Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday March 19 2007
A wise man once oppined that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Yesterday was well and truly one of those days. A last minute sucker punch, a few minor cuts to the head, within inches of being knocked out, traffic jams and train failures all contributed to a miserable day.
Waking at around 6am, I felt in an unusually positive mood for such an ungodly hour. We moved through traffic into schizophrenic weather conditions, torrential rain giving way to brilliant sunshine, but a persistent biting wind made sunglasses, gloves and a tin hat necessary artefacts. As is usually the case, the home side stated their intentions swiftly, hitting a barrage of long balls towards Andrew Johnson. It would take some Jens Lehmann heroics to shake Arsenal from their inertia. Johnson grappled with Gilberto for a high ball, forcing the Brazilian to loop the ball over his own keeper. But Lehmann got back to thwart Johnson. The Evertonians were bayong for a penalty, which was a laughable claim. My opinion of Everton fans is entirely polarised. Anybody who has visited Goodison Park will realise that they are undisputably, the moaniest bunch of supporters on the planet, any slight tackle invites deranged screams of injustice, chesting the ball induces a 40,000 strong chorus of 'HANDBALL!' Followed by an indignant cry of persecution thereafter. On one hand, this is entirely annoying and at times laughable. On the other hand, I admire their partisan support and the way they apply pressure to referees. I cannot help but think we could do with being a bit more intimidating at the Grove.
Arsenal weathered the early storm and the terrific Diaby began to run the game. His long, lolloping limbs dominated the midfield (though Manuel Fernandes did produce a quite magnificent piece of skill in the first half, beating off three players with a series of dragbacks and feints). Fabregas and Diaby showed real signs of chemistry, Diaby's enthusiasm rubbed off on Cesc who crashed into tackles on Carsley and Fernandes, while Diaby appeared infected by Cesc's technical majesty, marauding forward to great effect. Unfortunately for us, we just did not have the cutting edge upfront. Baptista and Aliadiere are fine players, but neither really knows how to lead the line. On Wednesday night, Baptista was entrusted with leading the line and had a poor game, Jeremie had a reasonable match. This time around, Baptista went deep and showed some good link up play and utilised his strength while Aliadiere was muted. Adebayor, van Persie and Henry are all more effective at leading the line and carrying a threat, Aliadiere and Baptista are the type of players who thrive on that service.
There was to be a scare for either side before the break, Lee Carsley's rasping shot arrowed towards the top corner only to crash back off the post. While the Gunners built up a head of steam at the conclusion of the first half, culminating in a wicked Diaby volley flying just over. A scrappy game opened up ever so slightly in the second half, Baptista began to use his upper body strength to ward off Yobo as Rosicky became more involved. A wonderful piece of Gunners football nearly brought about the opening, Hoyte played a disguised ball to Rosicky down the left, he got to the touchline and pulled back for Aliadiere, but he connected with the ball as it was rising rather than when it was dropping and the end result was that he skied it over the bar. Profligacy has become a problem of great antiquity for Arsenal under Wenger, and I think Bendtner's return might be the antidote in Arsene's eyes. Of what I have seen from him, he does not mind being a little untidy in the box, turning defenders and finishing well. Time will tell.
Everton would again rattle the woodwork, a goalmouth scramble saw Arsenal unable to clear their lines and Leon Osman prodded the ball against the bar. Jens would throw his customary hissy fit when James Vaughan went in to the German studs showing and Jens stupidly kicked out. It looked like the referee, who had an excellent game, would have punished Vaughan without Jens's childish riposte. Arsenal continued to dominate possession, but the final ball was nearly always lacking, or not played with sufficient urgency. With ten minutes remaining the Gunners appeared to run out of legs and the feeling of impending doom was palpable. A biting wind blew mercilessly into the visitor's section, causing the travelling ransk to amusingly chant, 'jump up, if you're f*****g cold!' An Arteta free kick sent hearts fluttering, before the final sickening blow. Everton won a corner just as the board for injury time was rasied, Johnson challenged on the front post, once again Arsenal did not sufficiently clear their lines and Andrew Johnson latched onto the loose ball to power it through the most miniscule of gaps. Our inability to defend set pieces is by no means esoteric and it has torn our season apart. I make this the fifteenth goal we have conceded from a set piece this season, maybe it is the symptom of a backline that is constantly changing, but it is a problem that has to be identified and we must be more emphatic in these situations.
The final whistle sounded and Phil Neville lamped the ball purposely and maliciously into the visitors section, missing yours truly in the front row of the upper tier by inches. Had the ball risen about four inches higher it would have beat the advertising board and hit me full in the face, certainly knocking me unconscious and possibly even breaking my nose. Cowardly acts of antagonism seem to run in the Neville family. Anybody who sat in the Clock End when United beat us 4-2 two years ago will be aware of his gesturing and spitting towards Arsenal supporters, as well as Gary's big, brave salute to travelling Liverpool fans, who did not have a legion of stewards, police or a bulletproof coach to journey home in. Had I formailsed a similar return towards the ugly sister Phillipa (who is not at all inbred by the way), I would have been arrested. Freddie was suitably enraged by Neville's stupidity and remonstrated with him furiously. Philippa being the big brave, and not at all inbred, girl she is, ran away from Freddie like a playground brat. As we left the ground and ventured towards the coach, hailstones the size of marbles (I am not exaggerating) pelted down on us, drawing a tiny bit of blood from yours truly. Not exactly the biggest weather disaster suffered by the human race, but it exacerbated a poor day as the phone ins were full of know it all Gooners, fuelled by Roy of the Rovers comics and Championship Manager, tellign Wenger we should get rid of x,y and z and bring in a,b and c. To these people I give you a list of topical examples. Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, Chelsea all changed their squads quite dramatically and packed them with big signings. They are all performing worse in the league this year than they did last year. Manchester United and Reading barely tinkered with their squads and are the Premiership's two success stories. If someone is available for the right price who will improve the side, by all means get them. But these adolescent, 'got, got, need, swapsies' policies suggested by some just doesn't play in the real world. The raw materials of the team are there, I know they are constantly calibrated against the Invincibles, but that side took three years of Cup Final defeats and 1-0 away reverses to foster. Lest we forget that the summer before our unbeaten season, we signed Clichy, Senderos and Lehmann. Stability will always be the key, I think a winger to replace Freddie and possibly a penalty box striker (maybe Bendtner). But there is no need for alarm, I feel a draw would have been fair, but well done Everton, they took their big chance. Injuries have ravaged our season, as has our poor concentration at set pieces. But these are fixable, identifiable problems. A case of evolution, not revolution methinks.
My journey home was awash with traffic jams, before finally making it to Victoria station to the news that my train would not arrive for 1 hour and 45 minutes. I then somehoiw contrived to lose a ten pound note, which made paying for the cab home from the station interesting! I eventually arrived home at 2am, exhausted and truly hacked off. A question in closing. On Saturday, Coward Webb awarded a controversial penalty to West Ham, a melle ensued with Zamora and Emerton clawing at each other. Is this not exactly the same crime that the same referee sent Toure and Mikel off for? So by not acting in the same manner, is he not acknowledging that he made a mistake in Cardiff? Then why were Toure and Mikel's appeals turned down? Webb, you are a worthy adversary to your coward in arms Phil Neville. God, imagine what their children would be like! Ugh! LD.
Date:Monday March 19 2007
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