EPL 2005: Day 18 (Portsmouth 0 – Arsenal 1)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 19th, 2004 • 6:22 am

Phew! They say that the truly great teams are those that are able to eke out a result even when they don’t play well. Today, Arsenal fans are definitely hoping that this is true. Because their team was positively awful — and yet still managed to win all three points.

It was yet another expensive pay-per-view game here in Canada… If I felt I got my money’s worth last week-end with the 2-2 draw against Chelsea, I was definitely more than a little disappointed with the team today. There was precious little flow to their game, most players had a decidedly subpar performance, and quite a few had a really bad game, including Ashley Cole, Robin van Persie and Patrick Vieira.

Fortunately for the Gunners, Sol Campbell had a flash of inspiration in the 75th minute. From the middle of the pitch, he just saw an opening and went for it, unleashing a powerful shot from more than 25 yards out that caught everyone by surprise, including — most importantly — the Portsmouth goalkeeper, who had had absolutely nothing to do until then.

Sol Campbell doesn’t score often and, when he does, it’s usually with a header on a set piece, inside the box. Where did this come from? I don’t know… But we were reminded by the commentators that Campbell started out as a centre-forward. In any case, it was a classy solo effort that owed nothing to his team mates, and it was pretty much the only positive thing to take out the game today (although Almunia had a couple of decent saves too). The rest of the team were more than a little grateful to him, as could be seen in the congratulations at the end of the game.

Even after that goal, however, the Gunners were still uncharacteristically wobbly. (For how long will I be able to use the uncharacteristically qualifier here, though?) In truth, Portsmouth deserved at least a point and it wouldn’t have been surprising if they had managed to grab a victory. Their game plan was good, and they implemented it as effectively as could be expected from them. The only aspect in which they failed was the finishing on the counter-attacks. And that’s what saved Arsenal today.

At the end of the day, they are still five points behind Chelsea, though, and they will have to perform much better than they did today if they want to have any hope of catching up with them. Chelsea won’t slip more than a few times — if at all, with the depth of their squad. Not a very reassuring week-end. Here’s hoping that the holiday season and its full schedule of games will bring some reasons to be more cheerful.

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