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Monday 10 December 2007

Don't Know About Space, But Everyone Can Hear Me Scream In Highbury

After getting away with it at Villa and gifting Fat Sam a reprieve on Tyneside, our trip to Teesside proves one exhausting outing too many for the Gunners' depleted squad, making even a beleaguered Boro side look good, with our most mediocre of three successive surprisingly unconvincing displays. We can but hope to bounce back off the ropes with the return of our big guns and to be back to our bobbing and weaving best to avoid a knockout blow next Sunday!

I guess I should come clean about my role in Sunday’s defeat at the Riverside and the untimely demise of an unbeaten Premiership run stretching back to last April. Having traveled to Newcastle in midweek, I couldn’t find any awayday meshuganas mad enough to accompany me on an early morning return to the Northeast on Sunday. I didn’t fancy the risk of driving the five hundred odd miles on my tod, in my increasingly decrepit, little Fiesta, nor was I going to gamble a further 92 quid on the single only Sunday train connection getting me to Teesside in time for kick-off.

After spending only a couple of hours in the sack, tossing and turning in frustration at our abject failure to take advantage of our game in hand against the Toon, before having to get up for work on Thursday morning and then joining what seemed like half the population of this country, hanging on in there until 5am Sunday morning to cheer on Ricky Hatton, I had just about given up on making it up to Middlesbrough.

There would’ve been no hesitation about going, if I could’ve spent the journey as a passenger, catching up on some much-needed ZZZZZs in a mate’s motor and yet, so loathe was I to miss my first league game of this campaign, that even as I sat watching the brave Hitman taking a high-definition battering on my pal’s enormous plasma screen, I was still debating in my head whether the Gunners would survive without my support.

However in truth, perhaps I’d subconsciously already seen the writing on the wall, in the way we’d been left clinging on by our fingertips in our last two outings and I had some sense that this might prove one debilitating away trip too many for the Gunners’ depleted squad. Otherwise, on seeing the bleary-eyed brigade of hard-core Gooners already gathering at the ground at the crack of dawn, sheltering from the cold behind the line of coaches as I passed by on my way home from watching the boxing, I wouldn’t have been able to resist dashing home to don my longjohns, grab my ticket and return in time to try to blag my way on to the Travel Club trip.

Instead of which, I am embarrassed to admit that the call of my bed won out in this barney with my customarily steadfast Gooner fealty and rather than spend ten hours in a cramped coach seat in return for 90 minutes of live footie, I made the far too sensible decision to take advantage of my recent Setanta subscription, set my alarm for ten minutes before kick-off and stuffed my face, before curling up under the covers with the dog as a hot-water bottle.

As angry as I was with the Arsenal’s abject performance, come the final whistle that afternoon, there was at least some consolation in knowing that I didn’t have to get out of bed to endure it. Mind you I have plenty of sympathy with armchair fans everywhere, as Sunday proved a reminder that a poor performance is far more stressful when watching at home on the box, where only Treacle, our terrified pooch (and half of Highbury) can hear me scream!

I’m not a sore loser, unlike an awfully immature Manny Eboué whose tendency to throw his toys out of the pram is certain to end up costing us eventually and who urgently needs to learn to channel his temper towards the task at hand. I was gutted that we gifted Fat Sam a reprieve in midweek, but considering the way in which Boro ran their socks off, it was hard to begrudge Southgate’s side some reward for all that graft. Yet while both Northeast teams took the plaudits, few seem to appreciate the extent to which our utterly lackluster efforts contributed towards the outcome. I guess it will only become apparent quite how badly we performed in both games when our immediate rivals give one, or both sides a right hammering.

The truth of the matter is that our two trips to the Northeast have proved a nasty reality check. Unfortunately both displays might serve to demonstrate to Chelsea and our other upcoming opposition, that beyond all the hyperbole, this Arsenal side is largely made up of mere mortals. In the absence of the precocious midfield promptings that have inspired the rest of the team to raise their game to date, we begin to look strangely mediocre. My biggest fear now is that unless we bounce back immediately, all the confidence and the head of steam we have built up over the past few months could evaporate almost overnight.

As the once calm-air of authority who had the nous to mask much of our defensive fragility, poor old Gilberto suddenly looks a shadow of his former self and while Diarra pulled his weight against the Toon, I didn’t like the fact that he seemed to go missing in action on Sunday. Although he was far from the only Arsenal player to go AWOL, as there were times when I forgot Eduardo was on the pitch and the impact of Bendtner, his replacement, was minimal.

Adebayor is an honest grafter and it’s hard to argue with his goal scoring record, but the odd stunning strike aside, for the most part he continues to struggle to find his touch. As he did against the Toon, Arsène left me utterly baffled when he brought on Bendtner, another big lad, to play alongside Ade, encouraging long-balls, but with no one in the vicinity to win any knockdowns?

Rosicky might have at least given the hardy travelling Gooner faithful something to celebrate but Tommy has been largely anonymous all season long and he must bring more influence to bear than these all too rare strikes on target. Perhaps they were acting according to Arsène’s instructions, but the raiding runs down the flanks from our full-backs was the most obvious missing ingredient from both games. Without Clichy and Sagna as an outlet, or to draw opposition players, there was little evidence of our customary ball retention.

Believe me, the Toon and Boro aren’t the first teams to play a pressing game against us. But where in the past this tactic has presented us with the space to cut opponents to pieces on the counter, without an outlet on the flanks and in the crucial absence of Fabregas and Hleb we began to look like frightened rabbits, caught in the glare of the opposition’s headlights.

A stranger watching might’ve wondered which of the two teams was top of the league as Boro began to produce some cultured footie as they grew in confidence, while without the one-touch, pass and move style that usually provides us with a spare man, we resorted to hoofing the ball in a blind panic.

It’s hard to imagine that the returning Matty Flamini can lead an Arsenal revival all on his own. Most Gooners would’ve ridiculed such a preposterous suggestion prior to Matt’s surprisingly influential contribution this season. We can but hope they’re working overtime in the treatment room to get a couple of the more gifted Gunners back out on the park before Sunday, to assist Flamini in ensuring that the damage suffered so far is only superficial and that by this time next week, our North-Eastern blip is a long-forgotten nightmare


Anonymous said...

AT LONG LAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




phatosas said...

I cant believe how poor Gilberto is ATM. What worries me is that it is not as a result of loss of form, it just looks like he is no longer committed to the team. He barely broke a sweat in that game while middlesborough ran for 90 minutes. If he is not going to work hard, we are better off without him.

Bern said...

It's hard to believe Gilbo's game has gone completely to pot, when he's always been such a stalwart in the past.

I wonder whether it's the reason he hasn't been getting a look in, or a result of the fact that he's played relatively little competitve footie?

Whatever the case, I don't think any of us could've imagined we'd be looking forward to the Brazil captain being replaced by Flamini