Weekend in retrospect 16/12/2007 – 23/12/2007

==North London Derby==

That was some London derby.

Arse-chums can relate to the Edgar Davids’ unsportsmanlike conduct 2 seasons ago which led to a goal for Spurs; their thrashing 3-0 at the Emirates last season and the earlier 3-1 loss at home which cumulatively added up to Martin Jol’s eventual sacking earlier this season.

Despite all the hype from the pundits trying to fire up the interest for this derby, both teams started out in a tense mood. Eventually, the Spurs’ midfield started to gel and were making themselves rather comfortable going forward.

–Arsene started with pretty much the same squad which helped the team to what it is now. So no surprises, really. —

I thought that Cesc Fabregas wasn’t at his best.

His passes in the first half were not sharp enough and Flamini was also rather careless going forward. Paul Robinson was called into action for at least 2 times in the first half, with efforts from Emmanuel Eboue who presented the only incisive attack going forward and a rather late Kolo Toure header which the fattish Spurs keeper saved with some dramatics. Kevin-Prince Boateng (more likely the name of a Pekingese dog IMO than one to rival the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) took a snap shot which came too close for comfort but the score remained 0-0 at halftime.

But it was a wonderful 2nd half.

There is never a better location to win a match and that’d be at home. With the Man Ures sloshing around against the Toffees of Everton FC and at home too, this should be a game to win; let alone the fact that it should be the bragging rights which ruled the North London for another season now. And forget whatever happens at the Carling Cup. Mickey Mouse Cups don’t count. That is, unless you’re so underachieving as Spurs had done for a long time now that they’ve probably forgotten what winning a major tournament must have felt like.

So, with the fantastic crowd egging the team on at the Emirates, the team stormed to a 1-0 lead at the 48th minute. Cesc, who still had a rather patchy game up till then was released by Tomas Rosicky near the final 3rd and launched the much-noted backheel to Sheyi Adebayor who tucked home with Henrysque aplomb.

Up to that point, nothing still seemed certain with Spurs’ midfield closing ranks quickly and launching quick counterattacks to the dangerous Dmitar Berbatov who presented the most tangible threat to Arsenal’s lead. Were he to leave Spurs in the January to Arsehole Ferguson’s Man Ure, I think that Spurs may have an uphill climb to challenge for a UEFA Cup spot with Robbie Keane out of sorts and their midfield only having half-chances to contend with.

Robbie Keane, ironically, was present in the thick of action when Aaron Lennon lofted over to him which ordinarily, the team would have been punished for that; but the Irishman struck the post at less than a yard out.

Berbatov eased Keane’s conscience a little by seizing on the Irishman’s re-enactment of Cesc’s backheel and volleyed home on a tight angle. I don’t feel like heaping praise on the Bulgarian but he’s certainly improved since his Bayer Leverkusen days when I was following the team (and still am).

At this point of time, it’s anyone’s game. 2 seasons ago, you’d have bet on the Arsenal to succumb to this shock goal and lose heart.

We came mightily close to that.

Berbatov again showed his class by making fools of Arsenal’s defence and was clipped by Kolo Toure (who also had a rather unsettling game). There can’t be argument with that although Toure’s animated incredulity made me crack up in laughter.

Robbie Keane, having a rather passive game so far was tasked to take the penalty. I thought he’d have scored but Manuel Almunia (of all people!) saved! If that doesn’t make a believer of Jens Lehmann, I don’t know what will. Lehmann, for his part, had a look of resignation on the bench and looked contented that his time at the Arsenal may have been numbered since his bloopers at the start of the campaign. We were never a team famous for having goalkeepers able enough to save penalty shots with confidence and Almunia was up to it.

Then, as what most media termed another Wenger ‘masterstroke’, the Boss took off Eboue and tasked Nicklas Bendtner to do the attacking moves. Cesc took a corner and Bendtner, in what was his first touch of the game, came out from the shadows, took a super leap and nodded the ball into the net. 2-1 to the Arsenal!

Spurs, as usual, responded with some determination to salvage a point but came away with nothing. 6 points this season is great and the Arsenal Carling Cup team may yet heap more misery on Juande Ramos’ team. Should they beef up their squad during the January transfer window, they may be slightly better off finding ways to keep Berbatov happy at the club.

Adebayor and his manager agreed that Spurs had came out fighting and only Arsenal’s dogged retaliation ensured that the points belonged to the reds of North London.

The question is, whether Nicklas Bendtner doing enough to warrant him a starting place in the first team. I’d say no, at least not yet. Aside from the wonderful goal, which highlighted his confident shadowing and positional sense; his first-touch was decidedly poor and his passes in the Carling Cup victory over Blackburn wasn’t one who can draw the line for the Arsenal attack so soon.

Adebayor wasn’t too convincing at the attacking role either but his finishing is improving.

So, not a great team performance yesterday but 3 points is nothing to be complained about. Finally, William Gallas’ promise to win un-beautiful games could be delivered.

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Valencia appeared to be a team shorn of confidence at the moment.

Only during the midweek, coach Ronald Koeman dropped the hint that the 3 old guards of Valencia (captain David Albelda; Santiago Cañizares; and Miguel Angel Angulo) would not play for the rest of the season.

If that should be the death knell for the Valencia team who won the fantastic titles and UEFA Cup in 2004; but good for the new batch of youngsters coming out from the club, so be it.

Koeman allegedly had the support of the largely nervy Valencia president Juan Bautista Soler to tell these players that their services are no longer needed for the season (and, if you’re not so sharp; at Valencia CF for the next season and the next until they retire).

(At this writing, according to Goal.com, Santiago Cañizares and David Albelda have since spoken out about their situation and the goalkeeper has hinted at retirement whereas the fairly determined Albelda has vowed to continue, despite launching some flak about the club management having no balls to tell him to beat it after staying at the club for nearly all his professional career (barring some loan moves to other Spanish teams). Albelda and Santi would always be remembered at Valencia CF as great contributors to the club for what it is today and I don’t think that Valencianistas everywhere would disagree,although these players’ performances have been largely sub-part this season.)

Ronald Koeman, who didn’t need to resort to this sort of heavy-handed approach in his club coaching career, defended his actions and exhorted that no pressure came from the club management to axe them. He saw things which he didn’t like since he came to Valencia and his decision came as little surprise.

To be fair, I’ve seen Koeman placing faith on the duo (I’ve not seen Angulo in action for quite some time now but I stand corrected); allowing them to play in the first team like they’ve always been. What was initially a 2-game internal suspension turned out to be a farewell ceremony for these players. Koeman may have been riding a rough wave for all of these but I think that even without this cowman opening his gap, there are plenty of evidence that the determination of these players is gone.

The final straw may have been the humiliating 3-0 home loss to FC Barcelona where Albelda was little more than a peripheral figure in midfield and hardly looked the sort of player who has won titles before. Santi’s goalkeeping was also rather atrocious during the game. Not the sort of performance to raise themselves up the Primera Liga.

For yesterday, their opponents were Real Zaragoza. They have 2 Argentine players who were once on the record books of Valencia CF: Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala. Neither looked like world class players these days and neither looked like candidates to join a major club soon. I don’t know too much of Real Zaragoza except that they have some rather talented players before: Ewerthon (now at Vfb Stuttgart); Gabriel Milito (now FC Barcelona); and Gustavo Lopez.

The first half at La Romareda in Zaragoza saw the home team seized a 2-0 lead and some horrendous Valencia defending. Juan Luis Mora (with Santi now gone and Timo Hildebrand injured) had his chance for a long-term role in the first team but didn’t do much to impress. Valencia CF brought on the very tall Nikola Zigic (2.02 metres tall) and his presence was keenly felt. It was the 77th minute when Zigic nodded home across the Zaragoza goalmouth which was too high for any Zaragoza defenders to reach. The minute David Silva knocked in the equaliser in the 83rd minute from close range. Valencia had chances to win the match but it was a fair score for all concerned. As an afterthought, Ronald Koeman was also banished from the bench on the 58th minute which must have been something he said to the officials.

Not quite a good result but it could have been worse. Valencia didn’t look like winning the match at any point of time and were playing catch-up for most of the match. No sign of reinforcements at the club and no big-name signing to bolster the team. David Villa remained at the sidelines whereas Joaquin probably needed more talented peers to do his best. Koeman may be raiding the Eredivisie for some personnel but don’t expect some stars from the blue.

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In parting, this is a photo of Nicklas Bendtner making his header which put real daylight between Spurs and the Arsenal and can add Man Ure to the list as well at the end of the season when the Arsenal would be champions. Enjoy.

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