Boxing Day Away Blues

0-0 away at Fratton Park. This place is not really a nice park to visit for the Arsenal and this time is no different. Having the lead usurped by the Man Ure up north is also not a nice Christmas gift for the Gunners and with a very tough away fixture coming up soon (against Everton away this weekend), I think that the onus is now on the Arsenal to regain their lead or see them handing the Man Ures seasonal presents which would be beneficial to them in the long run.

Since boss Wenger started with the same team for the umpteenth time, it’s superfluous to name the team here.

When I looked at the performance today from the Arsenal lads, the first things to come to mind are these 2 common analysis when the team draws a game:

a) Two points dropped;
b) One point gained.

This time, I’d say (b).

If you looked at the performance today, nothing really points to the Arsenal winning. The chances were there (Rosicky shot in the first half; Gallas’ howler at towards the end; Rosicky equally compelling howler of his own at roughly the same time) and it’s again frustrating to watch this kind of football but Pompey’s tactics really sucked the team up for good.

I thought that their team played their same siege football again, only this time, Pompey weren’t ready to concede a home loss. Their defence was rather top-notch and they rarely let up even when the Gunners were edging closer to a goal. But watching the doctrines of ‘siege football’ against ‘turtling up in defence’ is just too common in the English game. Newcastle played the same sort of football; Everton does it; Wigan probably adopted a similar method and you can bet that Pompey has mastered it. Those teams turtling up would successfully stave off and deflect a failed siege, get some tall midfielder to edge the ball down the centre where another playmaker (Niko Kranjcar) would be on hand to stroke the ball into the path of Benjani or to Nwankwo Kanu. You’d watch this type of football being played for a good part of both halves and the score predictably ends up 0-0.

I again stress that there’s really nothing much that the Arsenal could have done today. You can put Thierry Henry back in today’s lineup with Robin van Persie and I can tell you that the outcome would have been the same. So all credit to Portsmouth for playing the ultimate English game of ‘turtling up and counterattack’. There’s nothing wrong with that. They were only daring the Arsenal to come forward and expose their backline which the Gunners did (approximately 15 minutes before the end of the match for Benjani). If that is not one point gained (than 2 lost), I don’t know what is.

Anyone could also point out that the Arsenal midfield weren’t up to to the performance today. I reckon that correct. The Saturday derby against Tottenham Hotspur was already draining on player fitness as it is and with Wenger unwilling to mix the bag a bit after Xmas, it’s quite certain that some midfield mistakes would come about.

And, Fratton Park is not really a fantastic place to go for points. Despite Portsmouth bottling up, they can also show some attacking verve on their own when playing against any team other than the top 4.

I can visualize the fact that Portsmouth lost to Liverpool terribly last weekend (4-1) and few would have predicted this scoreline today, including yours truly. The thing is, Anfield is a difficult away venue (not really for Man Ure, is it?) and few teams would be hoping to snare a win there anytime soon other than Chelsea, perhaps.

Maybe the Arsenal lacked a Fernando Torres or a Carlos Tevez type of player who is an ace at positioning and, (for Torres) finishing as well. Emmanuel Adebayor didn’t look confident at all today although his grit showed when he tried to win back lost possessions at his station. You can’t fault him for that. If there’s a culpable finger-pointing victim(s) today, it has to be Flamini and Fabregas. Both did not do enough today and both did not put in the little extra which would have made a difference. Papa Bouba Diop was tasked by Pompey manager Harry Redknapp to shadow Fabregas today, effectively shutting out the diminutive Spaniard from working a treat. Flamini was also locked out by other Pompey midfielders (Richard Hughes and Co.) and there goes the story.

Sky Sports reports that Arsene Wenger slammed Pompey’s turtling up and he’s right as usual. But he seemed to forget the principle of circumventing the problem. I mean, has he really formulated a plan to counterattack this? Did he bring in the right sort of personnel to work the stuff of champions? I absolutely hated Man Ure but they have the right sort of players for different opponent tactics. Cristiano Ronaldo can switch from the right to the left with ease, play up front as a 3rd striker or even attacking midfield role. Of course, you require the right sort of multi-faceted talent to execute this. For the umpteenth time, can’t Wenger bring in a player like this, so that the team won’t be so easy to predict?

I’ve heard and seen good things about Luka Modric (you can look it up in youtube) as the clubs intensify their bidding power for him, with Chelsea-PSV, and Spurs signalling enough interest to make the transfer news, whether credible or otherwise.

My point today is – happy that Pompey didn’t capitalise on the mistake and make the Arsenal lose but not happy that Wenger hasn’t been able to correct the problem he can identify very well.

Wenger has been often quoted as saying that the millions promised to him by Arsenal MD, Keith Edelman won’t be touched at all. How classic. We do know that Lassana Diarra is already unhappy and so is Abou Diaby. The saturated midfield is a problem which he must resolve soon.

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Today’s match illustrated perfectly how teams can disrupt the Arsenal’s rhythm and tempo. If today’s match is a relative disappointment, be prepared for a tough time when they take on Everton away. This is one team which ran Man Ure to the final minutes away from home before losing to a tame penalty which the famous Oscars nominee Cristiano Ronaldo converted. Playing at home in Goodison Park is also another major boost. This is one of the rare occasions where I’m satisfied if the team can even salvage a point. Meanwhile, Man Ure could draw comfort from the fact that they are facing a mediocre West Ham side which is not really dangerous at home or away. Then again, the team has done spectacularly well against the big-spenders of the Premiership the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Man Ure (up till before the Pompey match, that is) and the team has defied the naysayers at the beginning of the season to be where they are now.

 I could have no complaints.

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