Sunday, 10 April 2011
Blackpool 1 - 3 Arsenal, Silent Stan makes himself heard
Three points. I suppose it doesn't matter how they come anymore, as long as we get a win in every match to the end of the season. My overwhelming feeling watching the game today was frustration at the fact that the players seem incapable of learning their lesson - I could see another Newcastle coming a mile off this afternoon.
I'm writing these thoughts while watching the US Masters golf so I hope you'll forgive me if they seem a little brief, or a bit distracted.
There was drama before the match even started this afternoon when Manuel Almunia was "injured" in the warm-up. It seems rather convenient to me that a man under such pressure, and with such a fragile mental state as Almunia, should develop a knee problem as the game is about to kick-off. I like Almunia, who seems a genuinely nice guy, who ALWAYS does his best, but he knows he isn't really up to it and so do we. I'm sure I wasn't alone in being quietly happy when it was announced that Jens Lehmann would be in the starting eleven in his stead. As Alan Smith said on Sky, Jens is now the man in possession so there is little reason for him to be replaced unless Szczesny gets himself fit in the near future.
Blackpool started quickly, as you would have expected. I thought we were exposed defensively again in the absence of Song. With Jack Wilshere having a very poor day (though if there is a more fouled player in the Premier League I would be surprised) there was little cover in front of the back-four. In the early going there were three or four balls fizzed in to the six-yard area only for Jens to take one step off his line and catch them comfortably. I feel that Manuel would have been retreating in to his net had he been faced with that early onslaught.
When we went in front we saw Abou Diaby at his very best. The big man broke up the play, set us going forward, and continued his run to finish off a sweeping move. If Diaby played like that throughout any game he would be a class player. The same goes for the second goal, with Eboue doing what he does best and running at people, before crashing an unstoppable shot in to the net. Unfortunately the pair of them then reverted to type. When we were struggling in the second-half (McIlroy is just teeing off - good start) Eboue kept passing it straight to the opposition, while Diaby was everywhere the ball wasn't - when we went forward he was nowhere to be seen, and he was similarly absent in defence.
Our first-half would no doubt have had the neutrals, the Johnny Come Lately's and the Tarquin and Henrietta's purring with delight. "Wonderful football." "Entertaining stuff." Or, as I would put it, "no end product because no sod will shoot for goal when they have the chance to kill the game off." Robin Van Persie must be the only centre-forward in the World that would choose to pass to one of his midfielders when he sees the goalkeeper 30 yards out of his goal with the net gaping (that Diaby then decided he should beat another defender rather than shoot in to the empty goal only compounded the issue). The thing that's most frustrating is that this profligacy is not new. It's not even exclusive to this squad over the past couple of years. Going right back to Wenger's greatest teams there has been a consistent reluctance to humiliate the opposition. The odd seven goal thrashing apart we have never really seen Arsenal do to the opposition what Man Utd did in their pomp, or what Chelsea did last season. What the players need to understand is that goal difference might yet play a big part in the final reckoning this season, so they must take every possible opportunity to score a goal.
We were lucky in the second-half. It was no surprise to see Blackpool get a goal after we had been so wasteful. Then they should have had a penalty. We would be screaming absolute blue murder if Koscielny's foul had been at the other end and we had been denied a spot-kick (Rory's left himself a nasty putt for par). Having said that (and he's missed it) I have to wonder about the commentary again on Sky. I have to say that I couldn't work out if Blackpool's biggest cheerleader today was a bloke in the third row behind the goal, or Alan Parry on the microphone - I bet he was wearing a tangerine tie, such was his delight at Blackpool's comeback, and his despair at their misfortune. Parry really is up there with Clive Tyldesley in the worst commentator stakes, as is Rob "YES" Hawthorne - just listen for his shouting of the word "YES" whenever he calls a Man Utd goal - if Hawthorne's not a Man Utd fan then I am!
At 2-1 we were rocking, and Van Persie - man of the match somehow - was still missing chances. Thankfully Theo set up RVP for a winning goal and we could calm ourselves down a bit, or so we thought. Gael Clichy, Arsenal's best player for me today, got caught not concentrating again and we needed Jens Lehmann to save us when left one-on-one with DJ Campbell. Anyone who thought Jens wasn't up to it was answered in that moment. The way the Arsenal fans rose to him (Tiger Woods is playing some good stuff today) at the end of the game showed what those present thought about the German veteran.
As I said at the start of this piece, a win is a win and that is all that matters now. I just wish I could enjoy the game a bit more, and perhaps take some genuine pleasure from watching the team again.
Off the pitch this looks like being a momentous time in the history of Arsenal Football Club. It seems that Stan Kroenke has reached an agreement to buy the shares of Daniel Fiszman (who is seriously ill with cancer) and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. This takes the American comfortably over the mark at which he must launch a formal bid for control of the Club (McIlroy's having a nightmare early doors). The ramblings of the Chairman yesterday will see support for such a takeover gather pace I imagine. I am not in favour of a single owner, personally. There are too many unanswered questions in any such arrangement - where is the money coming from? Is there a leveraged debt against the Club? Will the owner choose to interfere? What will happen to the price of a ticket? All in all I do not believe it is a good thing, though it might finally make the Manager answerable to someone. The other thing to consider is who else might have been able to buy the Club. If it was a straight choice between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov I would back the American every time.
There will be lots more to come on this story over the next few days and weeks, you can be certain. It's the kind of upheaval that is not welcome at the business end of the season but perhaps Stan's hand has been forced by Usmanov's Red & White Holdings and their own ambitions. These are worrying times. Arsenal Football Club is heading in to uncharted territory. More than anything, the Club we all grew up with is moving further and further away from what we know and love (good scrambled par for Rory at hole number 2).
That's your lot for now. I'm switching off to watch Rory being typically British and, no doubt, becoming the latest heroic loser from these islands (I really hope he wins, though).