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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Chelsea 3 - 5 Arsenal - Let's all laugh at John Terry

The new King hailed by his loyal subjects

There can be fewer finer comedy sights in my time watching Arsenal than John Terry laying face-down in the mud as Robin Van Persie strode away to score the fourth goal yesterday. If this season does go on to produce some silverware then Terry's prat-fall will be the iconic moment at which things started to turn for this side. The celebrations at the final whistle were those of players who feel they've started to come back from the dead. After the defeats at Manchester United and Blackburn this squad was at rock bottom with, seemingly, no way back. Yesterday they went to Chelsea and won one of the greatest matches ever played. Alan Hansen, for some reason, was allowed to spend more than five minutes of Match Of The Day last night lambasting every defender on the pitch when the focus should surely have been on the attacking merits of the two teams and, particularly, on Robin Van Persie.
Thierry Henry was very much the King of Highbury during his time at the Club. We now have the first Monarch to be crowned at Ashburton Grove. As with Henry it is not just the goalscoring of Van Persie that is eye-catching right now. The Dutchman has developed an all-round game that has carried this squad of players back in to contention at the right end of the league table. I commented a while back that this team needed a focal point, one person who could take the pressure off everyone else by being the man to drag us forward. Back in the mid-90's we would have been nowhere without Ian Wright. This team was crying out for someone to have a similar impact, albeit in different circumstances, and amid different expectations. That Robin Van Persie has become that man is testament to his World-Class ability. His hat-trick yesterday has secured his place in Arsenal folklore. I just hope that he can now cement his place as an Arsenal legend by leading this group to some trophies. Back in April the PFA awarded their player of the year to Gareth Bale. Gordon Taylor explained this by saying that Bale was the player of 2010, and that is what was voted on. If anyone other than Van Persie wins the award in April 2012 then we will know for certain that the PFA is an organisation that has no credibility.
If Robin Van Persie is "Ian Wright" at the moment then Theo Walcott is certainly "Kevin Campbell." By that I mean he is a player capable of producing brilliance but who, all to often, flatters to deceive. The comparison to Super Kev is also apt in that Theo is being forced to play on the right-wing when he would benefit so much from a place in the centre. Yesterday was Walcott's best performance for Arsenal by some distance. Coming, as it did, against another of the top sides it provided a glimpse that Theo can be a force to be reckoned with. He destroyed the World's best full-back yesterday. It may be a sign that Cashley's powers are on the wane, but credit is due. Nobody expected Theo to get any change out of his one-to-one with Cole but he most certainly came out on top. Walcott's final ball yesterday was exquisite on at least three occasions. Gervinho and Van Persie should certainly have been on the scoresheet before Chelsea scored as Walcott consistently delivered after skinning Cole time and again. The goal he scored was the worst and the best of Theo all in about five seconds. The worst was the typical sight of him falling over his own feet. The best was the speed at which he got up, showed tremendously quick-feet to beat two defenders, and then a confident finish to beat Cech on his near-post. Well done Theo.
I suppose I do have to mention Arsenal's defending. In the first twenty minutes it was abysmal, particularly Santos and Djourou. Mertesacker was caught out for both goals, though Arteta should take the lions share of the blame for Terry's goal having wandered away from his position on the post. In the last few weeks the defending had noticeably improved but yesterday saw a return to the very worst. However, in the second-half it was so much better. I would like to think that half-time saw Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice getting their message across as Santos and Djourou were much improved. In amongst all of this was another fine performance from Laurent Koscielny. There is an unconfirmed rumour that Koscielny was arrested by the Metropolitan Police as he left Stamford Bridge - apparently they were trying to recover the £50m he had been seen hiding in his back-pocket all afternoon. Something else I would like to pick out is that, as Chelsea went for an equaliser in injury-time young Carl Jenkinson won a towering header which cleared Arsenal's lines and set up the play for the fifth goal. I don't know why the defending was so bad early on, and we certainly rode our luck, but it would be churlish to focus on it after a game like that. It would be wrong to focus on anything poor from yesterday. Every one of them is a hero today as far as I'm concerned.
I've noticed that Sky and Match Of The Day have been keen to highlight Szczesny's challenge on Cashley a minute after Santos made it 2-2. There is no doubt in my mind that Szczesny should have been sent-off. Once you round the goalkeeper it is a clear goal-scoring opportunity, no matter who gets back on the line. However, Chelsea should have already lost a man themselves. Torres delivered a clear elbow to the side of Per Mertesacker's face. Nothing has been said about it. Given that Alex Song got a three-match ban for stamping on Joey Barton earlier this season I would like to see Arsenal making something of this. Any Chelsea complaints over Szczesny should also be tempered by the fact that their third goal was a direct result of their new signing at "line-backer" (Lukaku certainly looked more NFL than Premier League) deliberately blocking off Andre Santos. What exactly was Andre Marriner looking at? I can only suggest he was trying to find a mirror to admire his perma-tan. 
When the final whistle went yesterday I got a text from a good friend of mine saying simply "unity." At that time I knew only the result as I was on a training course at work. I have since watched the whole game back and I can see exactly what my mate Jimmy was referring to. I said last week on here how we seemed to be playing far more as a team. Arsene Wenger referred to the need to be "united" during his speech at the AGM on Thursday. The celebrations after the game may have seemed a bit over the top to some observers, but I take them as a symbol of the togetherness that has been fostered in this squad. Even Andrey Arshavin, who didn't get on the pitch, was right down in front of the travelling Gooners giving it plenty at the end of the game. It seems to me that Arsene Wenger, no doubt with the assistance and influence of Pat Rice, has finally fostered a siege mentality among his players. Arsenal suffered the most awful start to this season. The players and the Manager came under the most intense pressure, and were criticised in every quarter (and deservedly so, it should be said). I believe they have put this to good use in recent weeks. The work is far from done, of course, and I hate any idea that we have "turned a corner." However, there can be no doubt that this Arsenal team is currently headed down a good path. If they continue to work hard, and play as a tight unit, then the progress can continue. Yes there are areas of weakness, but they are currently far less obvious than they were six weeks ago. It has been a very good past seven days for Arsenal, and we should revel in it for a a day or two longer.

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