10/12/2010 13:11:00

NG, I think you're right. Utd are worried about us. I just hope we turn up at OT with real determination to shove Evra's words down his throat. To do that we need to be disciplined in the face of provocation as well as good on the ball.
Wyn Mills
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10/12/2010 13:17:00

I admit they look a bit poncey, but as long as the player wearing them plays well then i wont use it against him.
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10/12/2010 15:18:00

Norman Hunter concerned about players safety on the pitch?! Good one. It's all faux macho posturing. Who cares?
Little Dutch
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10/12/2010 15:27:00

More than a little irony about that statement, I agree.
Wyn Mills
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11/12/2010 13:39:00


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