Monday, April 10, 2006

Back to earth with a Rooney sized bump.

I wrote on Friday how several things would be important in this game: that we exploited United’s weaknesses in midfield and dominate, physically and technically, the game in the middle third of the field; that the back line needed to be infallible, and probably play better than in the Juve game; and, most importantly, that we somehow shackled Rooney.

It’s safe to say that none of this happened.

The obvious starting point is Henry’s omission. Now, there was obviously a form of logic behind this. Terry has only recently fully recovered from a persistent Achilles injury, and was probably due a rest. But against United? At Old Trafford? Relying on RvP who’d 1) only recently recovered from injury and 2) has barely played with Adey? While Arsene subsequently defended his decision on the basis that TH hadn’t recovered fully from the Juve game, not having him on the field deprived us of both our captain and our most potent threat. Without him, quite simply, we did not have the cutting edge that, comparatively, Rooney brought to United. Jose was also no where to be seen while, against my hopes/expectations, Bobby, not Fred started on the left.

Still, we opened brightly, with a passage of play reminiscent of the game in Madrid. Only a superb saving tackle by Neville prevented a certain goal from Adebayor after a lovely pass from Hleb. RvP got all our other major chances and, it pains me to say, he didn’t do well enough. He produced more from the harder chances he had, such as when he sent a skimming shot across the face of the goal and forced an athletic one-handed save from mouse-face, than the glaringly easy ones. The obvious example being when Eboue sent the ball across the goal mouth and Robin missed not just the goal, but the ball. Indeed for all his talents, which are abundant, RvP looked worryingly one-dimensional yesterday. His corners and crosses produced little, and he did little for the team as a whole. I have faith he will get better, but he put in a distinctly average performance.

Adebayor, on the other hand, impressed a lot, really trying to vary his game and create chances. His aggressive drive through the united defence and subsequent shot which flew just over the bar was agonisingly close, a chance he carved out almost entirely on his own. He needs a player like Henry beside him, or he needs a lot of games with RvP, because at times yesterday he was almost carrying the forward line on his own, which he’s not yet capable of doing. And I could have wrung his neck when he tried that flick from Pires’ shot.

As for the rest of the team, half of them played well, half of them did not. Jens made several top drawer saves in the first half and was commanding throughout, not at fault for either of the goals. Hleb played extremely well, hammering forward at any given opportunity, creating chances with great passes, and showing wonderful close control. Gilberto did his job well, putting in some good tackles and rising to his role as captain.

As for the other half, the less said the better. Fabregas looked knackered. If anyone needed a rest it was him, and Diaby sparkled far more brightly in the brief time he was allowed. Gilberto shielded the defence and won the ball for him but Fab looked off the pace and our creativity subsequently suffered. Pires did better, and has notably upped the physicality of his game recently. Yet, like a lot of the team, his final ball was AWOL, and, like Cesc, he brought little to the team’s attack. If anyone knows why he stayed on, and Hleb went off, please enlighten me. As for our back line… Phil was probably our best defender, clearing our lines on several occasions and battling away, but his inability to track Rooney’s runs was, ultimately, fatal. Flam did pretty well, struggling on occasion but generally doing his job. Toure was uncharacteristically and remarkably poor, bullied by Rooney and getting away with one of the most blatant handballs seen since Henchoz’s save in the cup final. With Eboue also defensively struggling, there were problems a plenty at the back, which cost us dear.

For all this, the first half was fairly evenly matched. We should have been up inside the first twenty minutes after an overwhelming period of dominance. However we didn’t take our chances, and we paid. United gradually forced themselves back into the match, with Vidic and Ferdinand progressively solidifying into a fairly impenetrable line. Rooney was allowed to run wild, testing Jens several times, and being denied by Kolo’s brilliant, if highly illegal, save.

Quite simply, we were outplayed in the second half. United pressed and pressed us and we had no answer. Why Fab came out for the second half I don’t know. Diaby was fresh and ready on the bench, a player who would have added bite and inspiration to our midfield. That we were dominated by a central midfield of O’Shea and Giggs was unforgivable, and could have been remedied by the substitution.

The goal, when it came, had an air of inevitability to it. A great tackle by Vidic, led to a superb cross by Silvestre. The ball made its way to Rooney who, after beautifully controlling the ball, smashed it past the prostate Jens. Senderos was perhaps at fault, failing to head the ball out and leaving Rooney unmarked, but it would be a harsh criticism to level, given the quality of the ball, and the absence of any other Arsenal shirt who should have been moving in to cover Rooney.

After that we were all at sea, and while we created a few chances, this merely led to us being exposed at the back. The substitutions, when they came, were overdue and left Henry and Diaby with too little time to make a meaningful impact in the game. The second goal was painfully reminiscent of Rooney’s second last time we were up there. By the end, it was one of those pain-fests where you knew we had no chance of getting anything from the match, but you were determined to see it through due to some irrational residual hope that only the longstanding support of a team can engender.

Quite simply United looked like a team challenging for the title, and we looked like a team challenging for fourth. We didn’t stop their midfield from running the game, even though ours is, player for player, better. We, as per usual when playing away in the NW, procrastinated too much in our build up play, and allowed our opponents to get men behind the ball. Our style of play breaks down if we let our opponents do this. We have to learn to break in a quicker and more direct fashion away from home, and learn to take some shots instead of overcomplicating build up play. And we didn’t stop Rooney from running riot. He was the difference between the two teams yesterday, and we had no answer to his zest and innovation.

Silver linings remain: fourth place is not gone. We just have to win every remaining game, which is more than possible. Fourth is only between us and Spurs, who will lose to both us and United. I always thought, looking at the run in, that we could, and probably would, lose this one, and still get fourth. What’s important is that we don’t lose belief. The boys need to take it on the chin and realise, even if we get through and meet Barca in the CL final, that that was our toughest match for the remainder of the season.

As Jens said ‘we have too big quality’ (Sic.) not to get that fourth spot. I am officially going to start some form of campaign soon to make Jens our player of the season. It also occurred to me, after reading Arseblog the other day, that I too prefer Jens to Seaman.

So heads up. We were not awful yesterday, and we should recognise that we were simply outclassed on the day. None of the panicking and mass melancholy that has followed our other defeats this season should occur. We weren’t that bad, and next year we’ll have a team who’ll be able to beat anyone in the Premiership. Yesterday was painful, but it was a lesson our boys will learn from and they’ll come back stronger.

On that optimistic note, I’ll sign off, with the warning that hysteria will follow if we don’t win on Wednesday.


Anonymous said...

The Alice Band Barca Buck Toothed Wimp "Fartigas" should never have played. He showed his true Premiership colours. He can't hack it in midfield where it's physical.
Diaby should have played.
The adulation that the Barca Wimp gets is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, or he's an 18 year old kid who has played a lot of high pressure games in a short space of time and been pivotal to our play. He's probably shattered because he's played his heart out for us. You are talking out your arse.

IL-Gooner said...

I have to take anonymous 13:40's side on this argument.
If you look at the stats, you see that Cesc has a very high work-rate: he's tackling quite a lot, actually, and has a lot of the ball. Yesterday he wasn't at his best - which is understandable if you remember he's only 18 and played so many games this season. He still has a couple of years to improve his physical attributes.

Anti Anti-Gas said...

So you've surfaced again, you complete waste of space, Anti-Gas, Notogas, or just plain and simple "anonymous" at 12:53pm today. Anti Anti-Gas here (you see, I've taken my name from yours) and I'll keep on about how good Cesc, is and will be, until you shut the f**k up, you clueless tw*t.
I'm surprised that you can even post a comment, as you clearly do not have a brain!

Anonymous said...

Why anonymous@12.53 pm is blaming Fabregas for the defeat is beyond me. Fabregas is a very talented player, who is still only 18. He has run his heart out for the team in recent weeks and does not deserve to be blamed because he, amongst others is shattered as a result of all their heroics in Italy.

Anonymous said...

you fucking cock suckers, it did not matter who you put out. you fuckers are full of shit. your team is shit and you are not wanted in the champions league elite

Goonerboy said...

Mourinho, is that you? Whoever it is I might say the wit and linguistical ability of your barb has left me in a profound malaise. Va te faire foutre mofo: we are the CL elite.

Also, Fabregas is one of the greatest midfielders in Europe, to counter anon 12.53.

He's only 18 and he was a little tired yesterday; fair enough after running the midfield in Juve on Wednesday.

icky said...

Wenger is playing his cards very well, without being too obvious to his own players where he thinks the weaknesses lie. I would say the current (red currant) Arsenal cannot play without both Cesc and Henry. They are the principle creative foci of the team at the moment. AW had to choose one or the other. A fresh Henry is more important than a fresh Cesc, but less so every day. If you put any faith in the latest transfer rumour that Arsenal has enquired after Rennes' Yoann Gourcuff, it looks like AW is lining up an understudy for Cesc for when the young genius is unwell. Very quickly the Arsenal midfield has become dependent on our youngest muskateer pulling the strings in the centre of the pitch. It could be worse; we could even be relying on that two dimensional bit of walking boredom that is Frank Lampard.

Anonymous said...

LOL 4.50, you made it obvious that your team hasn't qualified for the champions league. So maybe u should bang ur balls, lol