Sunday, February 26, 2006

Blackburn 0 Arsenal 1.

For 65 to 70 minutes against Blackburn, Arsenal did nothing which suggested they deserved to take anything from this game. Blackburn were far the better side for an hour. They were physical, but not unfairly so, and also played some reasonable football. The reason for their dominance was obvious: they closed down our players quickly, denying them the acres of space of time Real had afforded us. Considering Mark Hughes had said this was going to happen all week, you would have thought that we would have expected this. But no. Passes went awry; tackles were poor or absent; Brad Friedel could take a 45 minute nap.

Post-Madrid, the players’ reactions varied. Reyes, who I’m usually a big fan of, did not turn up. His most notable contribution was to run the length of the pitch, and then, instead of passing to Adebayor, who was free and in a threatening position, tried to go the whole way himself, and ended up taking a heavy touch which their defence easily dealt with. He was rightly taken off at h-t.

The goal was a farce, and largely down to Senderos, a player who, again, I’m a fan of but, again, struggled today. He firstly misjudged a ball over the top which Bellamy latched on to, and then, after an admittedly outrageous piece of skill by Bellamy, was beaten by the same player, allowing him to put a cross in for the unmarked Pederson. I counted 5 Arsenal shirts, excluding Senderos, between Pederson and the goal: what were they doing? Certainly not marking anyone else. After the goal Blackburn were all over us for the remainder of the half, and probably should have been more ahead, but for poor finishing.

Pires came on for Reyes at h-t and didn’t really improve matters. His one sizeable contribution in the game was to pass to Henry when he himself had a much better chance of scoring. What has happened to the 15 goal a season Bobby?

Then, inexplicably, Gilberto was left on and Diaby came off for Hleb. Gilberto added almost nothing to the team today. He’s not a battler, and he’s largely reliant on other players winning tackles which allow him to recycle and re-begin play. Diaby looked far the greater threat though, and can both defend and attack. He should have stayed on.

Hleb was excellent and really made a difference when he came on, surging forward, and showing some lovely skill and passing. He really upped the tempo, and Blackburn began to struggle. Fabregas began to come alive, and in the last twenty minutes we should have scored. Adebayor, who seemed more likely to score than Henry, came the closest. He beautifully controlled a ball flighted over to him, before scuffing a shot from just outside the six yard box, which nonetheless forced a quality save from Friedel who had certainly awoken from his nap by the last quarter of the game. I was impressed with Adebayor’s commitment and ability. Had him and Henry been able to link up more successively, which I hope will come with time, we would have eventually found a way through. At the end it was good to see Lupoli finally get on the field after the terror he’s been spreading in the reserves. Yet he couldn’t really get into the game, and he perhaps deserved more than just the last ten minutes.

Afterwards le Boss was typically upbeat: he seems to have got used to us losing 1-0 away from home. His assertion that we didn’t really deserve to lose was more justifiable than usual – but it still begged the question as to why we didn’t start playing for 70 minutes.

Player ratings

Lehmann - 6 – made a few good stops and looked solid. Still hard to tell whether his madness is good for morale, or perilously close to unnecessarily leaving us with 10 men.

Eboue - 5 –. Defending was ok, but gave the ball away too much.

Kolo - 7 – Solid and committed, although, like the rest of the defence, where was he when Pederson scored?

Phil – 5 – tries so hard bless him, but wasn’t really his day. I think he’ll be stronger for performances like this, and he came very close to scoring.

Flamini – 5 – Continues to give 100% effort, even if he is obviously uncomfortable on the left.

Fabregas – 6 – can’t quite see the logic of playing him out on the wing. Arsene should at least give him and Diaby a chance in the centre together. Much better towards the end.

Gilberto – 4 – I can, unlike some fans, see why he plays, but he has suffered the most from Vieira’s departure. His tackling is lightweight, and I think he’s become a weak-link in an important position.

Diaby – 5 – a good effort, and will improve, but still learning.

Reyes – 3/4 – Still in Madrid?

Adebayor -7 – Great technical skills and came closest to scoring. Looked a threat and caused problems.

Thierry – 5 – Couldn’t really find a way to really get into the game. Was still vital to our attack though.

Pires – 4 – Why did he pass it to T when he was clean through?

Hleb – 7 – Did well in a short amount of time. He needs games if he’s going to get better, and needs to be able to play more centrally. Only some excellent defending prevented him from scoring.

Lupoli – N/A.

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