I’m not really sure how to start today’s post.
A tough result to take against our rivals, especially when we were two goals to the good, but it’s worth remembering that the Invincibles lost a two goal cushion in a similar way. A good long-range goal and a stupid penalty. Seeing as we’ve shot ourselves in the foot several times this season in the same way, people were bound to say we’ve done it again. In reality, that’s just lazy, using the same old stick to hit us with when in this situation it didn’t really apply.
I hate to say it but the comeback was more down to Sp*rs playing well than us imploding again. In the first half, our attackers were excellent. If Man United had a “fantastic four” in Tevez, Berbatov, Rooney and Ronaldo, I think it would be fair to say we have one of our own in Fabregas, Walcott, Nasri and van Persie. Three of the four netted, while Cesc pulled the strings and looked closer to his best than in recent games. He tweeted this morning that it was the best he’d felt since the Stoke game, which is of course a good thing.
From an attacking point of view, the goals we scored were great. For the first, Theo did exactly what we want from him. He came central, beat the offside trap having been played through perfectly by Fabregas, and when the finish came he was clinical. A cool finish slotted past Gomes, one-nil after just five minutes. After van der Vaart had levelled things up, more on that goal later, Samir Nasri fired in after just twelve minutes. It was the kind of goal we need to score more often – we have the ability to do so. Nasri and Cesc linked up well on the left, before the former came inside. He was fouled, but Martin Atkinson played a good advantage, and Nasri played a one-two with Diaby before smashing a shot past Gomes. It’s exactly what our players should be doing in that situation, we have the quality to score from range, why not try more often? Even if we don’t score, the goalkeeper could push it out and we could score from a rebound. It was great to see Nasri score again, having hit a dry patch since New Year, hopefully he can continue to score from now until the end of the season.
The third goal came from a decent cross by Sagna that caused problems for Agent Gallas. He was caught in two minds, as the ball was at a troublesome height to deal with, so he tried chesting it down. It fell to Walcott, who squared perfectly for van Persie. His header was saved, but he smashed it in at the second bite of the cherry. Gallas’ confusion reminded me of Ricardo Rocha at the Emirates in the Carling Cup. It was extra time, and the ball was low and he tried heading it. It fell to Aliadiere, who scored. Despite the defensive error though, van Persie’s goal was good. That’s 16 goals in 16 games for him now, and in the league he’s been involved in a goal a game in the last 20 I think. Superb stats – maybe he can be an out and out striker, with good enough support from the rest of the forwards.
Now, onto the goals we conceded. We couldn’t calm the game down after Theo’s goal, and it was poor from us defensively. The ball played in behind the defence caught us out, and van der Vaart was too good for Diaby, holding him off to fire a superb shot past Szczesny, albeit at his near post. The celebration was infuriating but I won’t go into that. It was poor defensively because we were caught out by a pass that we should have dealt with. Szczesny has been criticised but the shot was admittedly played to perfection and it would have been difficult to save, even at the near post.
The second goal was a super hit from Huddlestone. It began when Szczesny and Bale both went for the ball, Szczesny got it and Bale clattered into him. There were appeals for a penalty, when really it should have gone the other way. If Bale had got the ball first in the 50-50, and they had collided and both gone down, it’s a penalty. But oh well. A throw-in was given, and we cleared it only as far as Huddlestone who rifled it in. Again, little chance for Szczesny as it flew past him through a flurry of bodies.
As for the third goal, we could have prevented it. Sagna was caught out by a ball played in behind him, Lennon was always going to get the ball first and did, and you know the rest. A nailed on penalty, and of course it was scored by probably the most selfish player on the pitch. I said it during the World Cup (Sneijder and Robben were guilty of the same, which was a big difference between Holland and Spain in the final), van der Vaart is a selfish player who’s in it for himself first and the team second. But what can you expect for someone who plays for a club as classless as Tottenham?
Going back to what I said earlier, it wasn’t your typical Arsenal collapse. As was said pre-game, in a derby game, form goes out of the window. Anything can happen in a derby, especially when you’re away from home. We were powerless to stop our opponents from storming back, and couldn’t control the tempo of the game. That’s maybe missing a bit from our play, we struggle to change the speed of the game, we used to be able to control it but that wasn’t evident yesterday evening.
What we needed to do after that was score again, but we just didn’t have it in us. Well, to be fair we did have the ball in the net in the second half, but it was ruled offside. Ray Wilkins agreed; quite how he could tell at the time, seeing as the only replay available to him was obstructed by a stupidly-placed pole, I don’t know. Word from after the game from Arsenal fans was that van Persie was actually clearly onside. We would have been two goals in front again, but it’s in the past.
The attacking changes were made far too late in my opinion; Bendtner and Arshavin having only 10 minutes to change the game. Even worse was seeing Bendtner on the right flank; if you’re going to put him on a wing, put him on the left so he can cut in on his right, like against Ipswich. We should have done what we did against Everton, gone to a 4-4-2 which became a 4-2-4 in attack. We also did that vs West Brom. Both times we came back to win points. We needed a goal, but we didn’t push hard enough tactically I think.
You can’t fault the efforts of the players, they showed passion and spirit and they were up for it, they turned up on the night and played a good game. Unfortunately the opposition did too. It’s difficult to assess whether we’re still in the title race after that result; we’re 6 points behind with I think 5 games left. All we can do is win all of our games, hope that Chelsea beat United and that we can overhaul the gap in goal difference. Then we’re in with a great shout.
It’s interesting how according to the media, we’re out of the title race and Chelsea are back in it, just because they’ve gone above us into second. The only thing separating us is goal difference, so if one of us is in the race, then we both must be.
That’s all for today, I’m planning an article on players that haven’t lived up to their potential at Arsenal, but I’ve got a busy schedule over the next few days (honest) so it might not appear for a while, if I do decide to go ahead with it. Let’s hope we can get 3 points at Bolton.
It’s time to show this league we mean business.
It’s time to show Man United that the title is not theirs.
It’s time to show all the critics that we can overcome the toughest of challenges.
Most of all, it’s time to show ourselves that we actually can do it. So many near misses, so many late collapses over the course of this season and in seasons previous. But Newcastle handed us a lifeline yesterday, and we can take it with both hands with a win tonight. And against the noisy neighbours no less…
So much has been made of our spectacular failings, including our recent self-destruction while leading Liverpool at the Emirates. After that game, it seemed like the title dreams were over. But Newcastle ground out a draw with United, and our hopes are still alive.
It’s a similar situation to the NLD at WHL last season. We’d seemed to be out of the race but after a result surprisingly went our way we were still in it, just. While our opponents were chasing Champions League qualification. We went 1-0 down to a miracle goal (Almunia could have done better) early on, before shocking defending saw us concede another.
The introduction of a returning RVP inspired us, and we nearly pulled two back, but we only got one thanks to an also inspired Heurelho Gomes (ha!) and it finished 2-1.
In that game, we were missing loads of players; Vermaelen, Gallas, Song, Fabregas, Arshavin and van Persie for most of it. Now we have an almost full-strength squad, so no excuses there. Bendtner insists the players know what the derby means, and I think he’s right. We showed passion and determination to go 2-0 up earlier in the season at the Emirates. What happened next was a disaster, but hopefully once in a lifetime, a complete freak, just like Rose’s goal. Hopefully the performance we see will be more like the first half of that game, and not the second.
There’s been a lot of talk about Cesc’s comments, but I feel the criticism he’s had is unfair. Guillem Balague summed it up nicely on SSN, saying that Cesc just wants the best for the team he’s at. I agree, and I hope he’ll be able to lead us towards that. Starting tonight.
It’s a massive, massive game. It’s a must win, just like the rest of our games. Let’s pray the team don’t let us down. Up the Arsenal!