Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ashburton Grove comes of age to open up the title race.

Well, they don’t come much sweeter than that do they?

I’ve never attended an Arsenal United game before but they’ve defined much of my footballing life. Whether it be my vague memories of the OT brawl in 90/91, my crystalline recollection of the scuffles of ’03, the fabulous winning goals of Wiltord and Overmars, or a number of Thierry’s wonder strikes, Arsenal vs United has provided some of the real highs of my time as an Arsenal supporter. And also, unfortunately, a number of the lows.

It was with a degree of trepidation, therefore, that I approached the Emirates on Sunday. And when the two teams opened lethargically I wondered what type of game would transpire. United had opted for a rather curious 433, with Rooney on the left and Giggs down the middle. To my mind Ferguson incorrectly started Larrsson in front on Saha as he hoped to remind us of that night in Paris. But he didn’t seem to overly trouble our defence. Saha’s pace might have given Senderos a few more difficulties.

A few rather curious refereeing decisions were made. Kolo was booked immediately for a challenge rather than giving him a verbal warning; Henry and Adebayor were denied two 50-50 penalty decisions. A lid was kept on the rather farcical handbags between Eboue and Rooney, which again highlighted the deficiencies of Eboue as a character. He really needs to cut it out.

An anti-climatic first half was ended by two good saves from Jens; saves that he might not have had to make if he had been a bit more decisive in coming for the ball from corners. As the players trooped off at half-time, 0-0 seemed about right.

But United almost instantly pegged us back from the re-start. Evra – who until the 83rd minute was probably MOTM – crossing for Rooney who headed in his customary goal against us. Questions could be asked - again - about Clichy’s positioning for crosses, but it would be harsh to criticise what otherwise was a fine performance - one in which he effectively shackled Ronaldo and Giggs at various points. Where Eboue was for the cross could also be asked.

A stirring comeback did not immediately seem to be on the cards. We carved out a few opportunities but seemed to be reduced to speculative long-range efforts. Even worse, we began to repeatedly hack long balls up to Adebayor, who was consistently beaten in the air by the excellent Vidic. We gave up trying to play our brand of football and an air of desperation began to grow. Hleb – who had a disappointing game – was withdrawn yet Robin struggled to create a threat.

But football [and its cliché time] is a ninety minute game. The game was quite even until the eightieth minute, and based on the performances of Evra and Vidic, United might have deserved to edge it. Yet the breed of ’07 – even if they do go on to win the league - don’t have the legs or resolve of the United teams of the late 90s. Rather than grab the game by the throat after taking the lead, they resorted to time-wasting tactics, while sitting back and soaking up the pressure.

We seemed to have a fitness and tenacity that they didn’t and eventually, after Farbregas and Rosicky doggedly won the ball from Scholes, Tomas crossed, Henry stepped-over, and Robin scored. It was a fantastic finish from an acute angle and the way Robin has grown into a genuinely world-class player this season has been wonderful to see. What was less wonderful was the foot fracture sustained during understandably zealous celebrations.

As soon as we scored United visibly aged. The euphoria which greeted the first goal was transformed into a steely determination to push on and win; United must have been regretting their time wasting antics as time justifiably ticked on. At the death, neat play on the right between Rosicky and Eboue saw a fantastic cross by Manu placed on Thierry’s head.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Henry.

Unrestrained jubilation. Mass hugging in the stands. Men fell from their seats and crashed down through the rows as insanity temporarily reigned. The bulk of the crowd had stayed til the end – for the first time – and at the final whistle we all sang together as the players huddled near the centre-circle. Magic.

A colossal victory therefore, one that truly christens Ashburton as a grove where historic games have and will take place. The atmosphere at the game’s end was special and seeing Henry score a last minute against United will stay with me for some time.

It leaves our season in the balance. Could we push on to the title? Probably not, but second now seems a distinct possibility. Suddenly, the game against Chel$ea in May becomes very interesting. And hopefully, the first real chapter in Ashburton’s history has begun.

Player ratings are posted separately, in a special bumper Goonerboy…


Anonymous said...

GB spotted this elsewhere posted by Magic Hat. I like it

Where have all the flowers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one.

Where are all the manu fans?
I can't find a fucking one

Goonerboy said...


Anonymous said...

in as much as i do not agree with Eboue's antics but i think we should also accept that if that is part of his game then you get use to it. cos it i would be surprised if he hasnt been told a number of times by his teammates and however we had the likes of Pires ( pompey,Reyes so that to me that is his character and i doubt if Ronaldo can ever be a different player from what is known for.

gazzap said...

clichy did not make a mistake for their goal! he had Evra's cross easily covered until Toure nodded it out of his path and into the path of Rooney.
Eboue was marking Ronaldo (correctly), but Evra's overlapping run was not tracked by a defender. instead we had toure AND Senderos marking nobody at all at the near post. one of them (probably Toure) should have gone to Evra, while the other one marked the near post and clichy marked rooney at the far. when cesc realised toure was not going to close evra down, he tried to get back but it was too late.