23 October 2005

Arsenal 1-0 Man City

A quite scrappy win for the Gunners. My apologies for calling this the Match of the Week, it certainly didn't meet that billing. Arsenal held quite a bit of posession through the first half, but weren't able to work many clear chances; the Citeh back four were quite solid. Robert Pires missed a real sitter though around 15', when Thierry Henry's run pulled David James from his line. Henry found Pires 10 yards out with an open goal, but Pires snatched at the shot and put it two yards over the bar. In the second half, Arsenal finally broke through. Kolo Toure stole the ball around the halfway line and surged forward. He found Henry, who was brought down in the box by an onrushing James. It was a clear penalty, and Pires put it away cleanly, sending James the wrong way.

Of course, the incident of the game came a few minutes later. Dennis Bergkamp was brought down in the corner of the box, and a second penalty was awarded. Pires stepped up again, but he and Henry tried to work a trick out of the penalty. The plan was for Pires to pass to the onrushing Henry, but Pires mis-hit the ball, only brushing it with his studs. In the resulting chaos, Mike Riley blew the whistle (for general stupidity, I assume) and awarded a free-kick to Citeh. Arsenal spurned the easy goal, and instead were forced to sweat out the rest of the match. They nearly paid for it later, when Darius Vassell's powerful header found the back of the net, but he was ruled offsides.

It was wrong and stupid, and nearly cost us the three points. Maybe, maybe, I could understand it in a massacre like the 7-0 win over Everton last year. But even then, it's disrespectful. I'm disappointed that Pires would be involved. He's had a season marred by sub-par performances; the first penalty was his first goal all year. I'm even more disappointed by Henry's involvement. One of the reasons I hold so much respect for him is that he's always seemed to be a serious student of the game. Even here you can see that, in a twisted way; it's an attempted recreation of a Cruyff goal from 82. But, to be blunt, he should know better. At least Henry has apologised. As the mathematicians say, necessary, but not sufficient. Let's hope that they both come out with renewed commitment and energy for the next match.

Otherwise, it was certainly an ugly win for the Gunners. They never got into a rhythm, and had unusually few chances. Yet they still got the win, and that's heartening. They've lost too many points in games where they had dozens of chances but couldn't find the net. Sometimes, you need to win ugly. I was also glad to see a pretty good defensive performance. Aside from the one Vassell chance, and a couple half-chances for Kiki Musampa, Citeh weren't able to do much.

So, three points. Next up is a trip to Sunderland on Tuesday for the Carling Cup. It will be interesting to see what team Wenger fields for this match. Following that, it's the big darby at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

Player ratings:
Lehmann: 6. Wasn't really tested. Did get into "crabby Jens" mode a few times, which always has the potential for problems.
Clichy: 7. A fine game for the youngster. Energetic and focused, and he contributed much to the attack as well. With Cole out for a month or more, he'll have a fine chance to show his worth; hopefully he'll continue to have performances like this.
Toure: 8. Did quite well at the back, and provided the spark that resulted in the first penalty. Always working, always upbeat. I like this guy.
Cygan: 7. I have to say, he had a good game. None of his usual lapses in judgement.
Lauren: 7. Completing the good defensive performance. Did his part going forward, too.
Flamini: 5. Active and energetic, but not as involved as he needs to be. Did have a couple good moments, but not enough. I think Flamini is the poster boy for the Arsenal youth movement, in that he really needed another year in the reserves before getting this much first-team time. He's learning on the job at the moment.
Fabregas: 6. Played well for the most part. Like all the Arsenal attack, he was hampered by the high foul rate. Should have done better when one-on-one with James, late in the second half.
Gilberto: 5. His usual quiet game, combined with a few painfully bad passes.
Pires: 5. Showed some moments of involvement, but not enough. Was at his best when fired up by the fouls of Mills et al. Did get the winning goal, which is something.
Bergkamp: 6. Played hard but disappeared at times, another victim of the lack of flow to the game.
Henry: 6. Would be 7 except for the botched penalty. Was crucial to all of Arsenal's best chances, except for the penalty Bergkamp won. Probably not completely match fit yet.

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