Sunday, November 09, 2008

An epic win, but it needs to be the start of something bigger.

I suppose, given how roundly Arsenal had been written off this week in the media and blogosphere, that a win was nigh on inevitable on Saturday. It was a game which confirmed something evident about Arsene's Arsenal in the last few seasons: they can beat any team in Europe in a one-off match.

Things went our way in the game which haven't in other matches recently. Despite cutting open our defence on several occasions early on, Carrick and Rooney, surprisingly given his propensity to score against us, both missed the target when presented with fairly decent chances.

We, by contrast, not only showed a willingness to have a punt from long-range, but even managed to score from one. There was definitely a whiff of the Lampard-deflection-goal-machine in evidence for Nasri's first, but that's what you want to see in that situation. Hitting a ball into a crowded penalty box may result in it bouncing pinball style into the net; it's certainly worth a go every now and again.

There was no luck to Nasri's second effort though. The goal was just about a good a one as you'll see. Too often wonder goals are thought to be those like Bentley's against us - a lucky, if spectacular, hit and hope. To work the ball in the way we did before the goal was superb, and Nasri's finish was emphatic.

The boy is, clearly, pretty good. He may not have the box of tricks that Hleb had when it comes to dribbling. But he works hard, can beat players, can pass the ball to the level required in the side, and isn't afraid to have a shot. That's 4 goals he's scored now in less than 3 months. Hleb barely managed over 10 in 3 years. Ultimately, I think Sammy has that one quality Hleb lacked - bottle.

Samir's goal was followed by possibly the defining moment of the match. Park Ji-Sung floated a ball into the box, and Ronaldo volleyed wide from inside the 6-yard box. If the ball had gone in, I would have bet on United getting at least a point from the match. As it was, the miss seemed to emphasise it wouldn't be United's day.

Not that Howard Webb wasn't trying to help them as much as he could. A series of bizarre decisions in United's favour was capped by him turning down our penalty appeal when Nasri was hauled over in the area. It wasn't a huge tug, but it was enough, and if we'd gone 3 up at that stage, the remaining twenty minutes would have been a lot more comfortable.

As it was, we had to endure a series of rather meandering United attacks, capped by subsitute Rafael's superb volley to bring United back into the game with 6 minutes of injury time left to play.

Yet, we held out and deserved the points.

A lot of people have talked about how thrilling the game was, and I would say it was one of the best games I've ever seen.

What to make of it all is harder to say.

We played the much maligned 4-5-1, and this seemed to get the best out of Diaby and Denilson. Diaby marauded around to great effect in an attacking central midfield role without, perhaps, creating as much of a threat as he could have done. Denilson stroked the ball around well, and kept things ticking over, without really presenting the type of defensive bite we still need in the middle of the park.

Bendtner worked hard, and kept Ferdinand and Vidic on the back foot for most of the game; certainly no mean feat. His profligacy probably stemmed from the fact this was his first start in a game of this magnitude. He will get better.

The defence also seemed to work. Silvestre and Gallas would now appear to be our first choice CB pairing and it's hard to argue with that given Toure's disastrous recent drop in form. Silvestre seems to have improved the defence with his height and aerial expertise, showing just how weak we were in that department before.

Almunia made some excellent saves, yet still doesn't command his area, and his distribution can be erratic. His injury, the result of a very brave attempt to grab the ball from Carrick's foot, was the result of him spilling the ball from one of the few times he came out to try and claim the ball from a cross or corner.

So what has the game really taught us? That this team can beat the very best put in front of it; that we may have found a new CB partnership; that we would still be improved by a greater deal of bite in midfield; that Diaby has to play in the middle; that Nasri might just be a really great signing.

But does it show that the team are title contenders again? I'm not sure. If we haven't lost any more games before January, and remain within 3-6 points of the top, then maybe. But we need signings in the window even if that is the case, if we are going to really build on yesterday's result. In any case, it's nice to be proud of the team, and for Arsene to get some praise.


Anonymous said...

Actually Goonerboy, Nasri scored his fourth and fith goals of a bright and exciting Arsenal career.

Goonerboy said...

Oops, I meant league goals.

Anonymous said...

arsene getting praise was about as far away from your November 1st comments as a writer could get... altho i would admit the teams seemingly obvious short comings must annoy. (see Arsens chickens come home to roost)

the one great thing about wenger is his longer term vision - this may cause harm to short term goals (winning titles) but the work he has done at arsenal is quite incredible. he embodies almost everything good that football could be (altho he does moan a bit too much at times) and whilst it is important in a democratic society to be free to critique his ability to manage arsenal, those that do should not lose sight of his brave new model for football.

i was playing football at the weekend where our opponents, being heavily defeated, all started shouting at one another to 'get stuck in' and 'work harder'. the lad that i was playing against in midfield, a polish guy, turned to me and said under his breath 'no, not work harder, THINK harder...'

arsene probably wont change grass roots football in his life time, but hopefully his demand to think harder, with greater vision and intelligence, will have a long lasting effect on all forms of the game.

I for one see him as a beacon of intelligence, a visionary that in a sport which seems keen to 'race to the bottom', is prepared to start from the 'bottom up' when building his team.

arsenal fans have consistently booed their team, and manager, off this season. shame on you. you will miss him when he goes.