I rarely look forward to playing WHAM. First of all it’s a derby game and form and league positions go out of the window in derby games. Second, they always seem to pull a trump card on us every now and then. Whether it being the last team to beat us at Highbury, the first to beat us at The Emirates or coming back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw..They are one of those teams that seem to raise their game when they play us and make it a real fight. But not this time. We totally trashed them. Apart from a sticky period in the opening minutes of the second half when we were adjusting to being a man light, we dominated them. Some of the football we were playing was sublime, the passing and movement and slick one twos were out of this world and above all, the lads were queuing up to be heroes.
The title race is in the balance. With our overspending rivals not playing until today, we had a chance to stamp our authority on the PL and go top of the table, for a few hours anyway. 3 points against the bubble blowing lot was a must and we got off to a blinding start..
We started off with that swagger that we used to see in the invincible era..You know what im talking about. That confidence that we were going to win and the other team knew we were going to win and there wasn’t a right lot they could do about it..
The passing was crisp and the first goal came when Nikki and the impressive Denilson exchanged passes on the edge of the box and not for the first time this season, the young Brazilian, AKA Crabby Mchuffandpuff, slotted the ball past the helpless keeper from a fair distance..Great start..Only 5 minutes on the clock and it was 1 nil to the good guys and I think everyone expected the floodgates to open.. Which they should have..
Our slick passing continued throughout the first half and WHAM resorted to tactical fouling to try and stem the flow, hitting the long ball to Mido at every opportunity..They certainly didn’t look like a team coached by the great Zola, but they were playing us, so they were bound to look crap..We had so many chances to kill them off and to be honest I was starting to get frustrated..I could see what was coming..We were starting to showboat around the box, unnecessary one-twos and tricks and flicks instead of just shooting on sight. At the score being just 1-0, it was a dangerous game to play, especially with WHAM hitting the long ball whenever they won it back and my fears came to reality just short of half time..We did look good, some of the football was amazing, but we were guilty of over cooking it and we were caught out by a long ball that caught TV off guard. He allowed the ball to bounce and Franco ran in behind him. Minimum contact was made, nothing that constituted a foul anyway, yet Franco went over like he’d stood on a land mine in the box..The ref was 50 yards away from the play thanks to the nature of the hoof and couldnt make the call, instead relying on his linesman to make it for him..
Penalty kick to WHAM..I couldnt believe it..Was this guy for real?? I put no blame on the ref for this one, the officials have to work as a team..TV was the last man, the linesman declared it was a foul..The laws state TV had to go..Down to ten men with half the game to go and a penalty kick to level the scores to follow..Squeeky bum time.The odds had suddenly stacked against us in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden we were up against it..But like i said earlier the players were queuing up to be heroes..
Up stepped Almunia..He’s had an awful lot of flack this season and he’s had a bad year but he pulled out what could possibly be the most vital save of this campiagn..If that would of gone in we would have been up against it, but that save not only kept us in front, it woke the fans up too. It was a match winning moment. Hero number one…
The second half started and I was still confident that we would win..We always seem to play better with 10 men anyway,the players are used to passing in tight areas and the extra man WHAM had wouldn’t make much difference to our style. It would just lull them into a false sense of security that they had the advantage when they really didn’t, they were just giving us more space to play with..I was more pissed off with the fact we couldn’t lose TV at any stage of the run in..Especially with Gallas out injured. The straight red possibly means a three game ban which we really didn’t need at this stage. Suggestions that it could be just a one game ban due to the nature of the foul may not be wide off the mark..But the powers that be seem to make the rules up as they go along nowadays, especially as far as Arsenal players are concerned, so I expect 3..With the possibility of 4 if we appeal..
Back to the game. We started off pretty gingerly in the second half. We seemed to allow WHAM to come at us for the first 10-15 minutes while we found our feet..Song was pushed back into the CB role and Denilson anchored the midfield by himself. Raise your hands heroes 2 and 3..Song was outstanding at CB, just as he had been outstanding in the first half at DM..He was a colossus with nothing getting past him..His ability to adapt was amazing and with Denilson having a 100% pass success rate and not giving the ball away we looked just as solid as ever..
Wenger brought on Diaby, hero number 4, to stablise the middle and we just kept the ball..WHAM didnt really have a sniff, apart from a shot from Cole that hit the post but you can’t say they deserved anything from the game…
Hero number 5 was Cesc..with the game closing out we were awarded a penalty when Upson deliberately handled in the box. He was already on a yellow, he should have gone..If TV had to go then so did Upson but the ref seemed to forget where he put his cards and Upson stayed on the pitch..A bit of a piss take but nothing to moan about..We still had a penalty which Cesc slotted home..
Game over..Impressive display under the circumstances and a vital 3 points that sees us perched proudly at the top of the best league in the world…
ALMUNIA..8..Not much to do apart from the penalty save, but it was a match winning save. He cheated to do it, but it was karma in my opinion..The linesman made a cock up and he knew it, so he let Manny step half way out of the 6 yard box to meet the ball..Still a top save though..
EBOUE..7..I thought he had a poor opening 30 minutes,regularly getting caught out of position and letting the WHAM strikers get in behind him, but sorted it out and became threatening as the game went on..Had a good second half..
CLICHY..8..I was beginning to wonder if Gael had lost it..He’s starting to look sharp again and was making those menacing runs up and down the left flank we all love him for.
SOL..7..Looks clumbsy at times but that’s just his age, he’s not the spring chicken he once was and we shouldn’t forget that..He’s 35..Expecting him to glide across the pitch like a 19 year old ballerina is wishful thinking, but he’s strong and solid and gets stuck in. That grit and determination rubs off well on the other players.
TOMMY V..5..Unfortunate sending off. Unfortunate penalty. Mido was giving both him and Sol a hard time in the air but on the ground he looked solid..
Denilson..8..Thats probably the best game he’s had for Arsenal..He never gave the ball away and he scored a good goal. I just wish he’d try a through ball every now and then instead of opting for the safe pass all the time..good display though..we needed it from him..
SONG..9..MOTM..Easily..Controlled the midfield in the first half and became monster CB in the second after TV got his marching orders..Not only can he tackle but he looks so comfortable on the ball, doesn’t panic, doesn’t rush..if anyone wants this boy they looking at forking out at least 30mil..
NASRI..7..Looked as though he played through a painful injury he picked up in the first half..He looks out of place out wide..He’s not a winger and he drifts in and out of the game a lot. Nonetheless it was a good contribution.
CESC..7..Not his best game but even an 80% Cesc is better than most other midfielders in the world.Not even a great penalty but it went in and sealed the three points..
ARSHAVIN..7..Ok lets clear this up..He’s not a team player, he’s arrogant and his work-rate isn’t the best, but he’s still dangerous. He’s one of those players that every team needs on the pitch..He’s an eyes front type of player, he’s direct and he runs at goal at every opportunity..Sometimes it might not look like he’s doing much but teams are shit scared of him..Give him space and he’ll rifle a shot off, close him down or double mark him and you leave Cesc with more pitch to play with.. win/win scenario..This is not his best form by a long shot but we stuck by Eboue, Denilson, Diaby and Nikki amongst many and put up with their crap displays for years..Give this man a break, when he gets his form back you’ll be licking his arse again like we all were last year..
NIKKI B..7..Offers the front line so much more than the three midgets do. He wins the flick ons and he links up play well..played Denilson in for the opener..was the tactical sacrificial lamb in the second half due to the sending off but he took it like a pro..You know strikers hate coming off early, especially if they aren’t injured or if they haven’t scored..Some say his ego is massive and that maybe the case, but if you listen to his interviews and you study his body language, the team comes first to this boy…
DIABY..8..excellent cameo display..came on and did the job required..some of his ball skills were out of this world, which we know he can do, but time and again he looked like he was auditioning for soccer AM’s showboating slot..if the top 10 isn’t all Diaby next week i’ll be very suprised..there is no better way to defend than keeping the ball..WHAM couldnt get the ball off him. Lovely to watch and he eased the pressure off our defence..
SAGNA..not really on long enough
DUDU..same as Sagna
THE FANS…3…No offence to anyone who was at the game but you really were piss poor, in the first half especially..It was embarrassing having to listen to that shitty bubble song being sang loud and proud for the majority of the 1st half without any response from you lot..I know the Emirates is crap for atmosphere but come on..For crying out loud were in a title race here..You’ve got to do better than that..It’s a football stadium not a cinema.. It’s our football stadium so make some noise..I could understand if we were playing badly but we were ripping them a new one, some of the football we were playing was heavenly and you lot were like a set of mutes for the best part of an hour..Sort it out..
Enjoy being top of the league guys, today we are doing something we never thought we’d have to do.. We’re Liverpool and Blackburn fans…