Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 29 2007
As you may have discerned from my lack of correspondence, this weekend has been an extremely rumbustuous one for myself, in which I have broken a personal record. I have managed to squeeze in two nights on the sauce and no fewer than three football matches. Being a South London boy, all of my friends are hardened Millwall supporters. With Arsenal being given the Saturday off for televisual purposes, I travelled to the Den with my pals to catch a high octane 1-0 victory over promotion chasing Bristol City. Being a football lover, I like the opportunity to watch more salt of the earth football whenever possible, to see how the other half live as it were. There are a few people who sit around me at the Grove whom I would thoroughly recommend a weekend secondment to League One, if only to give the spoilt whingers a new perspective. Kind of like footballing LSD.
There was not time to absorb the action though as Saturday night saw an even more high octane barbecue at my friends house. You know you've had a good night when you stumble into the garden to find the birthday boy on his lonesome, simultaneously urinating and vomiting into the bin! Having found my way back to my flat at 3.30am, there was little time to rest my weary limbs, as I was awake again at 06.30am to make my way to Borehamwood to watch Arsenal's all conquering Ladies team defend a 1-0 first leg lead in the UEFA Cup Final. I will provide an entirely separate match report tomorrow in my lunch break, but you may or may not have heard that a 0-0 draw saw the Arsenal Ladies crowned Champions' of Europe. I will reserve detailed analysis for tomorrow, but I would like to express my admiration for the Ladies side and Vic Akers in particular. Getting to the top in sport is one thing, but staying there year after year is a true barometer of one's mental faculties. The unprecedented success of the Ladies side makes me incredibly proud of this football club and the care it takes in investing in the girls. It reaffirms my faith that we are an institution club and one of esteem and I cannot express my congratulations enough. Now for the quadruple. (We might as well watch one Arsenal team lift trophies this year!)
Despite the best efforts of the morons at London thameslink, silverlink and London underground, we made it across to the Grove just in time for kick off for the encounter with relegation threatened Fulham. The Gunners' began the game with an assertive tempo. Batista dropping off to provide an effective link between Fabregas and Adebayor. Arsenal usurped an Ashburton tradition by scoring an early goal. Adebayor well and truly skinned Bocanegra on the right hand side, cut to the byline and clipped an enticing ball into the area. This is a scenario that usually peters out into depressing obscurity, but on this occasion, Julio Baptista climbed above Philippe Christanval to head into the net. At this point, Arsenal assumed masterful control over the game. Playing what I would lovingly describe to Jon as 'the good sh*t', keeping the ball moving along the floor at pace, one touch, Fulham couldn't get near us. The visitors were leaving Beast sized holes in their back four and Arsenal were looking to exploit them. The ghost of the invincibles appeared to infuse the limbs of Gael Clichy as he collected a cleared Fulham corner and proceeded to maraud upfield, leaving three Fulham defenders hopelessly chasing his shadow. The hurricane released Adebayor, who shifted the ball to his left, only for Baptista to drag wide.
Minutes later, after a flowing one touch move involving Eboue, Adebayor and the irresistable Fabregas saw the Beast pull a shot wide from the edge of the box. Baptista was to recieve another gilt edged chance, Adebayor once again receieved the ball back to goal and found Fabregas, whose brilliantly disguised pass set Baptista through on goal, but with the previous misses still on his mind, he elected to try and play Adebayor in from close range, when the shot would have been the better option. The Gunners' continued to dominate as Eboue pulled back to Fabregas whose low shot was saved brilliantly by Nieimi. It was a smart save as the Finnish 'keeper was already moving to his right, but shifted his feet to plunge to his left and get a strong palm to Cesc's goalbound effort. Niemi's next svae had a touch of Hollywood about it as he threw himself histrionically to a tame Adebayor header. There was a feeling of deja vu as Arsenal were dominating with champagne football, but not killing off the opposition. Anyone who ever owned any of the 'mortal kombat' console games will remember the phrase 'FINISH HIM' once you had won a bout. I always used to watch and let the opponent drop without finishing him, it appears Arsenal have assumed the same habit.
The second half began as the first half had finished, the instrumental Fabregas, who has found a new lease of life of late, played a cheeky slide rule pass to Adebayor, Manu twisted past Zat Knight, but blasted his chance well over from close range. From that point, the frustration set in. Arsenal became complacent and, to be frank, lazy. Nobody contested second balls, the midfield dropped deep and failed to harry a Fulham side who had discovered a need for enterprise. Davies and Radzinski were allowed to grow into the game, as Bouba Diop neutralised a tiring Fabregas and Gilberto. The equaliser was looming on the horizon a good twenty minutes before it inevitably arrived. I very much doubt there was a single person in the stadium who genuinely felt Arsenal would close the game out. Arsenal continued with their entrapy, no player gripped the game and dished out an appopriate rollocking as I had watched Jayne Ludlow do so perfectly hours earlier. Wenger sat dormant on the sidelines, not once getting to his feet to instruct his players to step it up. A Bocanegra cross floated to the edge of the area and comfortably within the range of William Gallas, bafflingly, Jens Lehmann decided to come for the cross, still more confusingly, he decided to punch. His fist was weak and unconvincing, the ball fell limply to Simon Davies who looped the ball into the net Zamora style. We had it coming, and Jens eratic form of late does not inspire me I must confess. I wonder if his one year deal may see Arsene try and test out Almunia's sea legs to gauge his suitability to the number one shirt. The implication being that Jens's stay of execution could provide a safety net should Manuel fall short.
The home side were forced to recognise they were in a game again, as Fabregas moved off the right flank, back into the centre where he was to have an immediate effect. But not before Jens made a smart save from the odious stud merchant Michael Brown. Cesc received the ball in the danger zone and fed the tireless Adebayor, he roasted Zat Knight and made amends for his earlier miss with a sweetly taken low shot into the corner. Ade has shown a delighful propensity towards scoring at pivotal moments and this is tribute to his desire. I am made up for the guy because I think he has been one of our most reliable performers this season, they say God loves a trier and the same is true of football fans. We love to see a player who will run his wotsits off for the cause, Adebayor does this with an air of humility that is informed by his awareness of his roots and I love to see the joy permeate his features when he scores. Having been let out of jail by our Togolese talisman, Arsenal were to give me yet another perfect score in the prediction league (with two of the goalscorers correct I might add). A sweeping move saw Diaby feed Alex Hleb on the left, and with the Belarussian ready to pull the trigger, ex Gooner Moritz Volz desperately hacked him to the ground. Player of the season Gilberto consummately slid home an inch perfect penalty. It was yet another microcosm of our season, making the perfectly simple sublimely difficult, profligacy juxtapsed with champagne football. Incisive football in concert with defensive misdemeanour. Some fine tuning will be needed on the training ground, at the moment, it's a bittersweet symphony.LD.
Date:Sunday April 29 2007
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