Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday February 17 2007
Following the 6-2 thriller against Blackburn in December, Arsene Wenger told a receptive press, 'It is never boring here.' This evening that claim feels a little hollow following a drab 0-0 with Blackburn in a game diametrically opposed to the enthralling league encounter. All I can say is that the Gunners must really be enjoying their football at the moment, because they seem to want to play as much of it as possible. Arsenal need another fixture like Paul Daniels needs a haircut and yours truly, whose employment is still on probationary terms, could really do without another midweek away fixture oop North.
The Dutch dude has been laid low by a painful throat infection the last couple of days. But going against all medical advice, I clambered limply from my sick bed this morning, in spite of the nausea and diziness, not to mention a voice box that sounds like Bob Dylan having smoked thirty sandpaper cigars, I passed the late fitness test (to see if I could make a cup of tea without collapsing) and made my way to the Grove. Pre game, I made my first ever purchase from the Grove's catering facilities, my illness superceding my principles and forked out £1.50 for a bottle of water. Being an analytical individual, I read the label on the bottle, 'water from the Scottish highlands.' Those of you in the know will realise this means it is tap water. £1.50 for a bottle of tap water. Got to admire the business savy there.
Following their 6-2 hammering in December, and shorn of their chief attacking threats Gamst and McCarthy, Blackburn were hardly going to come up all guns blazing. Their primary objective was not to concede and it worked a treat for them. Ryan Nelsen was monumental at the back, I've always said that a sign of class is time on the ball, Nelsen always seems to get this and Rovers will have a fight on their hands swatting the predatory masses that will soon be vying for his signature. New signing Christophe Samba used his physical presence to great effect and the upshot was that Arsenal created little. The first half was an absolute non event. Both teams seemed quite content with 0-0, in fact at times it was like watching the Porto game all over again. Blackburn had no ambition of winning the game (I cannot blame them) and Arsenal lacked the guile/desire to break them down. Fabregas looked debilitated by fatigue, Gallas was incredibly rusty- which is to be expected and Arsenal's two wingers, Ljungberg and Walcott were bereft of any peneatration.
Walcott's first touch constantly let him down, and I think this elucidates his lack of confidence at present. Unfortunately, this is hardly surprising as our supporters have hyped him up to the nines and because he's not delivering hat tricks every game, people are beginning to question his talent. Shut up and let him play football. While Walcott has it all in front of him, Ljungberg is a shadow of the player he was five years ago, he is a one trick pony who cannot do his trick anymore. The first half saw just one opportunity, Gallas heading over from close range on six minutes. The Gunners did not appear keen to raise the tempo in the second half, apparently content to cram their fixture list with another replay as both sides ostensibly played for 0-0 (nobody can tell me that Arsenal bust a gut to win this game). It was only in the closing minutes that cruel reality dawned on the side that they created any chances. Aliadiere should have had a penalty after being tripped by Warnock. Rosicky and Adebayor's introductions from the bench livened up the attack as both players ran at the Rovers defence. Henry played a neat one two with Rosicky, but Brad Friedel stayed big to thwart Tommy Gun from close range.
The game's most glorious chance came with less than a minute left on the clock. Adebayor drove past Samba and pulled back for Henry, who went for style not substance as he flicked the ball up and limply prodded towards goal, Friedel tipped the ball out and Justin Hoyte arrived only to side foot into the outspread frame of Friedel. Surely a driven shot, hit powerfully with the laces would have been the better option. With all due respect, Hoyte was probably the last player on the pitch you would have wanted that to fall to. Blackburn deservedly held on for the draw and a replay. This will be another tough match, sandwiched between the Carling Cup Final and the second leg v PSV, to my mind some of the first team players just do not deserve to play in the replay, I think we should again deploy the likes of Diaby, Denilson show much more hunger and would give Fabregas, Toure etc a much needed rest.
A very disappointing day and one of our most unsatisfactory performances of the season. I simply cannot fathom why Arsenal thought a replay was in their interests, the desire to win the game was simply not evident. Fatigue is no excuse because of the starting eleven today, only Almunia and Toure were significantly involved on Wednesday. With the World Cup last summer, the Qualifying Rounds of the Champions League and the regular events of replays/extra time, fatigue could derail our cup assaults. We will only have ourselves to blame should it happen. The large banks of empty seats were hardly surprising. The lunatics at UEFA once again prize boring, useless international friendlies over fixture list common sense, so the Bolton replay meant we had only forty eight hours to sell tickets for a kick off interfered with by television. The drab encounter meant BBC got their just deserts, they cannot expect to see a quality encounter by switching this game to midday given that both teams were involved in tough away games on Wednesday night. Still, my Carling Cup Final ticket came today and I fly to Amsterdam on Monday, plenty to help me forget the Grove's most forgettable match. Anyhoo, I'm going back to bed. I really should have stayed there in the first place. LD.
P.S I have tried for the fourth consecutive time to post pictures with my match report, but the imageshack site is still down. It has been for a long time. Unfortunately, this will be the last time I attempt it. I really hoped putting some pictures with the report could add something, but on the rare occasions that the technology is up to it, the results are usually very poor, with pictures distorted or disappearing without explanation. This is a real shame, but I just do not have the time to sit here for two and a half hours with every report waiting to see if the computer feels like complying with my request. Apologies for this, I think this gave a unique dimension and I wanted to give those of you who live far away and do not get the chance to attend games a small slice of the action. Alas, it appears my inclination towards technophobia shows no sign of abating.
Date:Saturday February 17 2007
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