Monday, August 21, 2006

A day of firsts at the Emirates, but old problems remain.

Sorry for the lack of posts since last Wednesday, but it's been a bit of a tough old week in Goonerboy-ville.

The highlight of my week was, undoubtedly, the first day at the Emirates. After queueing for some 25minutes to get served in The Bailey on Holloway road - who seemed to have totally underestimated the increased match day traffic they'd be getting - I finally got served, and after a few drinks, headed down the road to the UFO that is the Emirates.

It looked - to be frank - magnificent. It brought home to me, and probably many others, that while we all loved Highbury, it was a bit of a ramshackle old place by the end. The increased space outside the stadium, and in the gantries inside was wonderful, as were the notably larger seats and spaces between the rows. While the cost of all this space was, unfortunately, the feeling that you were slightly further from the action than before, I personally felt the atmosphere inside was wonderful. The filled in corners and the extra 22000 people really made a difference to the volume levels, although it wasn't until the second half that everyone really found their voices.

As for the game itself...first night nerves aplenty. Some players looked tired - a ridiculous state of affairs that whoever organised the ridiculous friendlies on Wednesday [UEFA/FIFA?] have to take the blame for.

Villa stuck to a sensible game plan, given the clear gulf in class between the two sides. O'Neill - a manager I really admire - had clearly used his brief time in charge to marshall the resources he had as effectively as possible. This consisted of defending and restricting space in the final third. Villa seemed happy enough for us to knock the ball around ad infinitum around the edge of the area, and we lacked a cutting edge - and a willingness to shoot - that was necessary for a goal. Unsurprisingly, or surprisingly given our lack of headed goals, it took a set-piece to break the deadlock, with Kolo heading home. Unfortunately he was off-side.

The second half saw two things I had feared. Firstly, Villa scoring with almost their only attack of the game. Jens was at fault for not claiming the ball, but there was a worrying lack of cohesiveness in the defence as a whole. Djourou has the makings of a class act, but him Toure, Eboue and Hoyte did not look to be on the same wave-length at crucial moments of the game. Hoyte, in fact, looked terrified. There was a moment when Thierry wanted to take a short corner, and Hoyte, not seeing him, trudged back, head-down, to the centre-circle. The vultures around his arsenal career could almost be heard circling as Flamini came on to replace him.

At a playing level, we need Cole or Clichy back. At a morale/reputation/morality level, the re-introduction of Cole into the team could damage us. The crowd were notably divided on the issue. There was a few shall we say 'derogatory' chants against him, but also some mutterings in his favour. I noticed on Sky afterwards there was almost a punch up between two Arsenal fans over whether we should let him back or not. If he comes back and plays well, all could still be forgiven. We desperately miss his pace and ability to overlap on the left. And football fans can be fickle in these situations.

The other thing I was worried about occurred when Eboue went down 'injured' and play continued. A storm brewed up, placated only by Villa's ineptness in front of goal. Yet they were playing to the letter of the new law. It will take a while to get used to, but I'm in favour of the new ruling. I think players do take advantage of the 'gentlemen's agreement' and it was becoming a problem, especially when they actually very rarely need the treatment. Expect a few problems and controversies before it settles in to common practice though.

The real star of the day was Theo - indeed I had noticed on the tube on the way up, that Walcott32 and Fabregas4 seem to be the favoured shirt numbers on the new home kit. Quite simply, he changed the game. We would have lost without his introduction. The contrast between the aging war-horse that is Freddie and Theo that was marked. Freddie gave it his all, tackled away, but never looked like scoring, or even really troubling their r-b. Theo immediately caused panic, running at their defence, crossing into dangerous areas and causing problems. Hleb - and indeed most of the team - was invigorated from his so-so performance with Theo's presence. They connected on the left hand side, Theo put in a beauty of a cross, RvP flicked on and Gilberto struck the ball into the top hand corner at a speed of around 432Mph.

A few brief flurries followed but it was all huff and puff. As I stood to clap the team off, I noticed a divide in the crowd between those who did and didn't think the team was worthy of applause. While Arsenal didn't play brilliantly, there was no lack of effort. It just looked like we were out of practice, and hadn't found a cohesive rhythm to their attacks. Henry looked disjointed and peripheral, Hleb found it difficult to connect his passes, Adebayor couldn't find Henry, and RvP really didn't seem to find his groove.

Things will improve, but not immediately. We need, as Arsene said, about ten games before the team - and us -feel like the Emirates is our home. I think we can still realistically challenge for second or third, but Chel£ea still look too good. People have read far too much into Manu's demolition of Fulham yesterday - a team who will be in a relegation struggle this year, and who we put 8 goals past last season. Liverpool also look permeable. We need to find out feet, and also, still, not put too much pressure on youngsters such as Theo who will still need some time to settle in. Not that anyone will now hype him into the next Henry already. Oh no.

It was quite an interesting weekend in the premiership. I'll be intrigued to see how Reading get on, as they seem to still almost be identical to the side they were promoted with. My predictions for relegation are Watford, Wigan, and Charlton/Fulham thusfar. I think Reading and Sheff Utd might just have what it takes to hold on, while Wigan seem to have ripped out the heart of the team that did so well last year.

Til later, Gb.


Anonymous said...

There are 2 problems. First off all the players must shoot more, but Henry is not a fan of that. Very often he will complain that there is not enough passing. If the opposition was afraid that we might actually take a shot, then they could not afford to defend so deep, and our short passing would become easier.

Second: Has AW made a rule against getting in at the near post? Eboue was forced to shoot from difficult angels after brilliantly beating a defender with his pace. If TH & Co. would just attack the near post instead off insisting on a back pass out the box, we could also take a great number off goals from that.

gazzap said...

very accurate account Goonerboy. perhaps the next couple of weeks in the transfer marker will go a long way to giving us the answer as to whether we can win the title.

tom said...

It's certainly looking more and more like Kerrea Gilbert's going to be the better bet of our young English fullbacks. Shame he didn't play for Cardiff at the weekend but he's still recovering from the injury which saw him subbed at halftime the game before.

As with our lack of shooting, I couldn't agree more. The fact that we almost always refuse to shoot from distance means we don't get the deflections and goalkeeper spills which you need to pick up, especially at the start of the season and against teams with 11 behind the ball. Just look at Fat Frank, or Chelsea and Man U in general over the weekend. Deflections, own goals and keeper spills aplenty, all of which helped them to comfortable wins.

Set pieces still need looking at. Seventeen and only an offside goal to show for it.

Deise Gooner said...

I wouldnt get too carried away with Walcott just yet. Yes he did well when he came on and it was his cross that set up the goal. But the kid is 17 and cannot be expeced to be a match winner on a regular basis just yet. He has the talent and also the atttitude it seems to be one of the best but he has a way to go yet. Well done to him on a very good debut tho, ill be watching with interest.

Its early days yet with regards to scoring. When the attacking 5 of Henry - Ade/VanP - Rosicky - Hleb and Cesc start firing watch the goals flow.

Papers are reporting that Arsenal and Chelsea have accepted a swap deal worth £20m involving Ashley Cole and William Gallas, with Arsenal also receiving £10m

gazzap said...

thats a good deal if it can be done. I think both sides would be happy...which would be novel.

thing about walcott is that he has shown us he is good enough even though he is young and still needs to be brought through slowly. I think we were all a bit worried that he might not be prem standard. but if reyes goes, I would not feel too concerned if wenger does not buy. I think reyes will stay and I think we have enough up front. If gallas comes in then its only cover for Gilberto's position that I would want, but I dont think AW does.

Deise Gooner said...

Diaby will the the CM rock to take over from Gilberto - when hes back from injury that is and can grow to be as influential as PV4 was.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Wenger looking at two big signings this summer? Does anyone know who that second target (not Gallas, I assume)was?

Deise Gooner said...

Kaka Kaladze from Milan ?