Media trying to get RVP banned
At half-time yesterday the talk in the stands was about how this team had no chance of coming back from a two goal deficit. There had been precious little in the first-half performance to suggest that those selected to play had the necessary desire, or ability, to turn things around. The Arsenal performance before half-time was a showcase of everything that is often wrong with the team. There was a dominance of possession, but is was almost exclusively held in front of Villa's defence. It was a slow build-up, with little movement and even less inspiration. I thought Rosicky and Ramsey were impressive, but those in front of them were static and it was fairly easy for Villa to defend. Occasionally Chamberlain would run at the defence and look dangerous but, more often than not, he was doing a passable impression of Theo Walcott at his worst and failing to make the run off the ball that might provide the necessary opening. Meanwhile, on the two occasions Villa attacked the defence was nowhere to be seen. Their first goal was a near carbon-copy of the schoolboy defending that cost us a goal against Olympiacos earlier in the season. The second goal, from a quick counter-attack, saw the ball hit the back of the net with none of our back four in attendance. Where the hell were they? Lukasz Fabianski did his bit, with a decent save, but there was simply no help for the Pole.
Trailing by 2-0, and with such a soporific effort before half-time, I found it quite incredible that no changes were made immediately. We'll never know what was said in the dressing room, or by whom. Whatever it was, and whether it was said by Wenger, Pat Rice, RVP, Vermaelen or Thierry Henry (who stayed inside for most of the half-time break) it certainly worked. Suddenly there was a pace to our attacking play. The movement that had been non-existent was suddenly prevalent all over the field. Every player seemed to want to get involved. We nearly scored straight away with a fine header from Mertesacker (it was noticeable in the second-half that he didn't lose a single challenge in the air simply because he attacked the ball and got off the ground to beat people). Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Song started to dominate the whole game, with good support from Koscielny who regularly stepped in to midfield. Van Persie suddenly became difficult to mark and dragged the defence around, while Chamberlain caused Hutton all sorts of problems. Then there was Theo Walcott. Occasionally Theo plays like a the sort of player we want him to be. Yesterday's second-half was one of those. I thought he was outstanding after half-time and Villa couldn't handle his pace. If you wanted an example of how Arsenal beat teams when playing well then it was there in the first fifteen minutes of the second-half. The pace and movement was unstoppable. I just wish the players would realise that they can do that to anyone, if only they would show the desire to do so. The work off the ball was excellent. There was one point, at 3-2, when Alex Song started chasing down the Villa defenders when they had the ball. He was suddenly joined by Ramsey, and Chamberlain, and Van Persie. The Villa players panicked in the face of this pressure and passed the ball straight to Tomas Rosicky on the halfway line. The crowd stood and applauded the effort. And that's the key to all of this - effort.
If the first-half was a showcase for all that is wrong with the way this Arsenal team performs, then the second-half was everything that we go to football for. The goals may have come from penalties (indisputable ones at that) and a lucky ricochet, but it can't be denied that Arsenal deserved to score them. The football after half-time was excellent. The only thing I was disappointed with was late in the game when Thierry Henry spurned the opportunity to send us home even happier and gave the ball away rather than going for a shot at goal when he was put clear. It was very much like the sort of thing we've come to expect from Chamakh, and it could have cost us had Villa scrambled an equaliser. In the end it didn't matter, and we went home happy with a win.
This morning it seems the newspapers and Sky (no surprise) are leading with the "elbow" incident involving Robin Van Persie. It should be noted that Sky have largely ignored the FA Cup this season as they are not covering it. Until now. I've watched the incident and I don't believe Robin has deliberately elbowed Cuellar. I think he's used his arm to protect himself against the constant barging that had gone unpunished every time he was challenged. On the occasion in question his arm has gone a little high and caught the defender. However, nobody noticed it when it happened, and nobody complained to the referee. ESPN picked it up on a slow-motion replay and gave Craig Burley something to go on and on and on about until the end of the game (I watched the game back when I got home last night and I can't believe how amateurish the whole ESPN production is). Alex McLeish's post-game press conference, which Sky keep showing this morning, is laughable. His reaction to the question tells me that he has no clue what they were talking about but, thinking quickly, he realises there's something he can deflect criticism with. He can't describe the incident at all. He simply keeps saying how he felt RVP had "caught him." Then he has the audacity to call for the FA to do something about it.
It is a very sad state of affairs, following such a great comeback, and such sensational football, that the press are running with the Van Persie "elbow" this morning. There is no doubt in my mind that Van Persie will pick up a three match ban. After all, he's not English is he? After Joleon Lescott got away with his clearly deliberate forearm smash on Kaboul last week (Lescott is English, lest we forget) it would sum up the FA and the media prejudice that is prevalent here. Most of all it makes it even more clear that there is a media bias against Arsenal Football Club. Why is it always our players that they pick on? Remember Alex Song in the first game of the season? We can go back a long way and pick up incidents where the FA has acted on video evidence to ban Arsenal players after a media driven campaign to do so. It started with Paul Davis in 1988 and it hasn't stopped since. The media hates us, and I hope that Arsene Wenger uses that as motivation for the rest of the season, as George Graham did in late 1990. If we could win the FA Cup it would really upset the press, and that is a wonderful thing.
I'm not anticipating any signings between now and tomorrow night. There is a chance that Ryo will be loaned out for the rest of the season, but little else will happen for Arsenal I suspect. That being the case, and the need to go to work getting in the way again, the next post will be Wednesday morning in preview of the game at Bolton. Until then simply remember to spit on any journalists you meet - they hate us, so we should hate them.