29 October 2005

Tottenham 1-1 Arsenal

A tale of two halves.

The first half, Arsenal looked incompetent. There was no rhythm to the attack, and the Gunners kept losing posession in the middle of the field. Their passing was particularly bad; time and again they would send the ball straight to a white shirt, or off the side of the pitch. Meanwhile, Tottenham were able to mount some pressure, and it told in the 17th minute. Michael Carrick fired in a free kick to Ledley King, who was virtually unmarked, and was able to easily head home.

The second half saw a changed Arsenal, in large part due to the departure of the ineffective Mathieu Flamini for Robert Pires. That improved the team immensely, because of the changed personnel, and also because it made for a more natural alignment: Pires took over the right wing, and Cesc Fabregas moved into the middle of the pitch. Arsenal seemed a good sight more organized, and things got even better when Robin van Persie came on for Freddie Ljungberg. The Gunners got the equalizer when Jose Antonio Reyes won a free kick. Bergkamp got the ball on goal, and Paul Robinson was only able to palm it away. It fell to Pires and he fired it home. The remainder of the game saw chances for both sides, but Arsenal looked the closer to scoring.

It's disappointing to admit, but Flamini is not pulling his weight and should not have a regular starting slot. The kid works like crazy, which you always like to see. But he doesn't do anything particularly useful. It may be that he's in need of experience, but his current on the job training isn't working well. Gilberto too is not looking solid. He has a knack for particularly damaging passes. I'm not sure what's behind that, but he's just not where he needs to be.

Arsenal have a bit of a selection problem at the moment, and not a good one. There just isn't the needed depth in the central midfield. We have Gilberto, Fabregas, Flamini, and... who? Aleksander Hleb is out injured. Arsène Wenger has experimented with Pires there, but that didn't work. Alexandre Song isn't nearly ready yet.

If it were up to me, I would be tempted to try Kolo Toure as a holding midfielder. I think he has the needed skills, and he has previous midfield experience. He's got pace and not a bad shot from distance. We would still have Phillipe Senderos and Sol Campbell in central defense, with Pascal Cygan for cover.

But however you slice it, we need more players. It will be interesting to see if Wenger makes any moves in January. I for one would welcome a new face or two.

Player ratings:
Lehmann: 7. Did a fine job, including some key saves. Not responsible for the goal.
Clichy: 8. Looked very very good today. Had some dangerouns runs, including one mazy attack that lacked only some polish on the resulting cross. May leave Wenger wondering how much he could sell Ashley Cole for.
Toure: 6. Overall not bad. Got caught marking an empty zone for the King goal.
Campbell: 6. Fairly solid, with a few rattled passes.
Lauren: 7. Did his usual solid, quality job.
Ljungberg: 6. Always working. Victim of the general malaise in the first half; looked much more threatening in the second.
Flamini: 4. Looks like a nice kid, just seems like the team can't link up when he's around.
Gilberto: 5. What is up with his passing?
Fabregas: 6. Not terribly effective on the right wing. Did much better in the second half, when he could move to the central mid. And, frankly, because he didn't have Flamini to pass to.
Bergkamp: 6. As frustrated as anyone in the first half. Was part of some nice linking play in the second. Gave Robinson a tough shot to deal with on his free kick.
Reyes: 6. Not as effective as usual, but still active. Suffered a bit when moved to the left wing.

Pires: 7 (46' for Flamini). Energetic and motivated as a sub. Got himself stuck in a couple times. Nice take on the goal — a Pires classic.
van Persie: 8 (65' for Ljungberg). Looked very dangerous. Forced two nice saves from Robinson, and a few more blocks from the defenders. Closest Gunner to finding a winning goal.
Cygan: n/a (90' for Reyes). No real time to impose himself.

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