After 20 minutes last night Arsenal were 2-0 down to Sp*rs and if this set of lads didn’t have something more about them than good footballing technique it could have been worse. Instead they showed that they can scrap, they don’t let their heads go down and they can get a result against Sp*rs’ first team at their ground.
As expected they came out of the blocks at 100mph and looked quite dangerous to be fair. Berbatov had a shot wide and Lennon looked tricky down the right before they took the lead on 12 minutes. A fairly innocuous cross came over from the right and really Kolo Toure should have dealt with it. The commentators suggested the keeper might have called and there was some discussion between Kolo and Almunia but as neither of them did anything Berbatov had an easy header from inside the 6 yard area.
Their second was even less pretty. Graham Poll must have been the only person in the ground who thought Denilson’s challenge on Malbranque was a foul but he gave the free kick just outside the area. I’d have to question the positioning of the wall and the fact that nobody picked up Dawson’s run. When he stepped over it the ball clattered off Julio Baptista’s ankles and trickled in. 2-0 Sp*rs. As I said, it could have gotten worse after that but they looked a different side once Berbatov went off injured – bizarrely hurting his groin when he headed in the opener – and we came into the game more and more. It could have been 2-1 at half-time but the ball got caught up under Baptista’s feet from a corner.
In the second half though it was pretty much all Arsenal. We brought on Hleb for the tired looking Diaby who looked uncomfortable out on the left hand side of midfield and Eboue came on for Aliadiere who showed, for all his promise, that his injury-proneness will always undermine his career. On 64 we got level though. Baptista played a sort of one-two with Walcott, barged onwards, fell over, got up again and slid the loose ball past Robinson to make it 2-1.
And given his scoring record in this competition it was no surprise when he got the equaliser. Cesc had the ball in midfield, the whole Sp*rs team stood off him staring at his feet as if they might give them some clue to what he was about to do. As they all watched the ball Justin Hoyte broke down the right hand side, Cesc floated a beautiful ball into his path, I have no idea what that fat cunt Robinson was doing out there but it made things easier as Hoyte put a lovely ball across goal into the path of Baptista who sidefooted home.
We could even have won it when Theo Walcott volleyed a cross just wide and Almunia had to make a great save from Defoe late on but it was Arsenal who went off the happier despite losing Hleb to injury and Eboue, who was impressive when he came on, picking up a knock as well. As the Arsenal fans were so loudly and joyfully singing “2-0 and you fucked it up.”
Thoughts on the players: Bar the goal the central defenders were excellent, I thought Hoyte was very good on the right and Traore showed some nice touches on the left although he hardly got near Aaron Lennon all night. In midfield Theo looks a long way from breaking into the first team and he was quiet at Anfield too, Diaby looked good first half but obviously tired, Denilson looks like a very good player and always wanted the ball which is a good sign and what more can you say about Cesc? The young man is just fucking brilliant. He ran the show again. Both he and Denilson dicked all over Sp*rs midfield and Didier Zokora can talk all he wants about how happy he was to turn down Arsenal (as if we were ever interested) because he knows he’d never get a game for us.
Hleb made a real difference when he came on and we saw all the good of Eboue as he made things happen down the right before he got crocked and spent the last 10 minutes hobbling about the midfield.
Up front Baptista didn’t have a great game but stuck at it and got two goals which is the sign of a decent player. I liked him saying “Don’t touch! Don’t touch!” when he got booked in the first half. The goals gave him confidence though and he finished the game strongly. With van Persie out and Aliadiere, who was pretty ineffectual, injured again he’s going to get more time in the team and that can only be good for him. He’s now the top scorer in the competition on the back of two games and what more can he do when he’s given his chance? As mentioned earlier Aliadiere was pretty quiet but the fact that the only thing he’s done consistently for Arsenal is get injured means he’ll never be relied on no matter how much the boss wants him to make it here.
Arsene Wenger was quick to praise the team and their spirit afterwards and said he’ll be using more or less the same team in the next leg in a little under a week’s time. I’m sure some of the team selection will depend on what happens against Bolton in the cup and how the injuries to Hleb and Eboue turn out. Hleb’s looked like a hamstring which generally means around three weeks out which is a bit of a blow if that’s the case.
Overall though you can’t but be happy about last night. Despite making two mistakes to give them goals we fought back, got two away goals which do count in this competition and we showed that without some very important players and with some very young players that this team is just as good as Sp*rs first team which is an enormous credit to the manager and his staff and a sickener for that lot.
Not much else to report at this early stage. We’ll get the injury news later on, no doubt, and then we can start looking forward to Sunday’s FA Cup tie against our old friends Bolton.
Now, I’ve got to have breakfast and set about recording tomorrow’s Arsecast with the little time I have. Until then…