December 9th, 2004 • 1:40 am
That’s much better :). Finally we get to see some of Arsenal’s flamboyance in a Champions’ League game. Granted, it was just a qualifying round game, and the opposition wasn’t exactly top-class. But still — it was the Gunners as we like them, creating chance after chance, and putting quite a few of them “in the back of the old onion bag“, as Tommy Smith would say. (He had to say it again at least once, didn’t he?)
It was particularly good to see Reyes back on the score sheet after a bit of a barren run in the English Premier League. Thierry Henry also got his token goal keeper lob… But what about that Fabregas goal! So cool and composed in the middle of the Rosenborg defense… and he’s only 17! The little fellow is becoming quite a sensation. Of course, he’ll be expected to confirm against meatier opposition — but he’s already had quite a start to his footballing career!
Now, all was not rosy in this game. The goal conceded at 3-0 was a big disappointment, and Almunia had a big share of responsibility. The guy is just starting, so he deserves a bit of a break — but it’s a source of concern ahead of the Sunday game against Chelsea just the same. Still, you cannot just blame the keeper. Throughout the game, the Gunners looked vulnerable when defending set pieces yet again. The keeper has a good part to play in that respect, but he’s not alone in defending these set pieces. Everybody needs to take part. We don’t have many tall players, so those that are tall need to be there. Thierry Henry in particular has to play a part. I know he wants to be ready to sprint off in a counter-attack, but at the same time Arsenal cannot afford to be that vulnerable in set pieces. We already know that Chelsea are very good at exploiting such vulnerabilities, with players like John Terry.
On the other hand, I was quite pleased to see players like Reyes and Pires playing a significant defensive role in the game. Sometimes they are nowhere to be seen when it comes to defensive duties, but not on this game. Here’s hoping that they can replicate this type of performance on Sunday.
The other good news on Tuesday was that Chelsea fielded a full-strength team against Porto… and lost 2-1. I only fast-forwarded through that particular game (I am not exactly a Porto fan either), but it was clear that, after going one goal down in the first half, the Porto players put their hearts and souls into fighting back, and got their just rewards. As an Arsenal fan, I hope that this second Chelsea defeat under Mourinho will have some psychological impact on the players, who have tended to look overconfident in recent weeks.
I also cannot avoid mentioning the shameful bit of play-acting by Arjen Robben in the second half. He went down under a rather innocuous challenge, and then promptly clasped his head with his hand, as if he’d been hit. Yet the replays show quite clearly that the other player never even touched his head! This is far too reminiscent of the Makelele incident in the Champions’ League game against Monaco last year. The player didn’t get sent off this time, but it pisses me off just the same. Why aren’t the authorities taking action in such cases? It was blatant theatrics on Robben’s part, and this kind of attitude has no place in the game. As far as I am concerned, such behaviour should be punished by a lengthy suspension.
The game at Highbury on Sunday is definitely going to be massive! We’ll see whether Chelsea adopt negative tactics similar to the ones used by Manchester United in recent clashes with the Gunners. It’ll be an intriguing encounter, to be sure.