Tuesday, 16 August 2011

We Won....Didn't We?

Strolling around to the Emirates for tonight's game, in short sleeves, on a lovely warm August evening, it was only when I heard confirmation of the Arsenal line-up that I really began to fret, as I wondered where on earth the goals were going to come from against Udinese.

As a result, I didn't really feel much motivation to break into a sweat while rushing around to ensure I arrived before KO. After all, anyone who's seen Marouanne Chamakh play of late will know that our utterly ineffectual Moroccan striker isn't likely to score a goal in a month of Sundays (nor any other day of the week for that matter)!

It did occur to me that of the eleven players who started the game in red & white, Walcott was about the only one capable of troubling the Italian team, as a significant goal threat. And then Theo promptly provided confirmation of his potency, just as I approached turnstile H. With me having started the season as I mean to go on, my customarily tardy habits were swiftly punished by his early strike and fortunately I was able to dash inside the ground, just in time to catch the replays on the concourse TVs.

In all honesty, I think we got a massive break with this early goal because it relieved a lot of the pressure. If we were nervously biting our nails during the last 30 minutes, as the Gunners inevitably dropped off and invited the visitors on, just imagine how much more tense the situation would've been without our slender lead?

When I looked up at the scoreboard after the final whistle this evening, as they flashed up the scores from the other European matches, the sight of the results of the remaining candidates for Champions League qualification only reminded me that in my humble opinion, we were fortunate to be facing the fourth placed Italian team, rather than any of the other potentially bigger banana skins such as FC Twente, Benfica, Lyon, Rubin Kazan, Sturm Graz, or even Bate Borisov.

At least the Gunners went into the game against Udinese, knowing their opponents were going to be no pushover, whereas I'd have been a lot more worried if we'd been outright favourites, as I'm not sure that the prospect of playing some of the smaller fry would've offered sufficient motivation for us to produce the attitude necessary to overcome in any contest between two opponents.

Yet even in this more challenging encounter, there were plenty of moments where one could be forgiven for thinking that some of our players had forgotten the importance of this match. Never mind the supposed £20 million quid on offer for qualifying for the Champions League group stages. Top flight footballers must be so blasé about the absolutely batty sums constantly being bandied about nowadays and with incomes that they couldn't hope to spend if they lived to be a 1000, I imagine the money must be meaningless. Nevertheless, you would think that the prospect of guaranteeing themselves a further six games on world football's biggest stage would provide sufficient motivation? Then again, perhaps not, if the participants have been enjoying encores on this particular stage for 14 consecutive years?

Sure Aaron Ramsey produced the pass which resulted in Walcott's goal and the Welsh lad was indeed responsible for much of the Gunners' creative football. But just as was the case in the second half at St James Park, where Ramsey really went off the boil, there were half a dozen instances against Udinese where Ramsey was guilty of conceding possession in such a dreafully casual fashion, that it was mostly down to luck and visitor's wastefulness that they failed to capitalise on our catalogue of mistakes.

Moreover we once again witnessed Thomas Rosicky running out of steam. At least the Czech midfielder was busy early on, energetically trying to make this decimated Arsenal side tick, which is more than can be said for the Moroccan waste of space, who was a passenger from the moment he stepped on the pitch - starting as he meant to go on, when the ball was played into the penalty area for Theo to pounce, Marouanne was nowhere to be seen, still dawdling around out by the touchline.

But the Czech's second appearance in four days only served to confirm his lack of stamina at such a competitive level and in truth, the fact that Arsène's forced to resort to the increasingly waning power of Thomas Rosicky is really only further confirmation of quite how reliant we are at present, in Nasri's absence, on the creative capabilities of Jack Wilshere.

Additionally it was very worrying to see Gibbs and Djourou join the growing queue for the treatment room. Hopefully there might at least be a positive aspect to Johann's injury, as perhaps it will have the effect of forcing Wenger's hand with regard to strengthening the squad with another centre-back? It's pure speculation on my part, but I can't help but wonder if Djourou's injury was a result of the French lad failing to warm up properly, as the fact that he tweaked a hamstring almost the first time he was forced into a turn of pace might lead one to conclude that he neglected to stretch properly before entering the fray?

And with Gibbs glass like fragility in the past, the youngster badly needs a run of fitness for his continued restoration to full confidence. Kieran was noticeable by his absence second half, as we lacked the same threat down our left flank provided by his energetic bursts of speed.

While Gervinho's direct running offers continued cause for optimism, the Ivorian rarely looks as if he's in full control of the ball. So while he poses a threat for opposition defences to focus on, personally I would prefer if this was a distraction for the likes of Van Persie to take advantage of and for Gervinho to contribute the occasional goal, rather than to think that we might have to rely on the Ivorian's ungainly ability to have some influence on the scoreline. I'm unsure whether Le Prof's reluctance to call on the conceited Bendtner has something to do with the fact that the Dane will be harder to flog if he was already cup-tied in Europe? Hut so long as Bendtner remains on the Arsenal's books, surely even this lazy lummox has got to pose more of a goal threat than Chamakh?

Yet despite the fact that the vast majority of us are hardly bristling with enthusiasm after winning our first home game of the season, a 1-0 win and a second successive clean sheet are indeed reasons to be cheerful - even if most of those present will know full well that Udinese were only a few inches away from raining on our parade and that their failure to record a goal wasn't really a reflection on a watertight defence!

Myself I just pray that we don't end up travelling to Trieste for the second leg with the same Arsenal lineup, as without the likes of Wilshere and Van Persie, it will be a frightening prospect. When I informed my neighbour at the Emirates that I was heading for Venice next week because it's only an hour and a half away from Udinese, he quipped that I'd get an opportunity to see the city before it sinks. I certainly hope I'm going to see Venice before it sinks, rather than to witness the good ship Gooner's European hopes being scuttled!

Meanwhile the thought of facing the Scousers and Man Utd without posing such stiff competition a new problem, with the unkown threat of Gervinho and in the absence of Alex Song, when you add these suspensions to our injuries, the Gunner's squad suddenly appears gossamer thin! Unless Arsène is imminently about to address such patently obvious problems (and why would he act when he's managed to ignore them up until now?), we might be left counting on Manny Frimpong to step up to the plate.

On past experience, I won't be at all surprised if Arsène chooses to protect the lad, rather than risk throwing him to the Gooner wolves, should it prove to be a costly disaster. But I'm of the opinion that if Manny is indeed made of the right stuff, then it's this sort of opportunity which is just as likely to make his career, as it is to break it. Still even if Frimpong fails to be given the chance to shine, I guess we should all be counting our blessings, knowing that we at least won't have to endure the inevitable agony of the inadequacies of Denilson :-)

Maybe harder by the minute but....keep the faith
Come on you Reds

3 comments:

Zach said...

Setting a dangerously high standard early on with full write-ups ON matchday, Bernard. Many thanks and keep 'em coming. I too missed the season's first goal, from my lowly stateside basement viewing area, after a couple of loutish mates crashed the party and unpaused the coverage I had delicately prepared to indulge in 5 minutes behind real time - I had decided to enjoy my pre-KO relaxants for this nervy encounter outdoors just as proceedings were truly getting underway... Got what i deserved i suppose...

terryhenry said...

Seems that Chamakh was fasting for the ramadan. He shouldn`t be picked if that was the case.

Uncle Mike said...

In spite of roster difficulties (self-inflicted and otherwise), Arsenal won. We are not Dutch: Winning ugly is still winning. It was "One Nil to The Arsenal" (TM). Take it. Enjoy it. Embrace it.