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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Amazing what effort can do, Wigan away preview

I love it when Arsenal prove me wrong. I am the kind of person that expects the worst from my team. The late kick-off on a bank holiday kept me away from the match last night. Do I regret not going? Probably a little bit to be honest. I thought the boys were magnificent last night. Right from the kick-off we were on top of the game and pressing the opposition. Theo Walcott said afterwards that the players had concentrated on pressing all over the pitch when not in possession. When Barcelona came to our place last Spring that is exactly what they did, and the success they enjoyed was similar to Arsenal's last night. My brother said after the game that it's a shame we haven't pressed the ball like that since the game at Everton on the first day of last season!
Wenger threw in a surprise or two with the selection. Johan Djourou finally got a game, but at the expense of Squillaci rather than Koscielny. Sadly Koscielny cost us the goal as he failed to even challenge Ivanovic who he was marking. I thought Djourou was outstanding on the night, despite the "observations" of Charlie Wyett in today's Sun - we must assume he was sampling Arsenal's hospitality rather than watching the game. Theo Walcott also started the game and I can't believe Ashley Cole has been given such a tough match for a long time. I felt this was Walcott's strongest performance so far in his career - willing to run at the best left-back in the World, and his tracking back was superb. He should never have been replaced in the second-half at a time when his pace would have seen us score at least one more goal I am certain.
Robin Van Persie replaced Chamakh, which was unsurprising after Arsene Wenger had prepared the ground by claiming Chamakh is tired - completely overlooking the fact that Arsenal hadn't played in a fortnight. I thought RVP was back to somewhere near his best last night, despite his ridiculous miss in the first couple of minutes. It seems to me that John Terry is finished. Van Persie completely dominated Terry in the air, on the ground, and in a physical battle.
Now, while I'm on the subject of Terry I can't let it go without talking about the referee and his reluctance to do anything about his foul-play. When we win I can slag the referee safe in the knowledge that I can't be accused of sour grapes. It seemed that Clattenburg had no interest in booking anyone from Chelsea, particularly not John Terry. Conversely he was quick to bring out the cards for RVP and Fabregas. Lampard should have been red-carded for his disgraceful foul on Song in the second-half, and his smirk towards Fabregas left we wishing for Vieira, Petit or Keown and their particular brand of justice - he wouldn't have been smirking with their hands round his throat, or when he was being carted off on a (necessarily reinforced in his case) stretcher. Throw in the penalties we didn't get, and the numerous dubious free-kicks given to Chelsea, and you wonder about the integrity of a referee who was banned last year due to his parlous financial situation. Clattenburg claims he was going to give a penalty had not Alex Song's shot gone in. Was he balls. He didn't react at all to the foul on Fabregas and was lucky that Song scored.
Song's goal was crucial in the game, of course. But it was his second-half performance that was more pleasing to me as he did what I want him to do - he simply protected the defence, and his only forward foray came deep in injury-time when that joker Rosicky got himself offside before missing anyway. I felt that Song and Wilshere were outstanding in midfield, with an incredible work rate between them. The fact that Lampard and Essien were never in the game is testament to their performance in that part of the pitch. If I was picking a man of the match it would be Song, closely followed by Walcott - Cesc Fabregas' expression when he was presented the award told you all you need to know about his view of things, and he immediately passed the accolade to Theo Walcott.
All in all it was a massive win, gained through a magnificent team performance. In all honesty a 4 or 5 goal haul would have been more of a justified scoreline, but I'll take 3-1 thanks very much. I've been saying for a long time that the players needed to win a game against another top side to prove to themselves that they can compete in the big games. They've now done it, so I really hope it gives them the necessary belief to go forward and challenge for the Title. Up until last night I was still convinced Chelsea would win the Premier League this season. I was disappointed, though not surprised, that Sky decided to take the idea that Chelsea had been poor, rather than Arsenal superb. The fact is that Chelsea were missing only Alex and Anelka from their first-choice line-up last night. Yes, their bench was weak, but the eleven on the pitch was close to their best team, and they were beaten convincingly by Arsenal.

Last night's win will mean little if we don't produce similar fare at Wigan tomorrow night, and at Birmingham on Saturday. To play three games in five days is a joke, especially after a lack of midweek fixtures last week (the weather might well have seen games cancelled last week, but it would have been better to have scheduled them then, rather than this week). Arsenal will go to Wigan without Fabregas, following his booking last night. How can it be that a player like Fabregas, who gets kicked and kicked every time he plays, can find himself suspended for five bookings at Christmas?
With the games coming in such quick succession I can see changes being made, with the squad rotated. Diaby will surely get a start in place of Fabregas I would think, and Denilson (if fit), Eboue, Bendtner, Squillaci etc can all expect to play a part in the next few days.
Wigan have showed an aptitude for playing against the big sides in the past couple of years, while struggling badly against the rubbish. The Arsenal players should have a point to prove after the shameful capitulation at the DW in May (I'm talking particularly about you Messrs Clichy and Fabianski). I think Rodallega and Diame are fine players, who can give us trouble, while the enigmatic N'Zogbia (I'm assuming he's available) can beat most sides on his day. It will be a tough encounter for our boys, and it's one they must win. We're not on the box so it looks like an internet night for me - fingers crossed for a good stream to watch it on.

There'll be more on Thursday I hope.

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