Afternoon all (and please forgive the unwieldy title).
Before we talk about anything else, I would like to add my voice to the thousands who have expressed their sympathy and condolences for the family and friends of Gary Speed. I’m not going to get into platitudes here, but as someone who went to live in Leeds just three years after Speed helped them to the league title, I know how highly regarded he was by their supporters. He seemed to be a genuinely good guy and I think it’s fair to say that the world is a poorer place without him in it, RIP Gary.
I was at my mum’s on Saturday night, so missed the Arsenal game live. Lucky me though, I recorded it and managed to avoid the result until I got home on Sunday afternoon- part of me is writing this blog thinking that I wish I had known the result. I might have fast forwarded through most of it then. In my mind, it was a typical, listless, Saturday evening performance and the nature of it wasn’t a surprise to me. I’d long thought that Fulham at home, three days after a tough game with Dortmund might just be a stretch too far. Despite Fulham’s league position, they are a good side. That being said, I think we could still be playing now and Fulham wouldn’t have scored were it not for Tommy V’s left foot. On the other hand, Mark Schwarzer made one world class save from Djourou and one merely very good one from Aaron Ramsey. When he was beaten, just before Vermaelen’s own goal, van Persie’s shot was blocked on the line.
The suspicion that it was going to be one of those days appeared to have been confirmed when Vermaelen then scored that own goal, but I think you have to give credit where it is due and Arsenal ramped up their efforts and I think an equaliser was the least they deserved. It came when Walcott, our brightest spark on a day of dud fireworks, sent over a peach of a cross. Marouane Chamakh, on as sub by then- yes, we were that desperate, missed it but Thomas Vermaelen didn’t. His van Persieesque header gave Schwarzer no chance as it angled across him and thudded into the turf, bouncing up into the net. It seemed ironic that, faced with the twin towers that are Haangeland and Senderos, our goal came from a header but we just didn’t have the zip to play through a very disciplined Fulham side. Chris Waddle gets a lot of stick from us Gooners, rightly so in many cases, but he called Arsenal’s need to get the ball wide quite early on in the first half. He was proved right there. But then, even a stopped clock… Seriously though, 4 of our 5 goals this week have come from crosses. Wow. have we found another way?
I think if you wanted to look at why we were so flat, aside from the fact that the players were in Champions League action in midweek, the same midfield has been sent out in every game for as long as I can remember. Perhaps the return of Diaby can help- oh, he’s injured again… In addition, the ever improving dos Santos is the only fit full back at the club. On the other side of defence Johan Djourou had his best game for quite some time, but he’s unlikely to ever be able to motor up and down that right side in the way that Sagna, or even Jenkinson, can. Van Persie is having to play in every game that matters which, after our false start in the league, is every one and that can’t be helping. He didn’t score on Saturday, but it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. I bet there are people looking at us and saying, “Oh look, van Persie didn’t score and Arsenal didn’t win”. Well, yeah, but the other way to look at is, he didn’t score and we didn’t lose.
Another positive was the difference that Gervinho made when he arrived with about twenty five minutes left. I wonder, now, whether we would have won the game had he had an extra ten minutes. I will always be an Arshavin fan, but it’s fairly obvious now that he is done at Arsenal. I don’t understand how he could be so heavy legged having not played for weeks. Okay, you can talk match fitness, but to look at him it’s if he is wearing concrete boots. Perhaps form will come with games, but when you look at the qualities both Walcott and Gervinho bring to the table (pace, hard work), how can you leave either of them out for him?
I’m not going to moan about the weekend though, the weekend/midweek/weekend cycle was always going to catch up with us at some point. The fact remains that we are unbeaten in two months of football and have taken 16 out of 18 of the domestic points available to us in that time. I bet if someone had offered that to you immediately after the final whistle at White Hart Lane, then you’d have grabbed at it. Particularly if you’d been told that we’d qualify as group winners for the next stage of the CL and with a game to spare too. All of which is to say that whilst Saturday was disappointing, it hasn’t undone the good work done since that Spurs game. Also, the reaction of the players to going a goal behind on Saturday hinted at a group who will not be undone by a slight inconvenience.
Which is good news as Moneybags City come to town tomorrow night. I hope to get something down ahead of that one tomorrow afternoon, so I don’t want to say too much about it now. It’s been a bit of a sticky week for the visitors, relatively speaking, so their team news will make for interesting reading. As I say, though, we’ll have a look at it tomorrow.
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