EPL 2006: Arsenal 7 – Middlesborough 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
January 16th, 2006 • 10:20 am

In 2004-2005, our Canadian broadcasters decided against showing the Arsenal – Middlesborough game. It ended 5-3.

In 2005-2006, Arsenal – Middlesborough is expected to be shown, and then the Canadian broadcasters change their minds at the last minute and show us Blackburn – Bolton (0-0) instead. The Gunners win 7-0.

In 2006-2007, they’ll probably figure that the game might be worth showing after all. It’ll be shown, and end 1-0 to the Arsenal.

In other words, I am afraid I cannot share in the excitement generated by the latest Thierry Henry masterclass, because all I got to see was the “highlights” of the game, i.e. the goals. (When there are so many goals, they don’t bother to show you anything else.) I only got to see a tiny glimpse of Thierry Henry’s already famous right/left-foot flick.

Now, let us not forget the circumstances here. Middlesborough might have beaten Manchester United 4-1 earlier in the season, and beaten the Gunners 2-1, but right now they are much closer to a relegation battle than to a European spot. They had a very inexperienced defense. Anything other than a victory for the Gunners would have been a major surprise.

But this was also the first EPL game since Thierry Henry put an end to the speculation about his future, and Ashley Cole confirmed his own commitment. There is little doubt that Henry’s decision had a significant psychological effect on the team.

And, more important, whenever the opposition has obvious flaws that can be exploited, you can always expect the Gunners to turn on the style. It doesn’t necessarily make them a great team, but it makes them the greatest entertainers in the EPL, by far.

The question is whether Arsenal can fulfill Thierry Henry’s ambitions by becoming a truly great team, i.e. a team that can still maintain this stylistic/technical edge while developing the grit and solidity required to obtain results against major opponents.

The doubts about this remain, I am afraid. The recent purchases (Diaby, Adebayor, and possibly Walcott) are intriguing, but these are all players that still have a lot to prove, and more potential than actual achievements. It just seems impossible for Arsène Wenger to purchase a major established player. It’s as if he had to prove the critics wrong again and again by “nurturing” little-known players acquired for relatively modest amounts of money. On the whole, his record is of course excellent in this area (Henry, Vieira, and more recently Touré and Fabregas), but it’s always a gamble.

On the other hand, it’s probably the only realistic approach for Wenger against Chelsea’s unlimited wealth and its distorting effect on the market.

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