December 30, 2008
The Christmas period is usually a hectic time for football with games coming thick and fast and the tone being set for teams as they face New Year and the crucial second half of the season. The way the fixture list has fallen this year, the Festive programme has not felt so congested but the three matches that Arsenal have played were all vitally important.
The Sunday before Christmas, Liverpool came to Ashburton Grove. Matches between the so-called "Big Four" have a huge bearing on the outcome of the title and sometimes there is the tendency to try to avoid defeat rather than actually go for the win. Certainly, Liverpool lined up in a formation designed to do just that and the game failed to ignite until Robin Van Persie scored with a spectacular effort midway through the first half. The visitors' long-ball game caught out the Gunners shortly afterwards though as the ever-unpopular Robbie Keane latched onto a howitzer of a pass from his defence that was completely misjudged by both William Gallas and Johan Djourou. The Irishman race clear and fired his shot into the roof of the net giving Manuel Almunia no chance.
The remainder of the match was notably only for two incidents. Firstly, the loss of Cesc Fabregas at the end of the first-half with an injury to his medial ligament sustained when block-tackling Xavi Alonso. He is scheduled to be absent for four months - though, based on the record the Arsenal medical team have on getting players back quickly, it would be a surprise to see him before next August. His absence cannot be understated and Arsene Wenger must surely take steps to find a creative midfielder during the January transfer window.
December 18, 2008
It was another frustrating Arsenal performance at the Riverside last Saturday as the Gunners let slip a one-goal lead to draw with Middlesbrough. The home team started brightly and put Arsene Wenger's men under plenty of early pressure. Emmanuel Adebayor gave the visitors the lead though in the 16th minute heading home from a Cesc Fabregas corner. Boro hit back a quarter of an hour later when Jeremie Aliadiere headed an equaliser. The second half was a scrappy affair and neither team had the guile or cutting edge to find a winner and take all three points.
This was a match that the Gunners could have, and should have, won and the disappointment at not leaving the north east with the spoils was compounded by results elsewhere as Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd all drew and Villa blew away Bolton at home to leapfrog into fourth place. A huge step in catching the pace-setters at the top of the table could have been taken but the opportunity was squandered.
December 12, 2008
It has been another up and down week in Arsenal's Jekyll and Hyde season. Last Saturday they scraped a one-nil victory over Wigan at Ashburton Grove but on Wednesday evening went down two-nil at Porto in the Champions League. Neither performance instilled much confidence that some sort of corner had been turned after the victory at Stamford Bridge and the notion of picking up a trophy at the end of the season still feels very much like a faint hope rather than an expectation.
The main talking point from Saturday's game was the barracking of Emmanuel Eboue as he was substituted off towards the end of the clash with Wigan. The Ivorian had himself earlier come on as substitute for Samir Nasri who had picked up a knock. The media have levelled much criticism at the supporters who booed him as he came off but there appeared to be a lack of understanding of the full context of what happened from observers who may only have been there that day.
December 8, 2008
Arsenal's victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend was as vital as it was unexpected. Dogged by injuries and inconsistent form, even the most optimistic supporters might have been forgiven for thinking that a draw was the best that could be hoped for prior to the match. Certainly, expectation levels dropped even further when Chelsea took full advantage of a poor throw from Manuel Almunia and Jose Boswinga's cross into the danger area forced Johan Djourou to put the ball into his own net. It was an unfortunate goal to concede and made the Gunners' task seemingly impossible.
The tide of the game turned though on the hour when Robin Van Persie scored an equaliser out of nothing. The Dutchman received the ball in an offside position and, as the Chelsea defenders looked to the linesman, he rifled the ball past Petr Cech into the top corner. The home team felt rightly aggrieved that the goal was allowed, but every team suffers and benefits from decisions like that over the course of the season and these things tend to even themselves out. It was a slice of luck for Arsenal but in a season where fortune has been in short supply for the Gunners, they did not look a gift horse in the mouth and helped themselves to an equaliser.