Archive for February 25th, 2009

25
Feb
09

Arsenal 1-0 Roma; The Could-a, Would-a, Should-a

la-persieata

Match Reports

Telegraph.co.uk:  Arsenal were the only victors in Europe last night but while they won the battle, the war of this Champions League tie is far from over after their profligate attack squandered what may prove to be crucial chances.

ESPNSoccernet: The misfiring Gunners should have put the tie beyond the hosts – with Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eb*ue both spurning golden chances as Arsenal’s recent trend of poor finishing continued.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has both the hits and the misses.

Man of the Match

Rather than do player ratings, I’m just doing a man of the match: these blogs are already too damn long and don’t need me pontificating on every single player. With that said, with at least 6 takeaways and a breathtaking 73 passes (with an 85% completion rate) yesterday’s man of the match was Denilson. You could point to the formation that Wenger employed, you could point to the obvious paucity of match fitness on the part of Roma, you could point to a lot of things, but whatever the cause Denilson easily had his most effective match since I’ve been watching him.

Playing the purely defensive midfielder in Arsene’s brilliant 4-2-3-1, Denilson moved the ball from defense into attack, slowed the Roma attack very effectively, and patrolled the midfield cleaning up and distributing as needed. His effect in this role allowed the more creative Diaby to get forward and get the ball to Nasri who occupied the purely attacking midfield role.

It wasn’t all roses and lace, I did find myself yelling at him to track back once, but that could be forgiven since Roma didn’t punish Arsenal for that particular bit of play.

Plus, he had been fucking brilliant up till that point.

The Coulda

I’ll admit it: I was wrong, dead wrong. Wenger’s tactics have been transparent and predictable this season and I sincerely thought Wenger would play this match the way he’s played pretty much every other. So, huge kudos to Arsene Wenger for being brave enough to change the lineup and play Liverpool’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation. Can you imagine what Arsenal would look like if he played that formation and Cesc was in Diaby’s slot, Arshavin in Nasri’s slot, Nasri on the left, and Walcott on the right?

Indefensible!

Kudos too to van Persie who’s craft up front, tireless work rate tracking back, and incisive runs nearly shredded the Roma defense and Coulda resulted in more goals. His goal off the penalty kick was no less that he deserved.

The Woulda

As good as Arsenal was in the first half, they nearly threw away the match with a bit of insanity to start the second. As it turns out, Gallas was late getting back to the pitch because he was getting some treatment to his shin for the knock he took in the 10th minute.  Fair enough, we need our best defender patched up.

But what isn’t acceptable is that Arsenal’s captain let superstition garner him a yellow card. Toure has a match ritual where he is always the last one out on to the pitch and since the referee had decided (wrongly) to restart the match when Arsenal had only 9 men on the pitch Toure felt like he could just run out onto the pitch without checking in with the 4th official. Between the ref, the late treatment, and the Arsenal captain’s superstitions it was like amateur hour out there and Arsenal nearly let Roma equalize during the confusion.

How, the fuck, does Arsenal start the second half with no central defenders?

Comical, but thankfully it didn’t cost us.

Another Woulda goes to Bendtner and uhhh, whatshisname, who both contrived to miss chances that my 10 month old daughter would have put in the auld uniun bhag. Bendtner had a horrible match all around and I have to wonder if he isn’t on his way out in the off season. To be fair, the first ball Nasri played in to him (hard and behind him a bit) was difficult to control and I forgave him that bit of profligacy, but there’s just no forgiving him when his touch constantly lets him down. That performance yesterday solidified him as “Adebayor Lite” in my mind.

The other dude, ole whatshisname, he who cannot be named, The Pass Master, whatever you want to call him, actually had a tremendous match and had he scored that open goal would easily have been MotM for me. More than once his dribbles and vigor going forward gave Roma fits but in his typical style he missed an easy chance to put Arsenal safely through to the next round. Proof positive that he will never be an effective midfielder.

And a final Woulda to Alex Song, who came on for Diaby and immediately put the Arsenal attack in neutral. I think I see what the boss likes about him; he’s a bit of a “hard man” and did put himself about effectively. He also wins balls in the air which is almost a novelty on this particular team but that said, going forward he is crap.

More than any other player Song is the one guilty of passing sideways rather than picking out an attacker. Is it any wonder that he has never gotten an assist for the Arsenal? Past Arsenal hard men (Copping, Storey, Young, Adams, Petit and Vieira) all had some craft to them and more than once spurred Arsenal’s attack but Song seems incapable of looking forward.

Unfortunately I think this is what the boss likes about him.

The Shoulda

Claus Bo Larsen (the ref) Shoulda been substituted at half time. Hell, he shoulda been subbed after the first 10 minutes when he inexplicably played an “advantage” to Arsenal after Mexes upended The Pass Master 2 yards outside the box and the ball found its way to Sagna — at midfield. It was an atrocious decision, but it wasn’t his worst. How the hell does Mexes (on a yellow already) stay in the match after cynically hauling down van Persie in the box? And how in the name of Collina does he start the match when Arsenal have only 9 players on the pitch? Give a yellow to Wenger for delaying the match or something but you don’t kick off with less than 22 players on the pitch. It was a shocking display of refereeing and Arsenal were lucky he didn’t cost us the match.

Conclusions

A fifth consecutive clean sheet, the 14th match in the unbeaten run, and the manager flexing his mind a bit and shuffling the formation to what Shoulda been great effect all means that in a fortnight Arsenal travel to Roma and need another performance like yesterday to see them through to the next round. Regardless my negativity earlier, it was a magnificent performance and the kind of stuff that Arsenal supporters dream of.

Similar creativity will be needed on Saturday when Arsenal host a Fulham squad who have allowed fewer league goals than Arsenal and have beaten us already once this season using the tried and true “park the bus in front of the goal and hit them on the break” technique.

Until then, let’s just bask in the glory of our one-nil to the Arsenal.

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