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Tuesday 2 February 2010

A Battering At The Bridge?

There was me thinking a tortuous, 4-hour trek home in midweek, following a vapid goalless game against Villa was going to be my lowlight....little did I know!

Unlike le Gaffer, graciousness in defeat doesn't usually come hard for me. After all it's not my responsibility to massage some life back into our players deflated egos. Nevertheless I was bemused by the veneration of Sunday's victors because sadly the Gunners posed a pale shadow of the sort of stiff test to Man Utd that might've merited such slaverish praise.

In fact, although it might not have been anywhere near as significant, in some sense Sunday's defeat was even more humiliating than our capitulation in last season's Champion's League semi. Any team might've come unstuck against a full-strength Man Utd side inc. Ronaldo, Rooney, Ferdinand & Vidic, whereas for my money a defence of Rafael, Brown, Evans & Evra was there for the taking at the weekend and yet the Gunners couldn't even conjure up a shot on target, until late in the second half.

The seeds of Sunday's debacle were sown at Villa Park (or perhaps when the balloon went up at the Britannia the weekend prior, when predictably all the energy of the Arsenal's winning momentum evaporated with our second string's Cup exit against Stoke). You didn't need Fergie's footballing nous to know that Gael Clichy was a far cry from returning to fitness as one of the Premiership's most confident and fleet-footed full-backs. Clichy's trepidatious expression told all, as he was tested over in our corner of Villa's turf, looking every inch the nervous mark at the card shark's table, never knowing when to stick or twist and doing neither with any real conviction.

It was therefore no real surprise when Utd targeted our left-flank. Sure Nani's audacious trick deserved an ovation. But with our French full-back deprived of his searing turn of speed, or effective protection from his teammates, in running Clichy ragged to my mind the Portuguese dribbler still flattered to deceive.

Nani was certainly aided and abetted on route to his assist for Almunia's hapless own-goal, by Denilson's half-hearted attempt to block his passage. Perhaps he was concerned about conceding a penalty, but what was the Brazilian's excuse for all his other indiscretions. Denilson's display against Villa was so woeful that his inclusion in Sunday's side only lends credence to the rumours of his lovechild relationship with le Boss.

In the build up to Utd's second, he was one of 4 or 5 in red & white who could've done more to cramp Rooney's style. But from the revealing camera angle behind the goal of the Granny Shagger's unerring finish and Park's coffin nail of a 3rd so soon after the break, in both instances we once again witnessed the demoralising sight of Denilson barely breaking sweat to get back.

On the box that night, Hansen was spot on with his analysis of the difference between the two sides. Man Utd attack and defend as a team, as evidenced by the sight of Rooney galloping back to his own goalline in the 85th min to make a challenge, whereas it would appear as if some of the Gunners are of the opinion that tracking back isn't part of their job description!

Almost as galling as this evidence of the Gunners lack of heart, is Arsène's stubborn refusal to address the circumstances that saw us going into the most high-profile game of the season so far, without a single recognised striker on the pitch. Then again, for the first half an hour both Rooney and Shava looked equally isolated on their own up front. However the crucial difference being that our attack remains entirely one dimensional, making life far too simple for opposition managers.

As has become an all too common custom for our guests, Fergie merely set Man Utd's stall out to frustrate our intricate efforts to play through the middle of the park, with ten players behind the ball in the space bounded by the penalty area. Even in the event we should circumnavigate this barricade, by somehow finding some width, our diminutive strike force is hardly going to get the better of any aerial battles..

While Wayne waited patiently for an opportunity to spring the trap on the counter, Shava insisted on receiving the ball to his feet with his back to goal, providing Brown and Evans the opportunity to muscle him out of it most of the afternoon. And on the rare occasion Shava managed to turn and run at goal, highlighting Aids in Africa might be a righteous cause, but it seems that the red laces being worn by the Ruski and others as part of this "Lace Up, Save Lives" campaign should have come with an attached "couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo" warning!

For all the plaudits afforded Rooney by a sycophantic English media, on another day and if we'd been at the races, he might've been criticised for his profligacy in front of goal. But then a hat-trick would've been too much to bear, sending fickle Gooners scurrying home even sooner. It's painful enough being on the receiving end of Rooney's 1st and his 100th league strike and his presence as a permanent threat on the pitch on Sunday served as a constant reminder of le Prof's paucity of striking options.

Where Man Utd always have the hope of Wayne pulling something out of the bag on a bad day, we have Fabregas, Yet while the likes of Cesc, Song and Gallas gave of their all, in trying to salvage some pride, ultimately, as a midfielder, Fab isn't going to find himself with nearly as many goalscoring opportunities as Rooney. There were moments on Sunday when I imagined Fab hollering in his own head "am I really expected to do everything " and such irritation (not to mention his yen for Spain) is only likely to increase, without the introduction of complimentary World Class talent.

With Arsène failing to address the striking situation in the transfer window, all hopes will now rest on Bendtner being able to offer us some alternative. Sadly I've yet to see anything to suggest the Dane is capable of shouldering a 20 plus goals a season burden.

In truth if we were going to suffer such a chastening experience, we could've done with it coming a couple of weeks sooner, as then it might have at least forced Arsène's hand, by convincing him that we can't sustain a challenge while he continues to 'make do and mend.

Meanwhile Fergie's hoping we'll go the Bridge this weekend and "batter" the Blues. Considering the home side are likely to force us to play at a high tempo, I wouldn't be so surprised if we bounce back with a big performance. Although after dropping 5 points from the past two outings, it would be the ultimate irony if we earn a creditable draw, or even a win, when ol' Red Nose's mob are likely to be the only ones capable of reaping some reward!

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Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about Denilson's performances. In the past I've been a fan of that chap. I've been missing the games lately... thanks for the updates and congrats on finishing with the nutsackcracker.