Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday April 18 2007
Apologies, this one's gonna have to be a bit brief, work commitments and all. But I think fourth place is certainly sewn up now and we can set our sights on usurping a preoccupied Liverpool into third. It is important to finish the season strongly with the next campaign in mind. I want these players itching to come back to pre season training and firing on all cylinders by the time we journey to some European city or other in early August for our Champions' League qualifier.
I was always confident of a result last night, I am sure Wenger will have instructed his troops to win this game and get Champions' League qualification in the bag. The Gunners' flew out of the traps as well, playing more of the champagne football which we have betrayed somewhat in recent weeks. I think the temptation to hoof it to Adebayor has been all too difficult to resist and therein lies the key to our recent goal drought. With Hleb and Fabregas suffering a simultaneous dip in form in March, the creative cogs of the team haven't been firing. Arsenal played to their strengths infinitely in the opening period, playing the ball along the floor at speed. Hleb, Rosicky and Fabregas interchanged positions with great elasticity and Adebayor dropped off to link up play. City were chasing shadows and Arsenal took the lead half way through the first half. It was to be a carbon copy of the equaliser on Saturday, with a cross coming in from the right (I forget who put it in) and Tomas Rosicky once again attacked the ball from the back post, nicking in front of Nedum Onuoha and slotting between Isaksson's legs. Mr. Wenger has obviously had a dickie bird with Tommy Gun about attacking the ball in the box and it has paid a rich dividend in the last week. Many pontificate on Arsenal's lack of width, but this is simply not true, Arsenal hit a lot of crosses into the box in an average game, we just seldom have anyone attacking them. Let's hope Rosicky can keep this tendency going to supplement his long range shooting.
Rosicky was clearly the best player on the field last night, exuding energy and charisma. Hleb, Rosicky and Fabregas were in their element, pulling City apart at will. But theirein lay the problem, the game almost became too easy and the concentration dropped. A warning shot was fired when Beasley's goalbound effort was brilliantly blocked by the kinetic Clichy. The Gunners' didn't take the hint, a poor clearance under no pressure fell straight to Barton, who quickly fed Vassell and Eboue's poor awareness allowed Beasley in to score. Eboue and Jens had poor nights, the latter looking shaky and indecisive, while Eboue's concentration appeared to be sadly lacking. From here on, the Arsenal crowd really frustrated me. It seemed they just could not wait to jump on the players' backs, I swear I detected some kind of perverse pleasure in people barracking Arsenal's every move. Hleb, appointed scapegoat in chief by people who, frankly, just do not understand the game of football, was the target of most frustration. Never mind that this guy was at the heart of every balletic move in the first half, never mind his constant tackling back (did you know he has the highest tackle success rate at our club at 80%? Check the stats, he makes a lot of tackles too), the result was the team panicked under the weight of ignorant groaning. The fast football which was pulling City apart was not allowed to transpire as moron upon moron screamed, 'shooooot' or whailed impatience every time the ball reached the half way line. The upshot was that we resorted to pumping it long, which of course did not work. Fabregas was bypassed and his stranglehold on the game loosened. Hleb was visibly shaken by the crowd's moronic barracking and lost his confidence. This was chrystalized as he cut in from the right, with the goal at a tight angle and the pull back a safe option, in an attempt to appease increasingly childish 'supporters' he lashed it well wide with his left.
At one point, Arsenal ignored the 'pundits' and almost got their breakthrough. Adebayor brilliantly dummied Gilberto's pass, Rosicky read it like a copy of the matchday programme and ran onto the ball, pulling back for Adebayor, only for Distin to block his goalbound effort and deny football a piece of aesthetic mastery. Minutes later, the sheep went 'baaaaaaaaah', as a dipping Fabregas volley from twenty yards beat Isaksson, giving Arsenal a 2-1 lead with seventeen minutes remaining. I think a peak at the predictions on the forum will confirm just how predictably unpredictable football can be. Most people, your writer included, predicted a Fabregas goal, having gone 11 months without one it was inevitable he would get two in a row. Two weeks ago that shot would have cannonned off the post.
Arsenal readopted their fast flowing football again, with confidence imbued into their limbs and an appeased crowd. Hleb relaxed and, guess what? Without a stadium full of idiots shouting down his every move, he dribbled in beautifully from the right, swaying past Ball and Distin before demonstrating his low centre of gravity to nudge the ball past Dunne, into the path of Baptitsa who rolled home a tap in. A Samaras shot which was so wildly mishit, it ended up going out for a throw in about two yards behind where he had hit it from was the only event of note as the Gunners' played their slick passing game to the sound of 'oles' rather than frustrated cries. A word for William Gallas in closing, who is looking more and more the general of our defence, using his brilliant body positioning and superior positional sense to keep the dangerous DaMarcus Beasley at bay. A summer together, devoid of injury, together with one or two quality additions convinces me that this team can go on to challenge for major honours next season. The fact that 3rd/4th place and a Cup Final with the kids is considered an unmitigated disaster is probably the highest praise you could afford this manager. A word of congratulations for Cesc too, for his PFA nominations in both categories, he is a special talent. But I cannot help but feel sorry for Gilberto, who has been our player of the season this year in my humble opinion. Hopefully, I can sufficiently dodge the bricks and fists and report on a morale boosting victory over our delightful neighbours on Saturday. Peace out homies.LD.
Date:Wednesday April 18 2007
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