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Sunday 27 January 2008

Thank Heavens The Toon Are So Utterly Toothless

After looking like we might be coming back to the boil in the second half at Craven Cottage, it seems as if Tuesday's debacle has seen us take a bit of a backwards step (perhaps understandably?). Cesc was decidedly off colour today with so many of his passes going astray and to my mind when Fabregas is on the pitch, the Arsenal only ever seem to truly tick when the little genius is at the races

However the result was the be all and end all this afternoon and it seems to me that there were a couple of influential factors. Obviously the fact that the Toon are so utterly toothless was a boon. N'zogbia has caught the eye in the past and I seem to recall being impressed and devastated at the same time, when young Milner scored a last minute scorcher against us up at Anfield but along with the anonymous has beens Duff and Owen and a much over rated Alan Smith, they rarely got a look in this afternoon (apart from the moment when Gael Clichy made his amazing goalline clearance). It's hard to believe Duff is the same player as the little wing wizard that was and although it is perhaps harsh to judge Michael Owen when the ball rarely reached him, he's a shadow of the player who so terrorized us in his Liverpool days. Owen's principle asset was his acceleration over the first couple of yards and it would appear that all the hamstring injuries have taken their toll on Owen's explosive qualities and without it, Owen isn't able to escape the attentions of his marker and is therefore rarely able to find the sort of space where he's available to receive the ball. The busiest the England striker was all afternoon was when he was trying to con the ref in appealing for handball!

More importantly, as far as the Arsenal are concerned, considering there wasn't really a significant improvement on Tuesday's abysmal performance, for my money the most influential difference was the inclusion of Flamini instead of a feckless Gilberto in the crucial holding role in midfield and the return of the ever impressive Gael Clichy.

Unlike many Gooners, I've always been a fan of Flamini because a player is alright in my book so long as he gives 100 per cent when wearing the red & white. However, I will happily admit, that in Flamini's former "bit part" role as a utility player, along with everyone else I couldn't have possibly imagined that Matty would go on to become possibly the most important name on the team sheet (in the absence of any viable alternative with Gilberto's dramatic dip in form and Diarra's departure) and along with Clichy, the player of the season so far.

I was studying Matthieu closely during moments in todays match and it would appear as if he's rapidly developing into a genuine leader on the pitch, as he's constantly bringing his greater experience to bear, for example issuing instructions to those behind him to push up after we'd gone a goal up, to try deter all around him from their natural tendency to drop off a little, but to continue to deny Newcastle any space to play in front of our defence. What's more, with his enthusiastic and often precise sliding tackles and his willingness to join in the play going forward (despite the relative limitations of his natural ability), Flamini's wholehearted and 100 per cent committed attitude sets the standard which hopefully encourages everyone else to follow. Flamini's preparedness to put his body on the line for the Arsenal cause is the sort of commitment that is reminiscent of Vieira and Petit during the 98 double season and Im convinced that it would've been a totally different story if Matthieu and Gael had been playing on Tuesday, as we wouldn't have been over run in midfield and Clichy's threat going forward would've meant that the likes of Jenas and Lennon would've been occupied in the way that Milner and Carr were today, in trying to defend this threat, thereby preventing them spending much time operating in our half of the pitch.

In almost every match Gael continues to offer further evidence of quite how fortunate we were that Ashley Cole had his hissy fit over not receiving an extra few quid in his weekly truckload of wonga and I can't imagine how soul destroying it must be for our opposition, as again we saw this afternoon when the Toon defence were flagging late on, Gael continued to make mincemeat of them with his astonishing energy levels. It is just unfortunate that one of his incredible runs, with the dummy in the penalty area to lose the defender, didn't end up resulting in a fourth goal.

Meanwhile, although Newcastle looked quite bright early doors, by the end of the afternoon, we were sufficiently dominant and stamped our authority on the game to such an extent that I will be amazed if the Toon return on Tuesday without a psychologically pessimistic outlook and hopefully we'll be singing a reprise of "he's gonna quit in a minute" long before this afternoon's 50th minute lead.

My main concern from this afternoon's match was to hear the ever increasing indications from our crowd of them losing patience in Theo Walcott, as Theo struggles to fulfill his promise with each passing appearance. I don't think there can be any doubt that the youngster has talent and it is merely a matter of finding a means by which he can learn to make the most of his attributes, as up to now he has invariably failed to do the business. But we absolutely must continue to show faith in the lad, as I remain confident that when the rest of the team truly begins to click and we really get our passing game going again, in an Arsenal side that is truly playing to something like it's full potential, Theo will begin to shine.

In the meantime, perhaps Arsene's biggest quandary, is how he is going to make the most out of Diaby, as he doesn't look at all comfortable playing out wide and like Theo, he's struggling to make his ability tell. Diaby produced another cameo performance today, where all too often his runs ended up down a blind alley, taking on one player too many, when a simple lay-off would be better. At least with Abou there appears to be no lack of self-confidence, as demonstrated by his willingness to shoot on sight, but it's hard to see how Arsene can accommodate Diaby in a 4-4-2 formation that includes Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb and Rosicky

For a moment there this afternoon, I thought AW was bringing on Hleb and Bendtner rather than Hleb and Gilberto and I thought it was going to be interesting to see whether Adebayor and Bendtner would kiss and make up and whether the two of them would actually pass to one another. After the substitutions I was watching Bendtner on the bench through my binoculars and his body language and his expression positively screamed out how pissed off he was. When Theo walked off and like the gentleman he is, came over to shake hands with his team mates on the bench, Bendtner did shake his hand, but couldn't have done so in a less enthusiastic manner.

Personally I can't believe that the Daily Mail/Evening Standard are making such a big deal out of a supposed head butt, when those of us watching on the night saw Adebayor slap the Dane around the face. There is a massive difference in the malicious intent involved in a head butt and a slap! Also I was somewhat disappointed in some of the Gooner reaction to Tuesday night's disaster, as its patently wrong to accuse the likes of Fabregas and Gallas of not trying. They were trying alright, but they were always on a loser playing in a side where there were at least four passengers. The difference between the two teams was that Spurs came out suitably pumped up for a team that had been beaten by our kids in the semi last season and all eleven of their side performed to their best, as if it was their cup final. By contrast with the laid back likes of Gilberto as an authority figure, we came out as if it was just another game to us and as a result it was all too easy for Spurs to catch us cold with their first goal. After that we were always going to struggle, as the longer the game went on without us getting a goal back, the more we chased for one and the more likely it was that Spurs were going to catch us on the counter.

I have had to take stick all week from Spurs fans who are all convinced that this was a significant result and are 100 per cent certain this it is proof positive that the North London tables have begun to turn (poor deluded fools!). What seems to bother them most has been their inability to get a rise out of me. Yet for those of us who have had the pleasure of seeing us win two league titles at the sh*t hole, a defeat in a Mickey Mouse Cup semi (for our reserves!) is small change by comparison. In all honesty, the most disappointing aspect to Tuesday night's loss, is the thought that Spurs will get an opportunity to play at the new Wembley before us. Then again, the most amusing aspect about it is that as I said to my Spurs pal, his seven year old lad will probably be telling his grandkids in years to come about the night he saw them beat the Arsenal 5-1 (and they will all assume he's suffering from dementia!). Whereas, by contrast, if our season continues on its current successful path, we will have forgotten all about it long before May!

Big Love


Anonymous said...

I decided to concetrate on the FLAMSTER yesterday, as his role is such that he can easily be overlooked.

FLAMINI was absolutely excellent and my man of the match by a distance.

I am now convinced that when we don't play well it has a lot to do with Flamini being absent.

Eduardo is coming on so fast and is a great player - it was almost like watching a young Keegan.

Well done Ade, good reply to the critics and Wenger - for God sake put Gilberto out to grass please - he's been a great servant to Arsenal but it's gone. Time to play in a slower league or retire me thinks.

phatosas said...

This is why I love reading your blog. You have touched on everything from Flamini to Walcott and todays performance. I hope we see a better performance on Tuesday and pick up 3 points, score as many goals as possible to put pressure on United

Anonymous said...

I thought everyone played well even Theo and Diaby were better than they have been in the past. Young players need games to improve. Cesc is starting to return to his pre-injury form and was very good in the second half. Agree with you re Clichy, Flamini and Eduardo though.

Sir Henry Norris said...

Great article. Just thought I should point out - It was Neil Mellor who scored that goal, not Milner. I knew what you meant though.