EPL 2006: Arsenal 2 – West Ham 3

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
February 2nd, 2006 • 9:17 am

We didn’t get to see this game here in Canada, but by the sounds of it, the Gunners were undone once more by comical defending, this time by Sol Campbell. He’s been guilty of repeated bad performances lately, but this sounds like it was by far the worst of the lot, to the extent that Campbell was substituted at half-time and actually left the stadium altogether.

Just what is it going to take for Arsène Wenger to realize that he cannot solve Arsenal’s defensive problems by buying new midfielders and strikers? It really is quite puzzling—although I am sure it makes for rather pleasant entertainment for neutrals and fans of other teams.

In that respect, however, I don’t think anyone can beat Manchester United. Their 3-4 defeat yesterday against Blackburn was positively hilarious. It was former Arsenal hopeful David Bentley, who has just signed a permanent deal with Blackburn after having played there on loan since the beginning of the season, who took full advantage of United’s defensive frailties, scoring a hat-trick in his first game for the club since signing the contract. Rio Ferdinand was obviously the major culprit, but just what went through Wes Brown’s mind when he pulled his arms way back to stop a missed kick by a Blackburn winger is the real mystery to me. It’s hard to imagine such a thing being done intentionally, yet there was no doubt that it was deliberate.

Alex Ferguson can moan all he wants about the fact that Blackburn “didn’t play any football at all”… Coming from the ultimate football pitch bullies, that’s a bit rich. If I am not mistaken, the first Blackburn goal was scored after a beautiful free-kick by Pedersen that van der Sar only managed to deflect onto his own goal post, and there was nothing accidental about Bentley’s third goal either.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of “Blackeye Rovers,” but one has to admit that Mark Hughes has been quite successful since taking over from Souness (who’s just been sacked by Newcastle, after yet another soulless and gutless performance by his team at Manchester City Stadium) and that he has added a new dimension to the team. They are still physical bullies, but at least they also play football now (contrary to what Ferguson says) and score many very nice goals.

Their victory last night was fully deserved, even if they themselves were guilty of lousy defending leading to two van Nistelrooy goals that gave Manchester a glimmer of hope. But they held on, and Rio Ferdinand’s late dismissal was the ultimate confirmation that United didn’t really deserve anything from this game, except possibly an award for unwitting entertainers of the week.

Now, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have laughed so hard if I had been watching the Arsenal game instead. As a Gunners fan, I cannot really take any pleasure in seeing the team sink so low so quickly. Sol Campbell is obviously a psychological wreck right now, and the team just doesn’t have what it takes to do well without him in the back. Kolo Touré, away at the African Cup of Nations, has been sorely missed, but we’re also still waiting for the return of Ashley Cole, and now we hear that Lauren might miss the rest of the season. Once again, I have to wonder why Arsène Wenger has put so little effort into shoring up the defence. He can’t rely on inexperienced youngsters and hope to be able to compete for the top spots in the EPL and in Europe.

Still, fortunately enough for Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Bolton were held to single-point draws, and Manchester and Tottenham lost. So the Gunners didn’t lose much ground, and can still hope for the top 4 finish that would guarantee them a Champions’ League spot. But one has to wonder what is going through Thierry Henry’s mind at the moment. Hopefully it’s not that famous Clash song…

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