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Monday 25 December 2006

Born is the King of.....err...the new gaff?

I have to admit that Dodier Drigba has stepped up to the plate so far this season, with some seriously influential strikes for Chelsea and that at this precise point in time, there’s perhaps no more daunting a sight for a Premiership defender than that of Man Utd’s Ronaldo bearing down on your penalty box at full pelt. Nevertheless, despite Drogba manhandling his way onto our back pages, with the sort of muscular physical presence that makes him such a handful (just ask Phillipe Senderos!) and Ronaldo’s post World Cup redemption, by means of the admiration engendered by his bamboozling box of tricks, while these guys are getting all the glory, in my humble opinion, when viewed through my red & white tinted specs, it’s the astonishing vision and awareness of Cesc Fabregas that deserves the plaudits from the true connoisseurs of the beautiful game.

Almost ever since Chippy went chasing the Italian lira back in 1980, we’ve witnessed a succession of Arsenal youngsters who’ve all struggled under the weight of expectation of “the next Liam Brady” syndrome. Coincidentally, it was David Bentley who carried the hopes of many of us Gooners for some seasons, as we witnessed increasing evidence of Liam-esque type ability in Bentley’s cultured left foot. Sadly Bentley flunked the few opportunities he was given to grasp this sublime midfield mantle, seemingly swimming in the substantial boots he was expected to fill, on the rare occasion he was afforded a first team run out.

His talent was obvious to those of us who’d watched his progress as a teenager, but having struggled to impose himself on the adult game, it was a big disappointment to see any hope of this homegrown replacement for Dennis Bergkamp demolished, when Bentley’s loan move to Blackburn was eventually made permanent. Prior to this he helped Norwich to go down all guns blazing, with a 2-0 triumph over Man Utd and has since secured a permanent spot in Gooner hearts, by scoring the only Premiership hat-trick against the Red Devils, in their surprising 4-3 defeat at Ewood Park last season.

For a perspicacious geezer, Le Prof ain’t half prone to some patent gaffes. With his opportunity to prove that he should be gracing our glamorous new stadium as a Gunner, Bentley didn’t really require any more inspiration. But Wenger went and lit the blue touch paper, by suggesting in his programme notes that the Peterborough born youngster is a “big talent…when he’s switched on”. Having been gifted a premature Xmas pressie, doubtless Mark Hughes made the most of this motivational tool, since Bentley was certainly switched on enough to earn a penalty in the second minute! Luckily Jens Lehmann’s lights were also on (although it could be argued whether there’s anyone at home in our keeper’s haphazard head), to thwart a stunning Bentley strike, which would have otherwise given Rovers a 1-2 lead and might have put a completely different complexion on Saturday’s festive fare.

Meanwhile where Bentley made hard work of keeping his head above water, when he was thrown in at the deep end for the Arsenal, Fabregas floated straight to the surface and has virtually been walking on water ever since, as our very own Spanish saviour. I know it might be sacrilege to suggest such a notion on that side of the Irish channel, but it could be argued that Cesc actually has more in his locker than Chippy. Whereas one often finds oneself screaming at less perceptive players, for them to get their heads up, before they end up ignoring a better placed team mate, Fab has that amazing awareness of everything around him, without taking his eyes of the ball, thereby ensuring the disguise on his final pass rather than telegraphing it to the opposition. He also appears to possess that other Bergkamp like quality, where he’s able to picture the development of a passage of play, as if moving chess pieces about a board, always thinking a couple of moves ahead.

Basically at the tender age of only nineteen, Fab has the footballing brain of a grandmaster and it’s no wonder Wenger has tried to tie Cesc down with his eight year contract, as there’s no telling quite how brilliant Fab might become with a few more years experience under his belt.

There was a moment in the build up to our sixth goal on Saturday when Cesc took the ball towards the corner flag and I was convinced an exasperated Robbie Savage was about to clatter him from behind. I guess it was all the sweeter because it was Savage who was his stooge and I wouldn’t be surprised if the blonde braincell seeks some retribution at a later date, after he’s had to endure several repeats on Soccer AM’s showboat section. But even if it hadn’t culminated in Flamini scoring the sixth goal, Fab’s nutmeg was worth a standing ovation on its own.

It was a funny old game and a microcosm of the Gunners’ season so far in one 90 minute match. Apart from buying the penalty by hitting the deck after half an hour, under the “weight” of Neill’s shove in the back, Van Persie struggled to have an impact on the match and up until his goal five minutes before the final whistle, the Dutchman couldn’t to hit the proverbial barn door. After Adebayor calmly slotted home the spot kick to put us 3-1 up, we were in such control of the game that the “olés” were ringing out, as Rovers ran around chasing shadows. However after failing to capitalise on our dominance, we suffered the same defensive lapses in concentration that have cost us so dearly this season. It was only more inspired goalkeeping that prevented Blackburn from pegging us back to 3-3 and potentially dropping another couple of crucial home points.

However once the law of averages finally allowed Van Persie to find the target and with the flurry of three fabulous goals in the last five minutes, we exited the stadium thinking this Arsenal side were the best thing since sliced bread! My favourite was the fifth because it was such a team effort and it’s not been that often this season that we’ve enjoyed the Gunners breaking from box to box, with the sort of pace and incisive, precision passing that just makes for the most breathtaking football.

Meanwhile Arsenal season ticket holders received an early Xmas pressie in the form of our long overdue membership packs, where for my money the best bit was a Mastermind feature on the DVD. Now I’m always the first to bemoan the lack of a homegrown spine in this Arsenal side, longing for the sort of players who’d be certain to feel the weight of our illustrious history, every time they pull on the shirt. Yet watching this feature which includes Touré, Fabregas, Senderos and Lehmann taking their turn in the black leather chair, while our lunatic keeper might know sweet Fanny Adams (or Tony Adams), it’s incredibly reassuring to discover that the youngsters have been imbued with a sense of the Gunners’ past, with their knowledge of Herbert Chapman, Bertie Mee and the like. In an age where the media is full of tawdry tales of super rich, young British players who think the world revolves around them, I have great faith that the Arsenal’s future is safe in the hands (or at the feet) of a bunch of players who seem to have such great respect for all those who’ve gone before them.

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Anonymous said...

Good read. With the penalty though, it wasn't just that Neill pushed Van Persie a bit but I'm also pretty sure that he clipped his left leg which caused him to trip so I think it was a pretty clear penalty. Just throwing the suggestion out there :)

Anonymous said...

bentley was switched on enough to pull toure into him for the 'penalty'!

Anonymous said...

Both comments have it right: Neill clearly caught Van Persie's left ankle and it would have been very difficult for RVP to stay on his feet; and Bentley equally clearly grabbed Toure's shirt behind him and dragged Kolo down on top of him. Bentley's immediate and cynical appeal for a penalty, and his expression of triumph when given it say a great deal about his character and why Wenger let him go. Falling over easily is one thing, but deliberately dragging someone onto him to get a penalty is quite another level of cheating. His lack of character and oversized ego would have made him a disruptive and harmful presence on the bench where he inevitably would have spent much of the time. I'd say that I'll enjoy seeing that big-headed ungrateful git next year in the championship but I'd not wish that on Blackburn.

Anonymous said...

i thought that Neill kicked the back of RVPs kicking foot as he (robin) went to strike the ball thus preventing him from scoring.

Anonymous said...

watched the replay and slow-mo many times... rvp was definitely clipped (or whatever it's called) by neill and what's disgusting was the fact that the ref needed to consult the lino when he was almost directly behind the incident; i hope he just wanted to see if a red card was warranted

bentley was appauling; and was dragging toure's front (shirt) for a good several yards before toure finally lost his footing and fell on bentley's left side; if the ref did not see bentley's left hand (blocked by toure's right side) that's life but i can't agree more that bentley's celebration was low; in fact it just showed the kind of aspiration this kid only has -- joy from cheating!