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Thursday, 21 April 2011

I'm not slagging them for that

Surely gone now

It's difficult to know how that happened. We conceded three goals and yet nobody in the defensive areas had a discernibly bad game. In fact the only disappointing performer for me last night was Robin Van Persie, and he scored one and had one disallowed (more of which below). I felt it was a good performance. The effort of the players couldn't really be faulted. Of course Wenger came out with his nonsensical appraisal of the "mental strength" of his players again, but in terms of spirit Arsenal were spot on last night. Having said that we have the inescapable truth that we once again saw Arsenal let a two goal lead slip away from them.
Last night might have been just "one of those things" were it not for the fact that it has happened so often to this team. Another thing that seems to happen with inordinate regularity is someone fires in a shot that can't possibly be stopped (Steven Howard, who really is a complete prick, in The Sun describes Huddlestone's shot as a "daisy-cutter" in his attempt to imply that Szczesny was somehow at fault for letting it in). With the other games we have been able to put the concession of the lead down to our awful inability to defend set-pieces etc, but last night was just a bizarre evening. There is no doubt that Szczesny's challenge on Lennon was rash (had he simply stood his ground Lennon would almost certainly have run straight in to touch with it like he usually does), but he had been successful with a similar challenge on Bale before half-time. That he went on to make saves either side of the penalty has got him out of jail somewhat - though I strongly suspect Arsenal supporters would have been rather less generous had Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski been in goal last night (I remember Almunia getting a fearful hammering for a similar foul at Old Trafford a season or two back).
The one thing I will criticise is, once again, the ridiculous substitutions made by Arsene Wenger. We were hanging on a bit, but with Walcott on the pitch we were always likely to catch Tottenham on the break - and did so on a couple of occasions. When Nicklas Bendtner was brought on I saw Pat Rice showing him where to play on a piece of paper and assumed that, finally, we would get two up front. Instead we saw Walcott directly replaced on the wing by the big Dane and the game simply petered out from an Arsenal point of view. If there is something that Wenger does that makes me more frustrated than anything else it is this persistence with playing Nicklas Bendtner out wide. What exactly has he seen, in the months and months that he's tried this so called tactic, that makes him think Bendtner has the skill or the pace to play on the wing? Whatever your views on Bendtner you would have to admit it is grossly unfair on a genuine target-man centre-forward to be played as a winger. I remember George Graham slowly destroyed the career of Kevin Campbell at Arsenal by doing this, and Wenger is ending Bendtner's Arsenal career in the same way. While we're on the subject of centre-forwards, what the hell has happened to Marouane Chamakh, who didn't even make the bench last night?
Before the penalty, or any mad substitutions, came the pivotal moment of the match. Once again the match turned on the ineptitude of the officials. Robin Van Persie scored a goal, only to find himself flagged offside. You just knew from the fact that Sky refused to show a replay during the match that he was not offside. After the game we finally got the proof. That goal would have made it 4-2 to Arsenal. Yes, we have the ability to throw such a position away, but you have to say that a 4-2 lead might just have killed off Tottenham in the circumstances and Arsenal could have picked them off at the back if they were chasing the game. This is what makes me so desperately frustrated this evening. We have dropped too many points lately, a lot of them our own fault. But we have also been cost points by linesmen - at home to Sunderland and then last night. With those four points in the bag we would again be in charge of the Title race, masters of our own destiny.
It wasn't just the disallowed goal either. Every time we played a ball to feet we saw the receiving player pushed in the back, but no free-kick was ever given. Twice we saw Theo Walcott virtually rugby tackled by Assou-Ekotto, off the ball, as he tried to make a run but again no free-kick came our way. Meanwhile, every time the freak went near the ball he would throw himself down and get the decision - the man is 6'7" for God's sake - surely common sense tells you he is not being fouled all the time, doesn't it? And what about the three minutes of injury-time - there was at least one minute alone, not added on, for Gallas pretending to have hurt his knee (only to sprint across within twenty seconds to dispossess Arshavin) - after Sunday I find this really quite bizarre. I don't care what anyone says, we were robbed last night (again) and it makes me sick.

There'll be no blog tomorrow, unless there is some big news from Arsenal. I'm probably going to take my five-year-old to see Dover Athletic, though I really begrudge paying £10+ to get in and stand to watch the game. I'll be back on Saturday with a preview of the Bolton game but, in fairness, the Championship is now well and truly out of reach so we are playing for second place.

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