With about 80 minutes of last night’s game I was thinking about writing today’s blog and I was struggling, really struggling, to keep it positive. Once again we’d give the opposition a head start after van der Vaart fired them into a 4th minute lead. Although Hleb hit the bar about 10 minutes later we were, how can I say this politely, out of sorts for the first half. Nothing we tried came off and we looked one-paced, pedestrian and short of ideas against a team that, like all the others, was going to play with 10 or 11 men behind the ball at all times.
At half-time the boss made the change I hoped he would by reverting to a 4-4-2 with Henry and van Persie up front and it paid off. Cesc turned beautifully on the ball, slipped it through to van Persie and he scored with his right foot to make it 1-1. At that point you thought we’d really turn the screw but the game descended again into a pretty poor spectacle. We got the ball wide but time and again both Clichy and Eboue hoofed it out of play. Incredibly frustrating.
Adebayor came on for van Persie then Theo Walcott came on for Hleb and it was the 17 year old who made the difference. As I was mulling over writing a horrible blog he slipped a ball through to Eboue who knocked it past his man and fired in a low shot which went underneath the keeper. Hurrah! Then, when Theo was put free down the right again, he landed a beautiful cross right on the head of Julio Baptista to make it 3-1 and make sure of the victory.
Now, there are plenty of negatives that we could dwell on. As well as having a frustratingly quiet night, and that’s being a bit kind I think, Thierry Henry was booked – very harshly, I thought – and misses the game away in Porto (when you consider the bullshit yellow he got in Moscow it’s a bit of a pain in the arse – but then listening to that twat Lou Macari on Setanta last night you’d swear Henry had karate kicked the bloke in the head). The lack of quality in wide areas when we had good possession was not much fun to watch and yet again we allow the opposition to score first when we know that’s exactly the last thing we need.
However, let’s take this night and turn it into something positive. Despite giving them a goal and despite every Arsenal fan on the planet thinking ‘Oh here we go again!’ we turned it around and we won 3-1. We didn’t draw 1-1. We didn’t have to rely on a free kick to get us back into the game. We got goals from three different players. Even though we weren’t playing well and it would have been easy, in a way, to ‘settle’ for the 1-1 because that’s what we’ve been used to we came back and won the game.
At the very least I expect this to instill some kind of belief in the players that they can achieve results like this at home. In fact, in order to break that hoodoo, perhaps this is exactly the sort of game and performance that we needed. A battling, scrappy, disgusting win.
What I would say though is that we played 4-4-2 in the second half and looked better. While I understand the manager using the 4-5-1 when we got to United away or Real Madrid or play somebody half decent for me we’re showing teams like Hamburg, Newcastle, Everton et al far too much respect when we use that formation against them at home. More 4-4-2 please because we get more out of Henry and more out of van Persie. Honestly, asking a player like Thierry to play as the lone striker in a 4-5-1 is like buying a Ferrari then using it to tow a caravan. I know he’s the captain and I’m sure he’d never admit it but it’s becoming more obvious that he really dislikes playing on his own up front.
A word for the back four as well. I was very happy to see Philippe Senderos back and with everyone fit I’d like to see him in the middle with Gallas at left back. Now, I know people might wonder about putting a quality player like Gallas at left back but although Senderos may not yet be as good a centre-half as Gallas, Gallas is by far a better left back than Gael Clichy who really struggled last night. Anyway, that’s something to discuss in the future.
Afterwards Arsene Wenger praised the spirit of the team and their unwillingness to be beaten. He said:
I’m very happy because the team refused to lose the game tonight, being one-nil down we did fight and kept the pressure. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves when we hit the bar, the post, and just in the end we got a result against a good side.
He also ensured the players realise that they’re capable of coming back and winning games at the new stadium when the opposition score first, saying:
It will convince my players not to make an obsession of conceding the first goal and thinking “oh, here we go again”, you know? Once you know you can come back and win the game it makes a big difference.
Had we not gone onto win the game last night you can only imagine the way they’d feel. With all the talk afterwards of how often it happened we’d have certainly struggled even more the next time we went a goal down at home. With it out of the way now hopefully we can just concentrate on not letting them score at all, let alone first.
And on Theo Walcott, he said:
We will give Theo more games now – because there are so many of them coming up. When he came on he provided power and pace – especially when he switched from the left to the right. And it helped us master Hamburg physically.
With Porto winning in Moscow it now means there are three teams that can finish on 11 points. My understanding is that a draw or a win is enough to see us through no matter what happens in the other game. No doubt all the permutations will emerge over the course of the day.
Next up on the agenda is Bolton away, a traditionally difficult fixture but one I think we’ll win. I mean, if we can win at home after letting the opposition score first then anything can happen.
Just a final reminder about this week’s Arsecast. If you have any questions or comments for the show email them arsecast@[remove]arseblog.com and I’ll do my best to answer or comment during the show. That’s it. Enjoy the win. Let’s not get too hung up on the performance because that’s not the important thing today.