Sunday, 30 January 2011
Arsenal 2 - 1 Huddersfield - without Cesc? Nowhere.
It's strange really. It's strange how when Frank Lampard sees yet another shot deflected in to the net we hear how it's his "nine millionth" goal for Chelsea. It's strange how when Peter Crouch saw a shot deflected by a defender, and then pushed in to the roof of the goal by the 'keeper, he was credited with his first goal for Liverpool. It's strange how when Nicklas Bendtner has a shot deflected in to the net the media want to say it's an own goal. It's also strange how, having scored the opener (in my book), and won the penalty that provided the winning goal, and having been the only Arsenal player to win a header in his own box today, and having worked his socks off alone up front in the second-half, people still see fit to slag off Nicklas Bendtner. Why do these people go to the game? They clearly form their opinions on the uninformed forums and message boards which are awash with Arsenal doomsayers, where Bendtner is second only to the likes of Denilson or Eboue as a hate figure. It may surprise the uninitiated to learn that Nicklas Bendtner has 42 goals for Arsenal in 141 games, of which only 72 were starting appearances. Is he a top player? No, of course not. Is he a more than reasonable member of the squad? Absolutely, he is. Every club needs squad players. Not everyone can be world class. If they were then they'd be first choice at another of the big clubs. Just because a player isn't Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry the Arsenal fans seem to want to destroy them, no matter what evidence is placed before them, and Bendnter did just fine today. Okay, he missed a chance or two but when Fabregas came on and he got some service Arsenal finally got back on the front foot. Enough of Bendtner, and on to Cesc Fabregas...
Huddersfield were destroying Arsenal in the second-half. The Gunners had no answer to them, particularly in the air (it's surely no coincidence that no Djourou means no headers won by Arsenal at the back). The midfield was being severely overrun with only Diaby putting in a performance anywhere near worthy of the name (though he was badly at fault for the equaliser). Denilson and Rosicky were frankly awful. Over the past few weeks Denilson has lurched from one bad performance to the next. His display today was a new nadir for the Brazilian. I refuse to accept that Henri Lansbury and Aaron Ramsey would not be doing a better job than Denilson right now. Then came Cesc Fabregas. From the moment he came on Huddersfield's players seemed a little awestruck and all their forward momentum seemed to disappear. From our point of view Fabregas' introduction saw Rosicky move out of the centre (and out of the way, quite frankly). My Dad said that it seemed as though his introduction sent a message to the players that the Manager wanted them to win the game after all. Arsenal's collective pace was quicker and Bendtner started to turn the defence towards their own goal while Fabregas sent passes over the top. Make no mistake about it, Fabregas was the key man and, without him, we would probably be out of the FA Cup this evening.
No match review is complete without a comment on the inept refereeing and today is no exception. Sebastien Squillaci was sent off in the first-half, and correctly so. But why was McCombe not red-carded for fouling Bendtner for the penalty? I didn't like Fabregas' brandishing of the imaginary cards at the referee, but his argument was quite correct. The big Dane was about to slot the ball in to the net (or at least have a clear shot from about ten yards) when he was barged over by the centre-half. Clattenburg's erratic refereeing was a feature of the final quarter of the match and it culminated with the disgraceful booking of Fabregas for the offence of being shoved to the ground by a Huddersfield player. Cesc Fabregas has been booked six times this season. There is something seriously wrong with English football when that is the case. The reporter on Radio 5 reckons the penalty was a harsh decision as Bendtner "went over a bit easily when he was fouled." So it was a foul, but not a penalty? Public service, unbiased reporting at its very best there. Sadly I didn't catch the name of this particular cretin.
Kieran Gibbs had a nightmare today. I know he's played very little football recently but it was hard to escape the fact that he looked like someone who'd wandered on to a football pitch in the middle of a game, such was his lack of idea as to what was happening. I've been saying for a long time that I would rather see him playing than Clichy, but the Frenchman has produced an upturn in form in recent weeks, while Gibbs is seeming to go backwards. If Kieran gets in the England squad ahead of Everton's Leighton Baines then there is something not quite right. A run of games would do the boy no end of good, I'm sure, but we're not in a position to give him that run now. Other maligned players of note today were Almunia, who remains glued to his goal-line it appears, but made one outstanding save in the second-half, and Arshavin who put in a shift today, particularly in the first-half. The little Russian also made one tremendous tackle in the Arsenal penalty area having tracked back all the way and denied Huddersfield a certain equaliser. Credit to both of them on this occasion I think.
The biggest thing to happen to Arsenal today was the injury to Samir Nasri. Quite how a player pulls a hamstring after more than half-an-hour I don't quite know. Arsene has said it might be a serious one and that means at least 3-4 weeks out of the first-team. With Arsenal's medical record in recent times we can afford to be very worried indeed. It's no secret that Samir Nasri has been Arsenal's standout performer this season and it's typical that we should lose a key player at this important stage in the season. The return of Abou Diaby may negate one or two problems, provided he stays fit, but he is not really a replacement for what Nasri has had to offer since August. Get well soon Samir, we need you. In the meantime, everyone get down and pray to whatever God it is you believe in - even if it's Dennis Bergkamp.
One final thing to say about today - 59,375 was the "official attendance." On Tuesday night it was 59,387. So, according to Arsenal, there were only twelve fewer people in the half-empty stadium today than in the packed arena that saw the Ipswich game (which itself was apparently 200 fewer than the Wigan game the previous Saturday in front of a near-empty away section). Why do they lie? The groaning from the crowd at today's attendance announcement showed what the fans think of such nonsense. Sort it out Arsenal.
Tomorrow sees the transfer window close for the season. I will be amazed if Arsenal make any signing that would help us between now and May. We all know what areas need more depth, and that signings in that area could be the difference between winning the Premier League and finishing second or third. I beg you Arsene, spend the money and give us the chance to win it. As in 2008 we are just one or two players away from being a side that can win the Premier League. Arsene Wenger looks set to make the same mistake he did then - by not strengthening the squad where it is palpably necessary. By midnight tomorrow we will know for certain that we have/have not made a signing or two. My breath is not held.