Weekend in retrospect: Arsenal 1-0 against Chelski and Cashley Cole

Great to always win against the closest rivals when the team hasn’t done so for just about 4 years.

Where Arsene Wenger had a realistic 50-50 chance of victory against Claudio Ranieri’s team of old, Wenger wasn’t able to replicate the same sort of equation against Jose Mourinho.

Of course, Arsenal home matches against Chelski are never short of drama; 2005/2006 season saw Robin van Persie’s early strike ruled out for offside at Highbury only for Arjen Robben and Joe Cole to punish the Arsenal 2-0 in a strange match on a cold, London night. That was also the last of the title chances the Arsenal has had in the redcurrant kit of that year. 2006/2007 saw a much-matured Arsenal side take the lead from a Gilberto Silva penalty which resulted from a foul of ex-Chelski Dutchman Khalid Boulahrouz bundling over former Arsenal loan-player Julio Baptista. It mattered little that Michael Essien nodded in a fine header on the 70th minute of that match in the Emirates but the 1-1 final result all but handed the Premiership trophy to the ManUres.

And so – Mourinho’s reign has since ended with Arsene Wenger never able to notch the elusive victory over the witty Portuguese bloke. Call it bad-timing as Arsenal’s invincible stars of the early 2000s faded in the 2005/2006 season and handed the Portuguese an easier task back then. There was never a time in the past two seasons when the Arsenal was a starting favourite to win a match against either ManUre or Chelski.

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The lineup is hardly surprising, given that this is the formation which Arsene probably feels that the team is at its strongest – with the amount of points won as its proof.

Almunia reclaimed goalkeeping duties from Lehmann;

Sagna, Toure, Gallas and Clichy (Man of the Match) formed the backline;

Eboue, Fabregas, Flamini and Rosicky manned the midfield; whereas

Hleb acted as attacking midfielder supplying Adebayor in the centre.

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First of all,

I feel that it’s not good to look at the result and think that a win over Chelski is overtly fantastic; nor is it that a loss away to Middlesbrough last week was a catastrophe. I still think that the young squad, with its own firebrand tempers eager for a round of bust-up in the middle of the park can either make or break the team. If channeled properly, we can see the results to the tune of the late 1-1 draw with Liverpool away or even the late salvation against the Man Ure not too long ago. But today’s game wasn’t helped much by the fact that the referee, Alan Wiley was drawing yellow cards like the colour has almost gone out of season – but the younger players like Fabregas and Flamini reacting furiously to Chelski’s cheap, dirty tricks and career-ending tackles from all sorts of shapes and sizes. It’s understandably frustrating and standing up to the situation is good; but Cesc’s equally venomous tackle on Cashley Cole resulted in a yellow card at the end of the match. If Cesc was trying for a red card, he would have easily gotten his wish.

Flamini was no better. At the moment when the hornets’ nest has been stirred, you can count on him to the forefront, yelling at the offenders and losing his cool. He may be a Frenchman but the game isn’t arbitrated by one. I’m also game for a round or two with these Chelski cunts but getting booked unnecessarily left, right, centre is not a good way to thank the boss for entrusting you to share in the essence of Wengerball at its best. Suppose it’s close to the end of the season and Wenger needs all the best-available players to push for the championship and because of some yellow cards limit in force or some other reckless action; the only personnel at the wrong time can’t make the difference. Besides, Alan Wiley wasn’t clearly handing out cards to the Arsenal players only and he was equally fair to the misbehaving Coles on the left side of the pitch.

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That said,it was a matured performance from the lads and it was a gritty first half to say the least. Many of those watching may be of the idea that Petr Cech should have done a lot more with the corner kick but William Gallas’ header illustrated the extra dimension in the Arsenal attack which has been lacking for a long time – lethality in the box. His equaliser against the ManUre is also the type of goal which the Arsenal team of the past 2 seasons have been trying to score when the brilliant passes around the box came to naught. It may be a fortuitous goal, but they all count; just as Arjen Robben’s sneaky goal 2 seasons ago was.

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I was also thinking of a brilliant Van Persie return. The team suddenly surged from a power source and Van Persie seemed to have galvanized the midfield and the final 3rd areas of the pitch. Pity about his overpowered finishing; his positioning put Alex Rodrigo Costa (ex-PSV defenseman) and Tal Ben Haim into a state of confusion whenever the team exploited a quick break from a Chelski attack. Wenger may be banking on the Dutchman a lot more this season. This may seem like bad news to Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott who simply needed more games to be functioning well and adding a whole lot of attacking options to the team. Maybe Bendtner first since he has improved tremendously but can Eduardo da Silva also wait for long at the touchlines? Bendtner looked incredulous when subbing Adebayor into the last 2 minutes of injury time in the match, which is not the first time and possibly not the last. The question is how long would he accept being a very late substitute. It’s not like Adebayor wasn’t doing well these days but subbing a player in the 75th minute is possibly the most respectable time for a late change in the game. Playing for 3 injury minutes while waiting for someone to pass the ball to you is worse than playing a game of pool against a regional champion who starts the game.

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I’ve yakked about van Persie and Gallas; but don’t forget the one who saved the team with some brilliant goalkeeping – Manuel Almunia. It’s true that he hasn’t been on the best of form yet. He can be rather good in some games then rather careless in others. It’s probably the pressure of Jens Lehmann making baby noises about being excluded from the team and the expectations from all parties Arsenal to do well but his saves are clear indications of gratitude to Arsene Wenger for sticking by him despite some flaws (ManUre; Liverpool; Middlesbrough) but not consigning him to the bench as yet.

Shaun-Wright Phillips (SWP) probably should have scored from barely a yard out but that was the defence’s mistake, not directly his. Almunia was called to duty far more than his opposite number and he came out tops, saving an early SWP effort; parrying an Andrei Shevchenko rocket; a Shevchenko header from point blank range; and a late Shevchenko freekick which he tipped over the bar in the early minutes of injury time. I won’t make assumptions that Lehmann would have done any better or worse off had he been in Almunia’s boots but the Spaniard wasn’t just about to relinquish his goalkeeping start just yet judging with his performances today.

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That’s it. Happy with the points and the top of the table outcome – looking for more of these. Not so satisfied that Liverpool failed to make home advantage count against the hated Man Ure but that’s football.

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Now on to the Primera Liga.

I was watching the Valencia CF v. Barcelona game early yesterday morning and the game provided no real shocks. 3-0 to Barcelona.

FC Barcelona were really impressive on the flanks, pushing upfront with their youngsters (Bojan and Giovanni, I reckon) and causing problems to the Valencia rearguard.

Valencia were not as good going forward – Joaquin not at his best; Vicente Rodriguez finding it hard against Rafael Marquez and Carles Puyol. The midfield position sank under the weight of opposition in the form of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta who punished David Albelda and David Silva real hard. I don’t even recall seeing Fernando Morientes doing anything of note for the good part of the match. Well, Vicente was quite the one doing most of the attacking moves but they all ended up in safe Catalan boots.

It’s interesting to see the likes of young players like Javier Arizmendi, Juan Manuel Mata, Angel Sanchez, and David Lomban develop a mix of youth into the ageing Valencia team but really, would a youth experiment like this do wonders without the inspirational guiding hand of Arsene Wenger? These players weren’t roped in by new coach Ronald Koeman; they were retrieved from obscurity by previous manager Quique Sanchez and thrown into the mix to see what they would turn out like. Call it an experimental backfire or poor implementation but this team is not good to watch.

Ronald Koeman was called upon by Los Ches to turn the team’s results around quickly and time is not on his side. With the team fresh from European misadventure and a premature exit without the consolation of a UEFA Cup place, the Los Ches fans were growing rather accustomed to seeing the team sink to mid-table obscurity.

I’m not exaggerating.

The usually convivial atmosphere of the mighty Mestalla stadium drew a large, enthusiastic crowd (53,000 spectators according to Sky Sports). When Samuel Eto’o of Barcelona grabbed a brace by the time it was 27 minutes, the Los Ches faithful stayed and watch. When Eidur Gudjohnsen netted his 62nd minute after fine work in the flanks by a combo of Xavi and Giovanni, the effect was instantaneous – the Los Ches ‘faithful’s abandoned the Mestalla in droves.

You can see the seats around the arena were emptying by the minute as if it was already the injury time and that the scoreline was as the final one. The commentator was moved to say that it was quite a pity to see such strong, vociferous support to be disappointed by the way the team played. Ronald Koeman had earlier commented in a press conference before the match (see the official Valencia CF website) that the team needed the fans’ support and that it would be ‘easier’ to win if that were the case.

Whether the fans were betraying the team by leaving in the 62nd minute when Barcelona made it 3-0 or the team were performing to a level deemed unsuitable for the viewing of the fans is not in issue here – the obvious thing is that the fans were simply accepting that Barcelona were the better team and that the current Valencia team needed no further advice on the course of action to take. As usual, leave the tactics to the coach and the players; and enjoy the game as a supporter. They did the right thing and it was fair in any situation.

I’ve read many opinions that Ronald Koeman is not the right man for the job. His work at PSV is respectable – an Eredivisie title and progress to the quarterfinals of the Champions League at Arsenal’s expense last season. If that wasn’t good, I don’t know what is. His style isn’t very pleasing on the eye, which is true. PSV inherited the turtling technique from Guus Hiddink’s days as manager ever since the Dutch giants made inroads into the Champions League knockout stages especially with Europe’s elite relishing what may possibly be an easy encounter. From what I’ve seen yesterday, there were little traces of that left. Yet, Valencia is nothing like PSV – where the recruits change hands as quickly as they had come during the transfer window. PSV’s adaptability is probably quite well-known; with the team losing top players in droves and still making a crack at the title come the end of the Dutch season. Yes, the all-too-familiar comment of the Eredivisie being the easier league than the Primera Liga is true but PSV did perform well in the Champions League for the past 2 seasons whereas Valencia were only able to reach the quarterfinals only last year. So, I think that Koeman should be given some chance to prove himself. It may have been a PSV way, but that is the way Koeman thinks best for the team.

With chief striker David Villa continuously linked to high-profiled moves to Chelski and Liverpool in as early as the January 2008 transfer window, it won’t take any neutral long to see that it would be long uphill climb for Los Ches. Expect to see the club invest in a winger in the transfer window and probably ship the German keeper Timo Hildebrand back to the Bundesliga where he should have belonged.





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