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Monday 31 August 2009

All Guns Blazing, But Poor Blondie Brought His Blunderbuss

Six yellow cards (and a resulting automatic £25,000 fine) in a game which didn’t include a single malicious tackle; Man Utd back on terms from a the award of a spot-kick at the Stretford End, after Shava’s far more blatant penalty shout had been ignored (enabling Man U’s man of the match to remain on the pitch!) and our much maligned manager suffering the ultimate ignominy of being sent to the stands, for the last few seconds, after harmlessly venting his frustration on a water bottle. All in all, a fairly typical, fruitless afternoon at Old Trafford.

I’d love to give it to the despotic nincompoop of a ref with both barrels. But in truth Dean would’ve probably only flashed Fletcher a yellow and with Shava demonstrating his outrage, moments later, in the best possible fashion, by banging the ball into the back of the net, I know full well that the Gunners have nothing more to blame, than the blunderbuss which we brought to the North-West, with which we contrived to shoot ourselves in the foot.

To be the architects of our own downfall was the most depressing aspect to Saturday’s encounter. But it might’ve been an entirely different story if Foster had failed to divert Van Persie’s goal-bound effort early in the second half. Instead of the tabloids making hay with headlines about Arsène kicking the bottle, they might’ve been taunting Fergie about losing his, by leaving the likes of Berbatov on the bench? Ol’ Red Nose appeared guilty of showing the Gunners far too much respect on home turf, by going like for like and focusing on nullifying our threat, rather than maximising his own team’s potency.

Despite Almunia and Diaby gifting Man U the game, I doubt there will be many other teams who go to Old Trafford this season (without their most influential player!) and dominate the home team so comprehensively. Perhaps I’m guilty of seeing the game through Arsène’s opaque specs, but from where I sat, the fact that Utd’s midfield terrier Darren Fletcher won so many plaudits was merely evidence of the sort of destructive graft necessary, to try and prevent us from dictating the match entirely (if you discount the couple of incidents at the death, where desperation led to us being caught chasing the game).

I’m loathe to join the charabanc of Gooners intent on kicking our keeper when he is down, as it’s a cruel world for goalies, who get very little credit for keeping clean sheets, but who invariably get crucified for their every error. But even the needle has now been worn blunt, upon the broken record from which I’ve been banging on about our need to break the bank, to sign a recognised world-class Rottweiler of a goalie, to replace our slightly fey Poodle, if we’re ever going to mount a serious challenge for the title.

Forgive me for mixing my mammalian metaphors but just how many more monkeys will it take, to prove to le Prof that this is the one position on the park, where there’s absolutely no value in paying relative peanuts. Manuel comes across as a sweetie and I’m sure he’s kind to animals and kids. Yet for all his shot-stopping talents, Almunia’s unauthoritative “after you Abou” type failure to command his six-yard box is always going to leave the soft underbelly of our defence looking as dodgy as the blonde, skunk-like streak in his barnet.

It was foolhardy of me to think that Vermaelen could be the answer to all our defensive ills. It looks as if we’ve lost a shilling and found five quid, judging by the overall improvement at the back, after trading in Kolo for Tommie the tank. But Saturday’s defeat demonstrated that despite an accomplished and relatively untroubled performance from our two centre-backs, there remains a potentially calamitous air of defensive insecurity, for which the only real cure remains a “heaven help anyone who gets in my way” type goalie, who can be relied on to react in a relentlessly consistent fashion, in any given situation.

In the absence of Fabregas, the customary orchestrator of the majority of the Arsenal’s sweetest music, Denilson and Song demonstrated that they’ve come on in leaps and bounds since last season, with the presence to impose themselves, where in the past they might’ve looked like little boys lost on the expanses of the Old Trafford pitch. But they are both still only 21 and hopefully have some way to go before entirely fulfilling their potential. At his best Diaby is a world-beater, but Abou continues to blow hot and cold with infuriating consistency. While Shava seems to have a sixty-minute limit, past which his little legs seem to run out of steam.

Thus despite such an impressive display, what troubled me most as the clock ticked down after Abou had inadvertently handed Utd the lead, was the lack of urgency and a prevailing sense that an undeserved defeat was already on the cards. As captain for the day, Van Persie toiled away largely in vain, while having apparently acquired an annoying tendency to hit the deck in feint hope of a free-kick, instead of toughing it out and causing his marker more of a headache.

Watching Adebayor notch another winning goal for Man City, one can’t help but wonder if the Togonator would’ve provided just the sort of unpredictable nuisance factor, which might have made all the difference in this match. But then his enthusiasm and focus had long since waned at our place and once the novelty wears off at Eastlands, I’m imagine it won’t be too long before his work rate begins to nosedive once again.

There was no lack of industry from the Arsenal (“the team in blue” sounds as wrong as it looks!), but sadly there was an all too familiar absence of that inspirational “never say die” charisma, needed to force home our advantage and truly turn this result around. Utd have the advantage of the winning habit and so despite being bettered on the pitch, you never really got the sense that they feared for the 3 points, once we’d gifted them back the lead. Whereas the Gunners might have made great strides, but on this evidence, we remain a work in progress. We undoubtedly have sufficient ability, but psychologically we still need to develop the sort of force of personality necessary to swallow whole the Premiership’s bigger fish.

It remains to be seen how costly a defeat this will ultimately prove to be and I've little doubt that there were many Gooners around the globe who had to resist the temptation to vent their frustration, by putting their foot through their 42" plasma screens. But in the cold light of a less emotionally distraught day, there was plenty in this performance to assuage the bitter disappointment, when you contrast it with the Champions League capitulation of only a couple of months back.

I guess I can’t end without passing comment on the simulation debate. If I thought that banning Eduardo was going to act as a deterrent to this blight on the beautiful game, I might be all for it. However to my mind the authorities are on very thin ice persecuting poor Eddie, when in anticipating the keeper’s dive, both he and Rooney did exactly the same thing, save for the fact that the granny-shagger's effort was legitimized by Almunia’s extended arms. I’d love the likes of Eboué to desist from his amateurish antics because he’s too fearful of the consequences, but I rather suspect that as usual, it will be us poor punters who end up ultimately footing the bill, paying extortionate prices, only to find ourselves watching inferior football, with far too many of our favourite players sitting out games suspended.

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Anonymous said...

I honestly believe that lak of urgency was due to the fact that Arsenal were more tired. After all they just played on wednesday and no matter how young the team is it must've affected them towards the end of the game. I'm so proud of this team being so strong without fabregas. And we still have nasri coming back and rosicky was kinda sharp in the pre-season, he will impress for sure.

Unknown said...

Arshavin is carrying an injury and is struggling. Not bad for an injured player

King Richard said...

If Wikipedia is to be believed then Matuidi is set to join us:

Arsenal Station said...

It's a bit strange, Bernard. I thought they did fight well until the end. I also thought van Persie showed good leadership by trying to pick Diaby up when they got back to the center circle following the own goal.

I think this match, despite the result along with the Eduardo stuff, will help foster that Us vs. the world attitude that so many great Arsenal sides have had.

Also, I think, again despite the result, it shows both how far we've come and how far United have fallen in a mere 4 months. And all without Cesc.