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Tuesday 10 December 2013

Red Sky At Night But No 3 Point Delight

Late KO's on Sunday are always a bit stressful, having to dash back home and bash out my missive for the Irish Examiner's deadline, knowing that there's a sub-ed sitting at work in Cork waiting upon me to be able to go home.

In truth, I was just relieved to be able to get it done in time to put my feet up on watch the highlights on MOTD2. Yet after seeing these, I wondered if I'd been too disparaging, as it came across as a far more entertaining encounter and on viewing again the number of times we got in on goal, only for the fast reactions of Tim Howard to deny us, it seemed as if we'd actually played far better than I'd first thought?

Then again, all I know is that from minute one, as we seemed to stand off Everton and invite them to do their worst, I wanted the Flamster out there, flapping his arms and bellowing, cajoling and encouraging his teammates not to allow our guests time and space to get their heads up and carve a huge hole through our half of the pitch.

Hopefully Walcott's return to fitness (and form?) might prove a remedy, but the other worrying factor for me is that despite the enthralling prowess of our interchangeable midfield at present, Sunday's starting line-up is sadly deprived on any real pace out wide on the flanks. With Everton's full-backs not having to concern themselves with the prospect of leaving themselves exposed to being outpaced, they were able to spend the entire match adding manpower to Everton's forward thrusts. And so long as we continue to play with the likes of Jack and Santi provisionally supposed to be starting out wide, I worry others might also attempt to take similar advantage.

Meanwhile, as I'm just about to leave for Stansted for the trip to sunny Napoli (please reassure me that the expression is "see Rome and die" not Naples)?, I thought I had better get this up and posted before I leave. 

I can't help but worry about the inevitable psychological impact of going into a game knowing that we don't need to win and can afford to lose by less than three goals. I will be pleasantly surprised if we kick-off in the Stadio San Paolo and take the game to our hosts, instead of again sitting back in our own half, inviting Napoli to show us what they have got. We really don't need to be affording the likes of Higuain an opportunity to build up a head of steam.

Besides, with the trip to the Etihad and a confrontation with Pellegrini's rampant strike force looming, we badly need to sort of convincing, professional performance in Italy that will enable us to take on City with the confidence to play our own game, rather than fretting about  thwarting theirs

Whatever is set to transpire, just how fortunate are we to be facing that absolutely tantalising prospect of a non-stop rollercoaster ride of scintillating footie......bring it on

Come on you Gunners


Red Sky At Night But No 3 Point Delight

I suppose at least it wasn’t an early KO against The Toffees, but after enduring the Gunners all too frequent failures to take advantage, or more often blowing an opportunity to play catch up in the recent past, I’ve come to detest the inevitable psychological impact of appearing later in the weekend than our competitors, already aware of the impact upon the table of whatever result should prevail.

With Chelsea, Man Utd and City all having left the door open for us to steal a march on the rash of inconsistency elsewhere, much like every other Gooner, obviously I was hoping to witness a performance against Martinez’s increasingly impressive outfit that would serve as a genuine litmus test, attesting to the burgeoning composure and maturity that’s indicative of a squad determined to show its mettle. Not to mention the alluring attraction of a seven-point breathing space that would’ve been likely to leave the vociferous Match of the Day pundit’s sheepishly struggling to retrieve their feet from their mouths.

With hindsight, whether it be conscious or not, or for both Wenger and the lads, the looming trip to Naples and the showdown at the Etihad in the week ahead was always likely to play some part in Sunday’s proceedings. I was desperately hoping that the Gunners would set the sort of “hell or high water” tone of a team showing a fully focused “only three points will suffice” type intensity and drive that would’ve been necessary to put the Toffees back in their box.

Unfortunately we were privy to the exact opposite, as my worst fears were realized right from the off and much as we did in Dortmund, the Gunners sat back and invited the opposition to do their worst. It’s easy enough to sit here now explaining away a couple of points dropped against the seriously powerful and enviable likes of Barkley, Lukaku and co., since in this form the Blues will continue to take points from our competitors. But it’s disappointing to me to think that we allowed this sort of knowledge to impact upon our approach to the game.

In fact you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that we were the visiting side, considering how much of the opening forty-five we spent camped in our own half of the pitch, seemingly waiting in hope of Everton’s energetic and wonderfully fluid start to proceedings to eventually run out of steam. Meanwhile suddenly this game seemed somewhat less intense, as the terrace tom-toms carried the news of the 3rd FA Cup draw and a corker of a potentially season-defining visit from our crisis-ridden neighbours

Much kudos to Koscielny for the blinkered concentration that continued to frustrate Lukaku all afternoon, but aided by the composure of Barry and the energy of Mirallas, Ross Barkley truly lived up to his billing, as a more muscular and powerful upgrade on our own (out of sorts) Jack Wilshere.

Watching our midweek encounter, I actually felt sorry for Steve Bruce’s brave Tigers, as they spent the entire night chasing shadows, trying to contain some of the most mesmerizingly fluid football that we’ve enjoyed so far this season. Then just as the lactic acid in our guests’ legs was beginning to bite, they catch sight of the likes of Walcott and Wilshere, stripping off to torment them some more.

But the shoes was on the other foot on Sunday, as wave after wave of Everton’s flowing football bore down upon our goal for much of the opening period. Mercifully we managed to stem this tide somewhat second half and to begin to gather some momentum of our own. In Flamini’s absence (until the last 20mins), it was left to Ramsey to motivate those around, cranking up the heat by finally getting stuck in.

However with Wilshere’s limited contribution seemingly reflecting the fact that he’s far from a happy bunny, when asked to fulfill a role starting out wide and having not exactly invested £42 million for the minimal amount of graft we can expect from Mezut Özil, when running back towards our own goal, Sunday’s draw leaves some questions about our ability to wrestle a result when we find ourselves under the cosh.

As disappointing as it was to see us suffer such a late sucker-punch from Everton’s exciting new star, instead of demonstrating the necessary equanimity to see the game out, I’ll gladly settle for the more learned opinion of those who suggest that this was a decent point earned. But with Pellegrini’s positively rampant strike force to come, our continued sojourn at the summit will depend upon a far more stalwart effort than was evident on Sunday.

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