14 January 2006

Arsenal - Middlesboro

The game's been over for three hours, but I've been good and avoided the online results. So, I can watch the delayed broadcast without any contamination.

No point in liveblogging it, as such, but I'll write down some thoughts as we go through the game. Less play-by-play and more general thinking, as it was.

5': This is my first look at Johan Djourou. So far he's not been challenged too much, though he does pick up a foul for a push on Yakubu. Looks more like backing in to me, but whatever.

8': Djourou tries a back-pass but leaves it short -- actually behind Yakubu. But Senderos cleans it up.

By the way, what's with Freddie's beard? Maybe he's not going to shave until he gets a goal.

12': A second Theirry Henry free kick comes very close. His first wasn't great but he's unlikely to stay away from goal for long. A couple minutes later, Reyes has a solid look and pulls it just wide too. Could be a long day for Boro if this keeps up -- but Arsenal have to start converting their chances into goals.

15': Henry loses the ball but throws himself into a beautiful tackle to win it back. His cross is just knocked away, but then Reyes goes into a hard tackle himself. He gets a foul for his trouble, but it was a decent tackle. Even without goals yet, I love seeing this kind of fight from the boys.

19': More poor passing from Gilberto. I really can't understand his habit this year of making such horrid passes. Sometimes it's impossible to see what he's even trying to do. Conventional wisdom is that he's not pressed enough for time, and is too complacent. That might explain some lack of effort, but I can't see how that results in the poor passing and decision-making. Maybe he needs glasses?

20': Goal! Hell of a strike from Henry. The move started with an incisive pass from Cesc to pick out Ljungberg's run to the end line; Freddie had all day to pick out Henry, and did it perfectly.

22': Goal! Senderos this time. Reyes took a beautiful corner; Senderos had a wide-open header at the far post, and put it away with authority. He looks amazingly authoritative, especially for such a young kid. I wouldn't be surprised to see him wearing the armband down the road.

It's hard to see Boro coming back from 2-0, certainly not if they continue to play like this. Their back line is amazingly inexperienced, but it's their midfield that's letting them down at the moment.

29': Goal! Reyes hits a perfectly weighted pass that springs Henry free. The keeper comes far out to try to snuff the danger, but Henry isn't even bothered; it's a slow roller but is only ever going into the goal. It's starting to look like this will be a game worth keeping on the Tivo through the offseason.

31': Cygan goes down with a hamstring and Ashley Cole gets up to warm up. It's good to hear the crowd greet him so positively. Despite all the rumors of his departure, he's still with the Gunners. The fan response might have been different had Gael Clichy been healthy the whole time... but he wasn't, and it'll be nice to have a real left back again. Cole comes on at 35' and the crowd gives a solid welcome home. Let's hope he's ready.

45': Goal! Almost two minutes into injury time, Robert Pires gets it all on his own; he's given too much time in the box and perfectly picks his spot. 4-0 to the Arsenal at the half.

OK, second half is under way. More goals for the Gunners? We'll see.

54': Free kick for the Gunners, and Henry's ball is headed home by Pires... but the flag is up. Replays show it's the wrong decision. Close free kicks like this make offsides extremely difficult to judge, since everybody is packed into the box anyway. Wish I could think of a rule change or clarification that would help.

59': Goal! Finally a free-kick from Henry works. This one is virtually identical to the last, except that it's Gilberto who gets up to head it home. It would be easy to fault the Boro back line for their poor defense of set pieces, but Arsenal have been given far too many chances.

67': Goal! Thierry Henry gets his 150th league goal. Reyes hits another amazing thirty-yard pass to spring Henry, and with an unopposed run at goal (well behind the defense) the outcome was never in doubt. That's Henry's hat-trick and 6-0 to the Arsenal. Wenger pulls off Gilberto and Pires in favor of Flamini and Hleb; it'll be interesting to see if one of them is able to get in on the action.

Now the focus turns to the Arsenal defense. They haven't given up a league goal since the Chelsea game and it would be sad to see it end in this game, with a six-goal lead already.

72': Henry is running dangerously through the middle of the defense, and Doriva gives a hard pull to the back of his jersey. Doriva's already carrying a yellow... and gets the second. So now Boro have 20 minutes to play with ten men. I'm not sure if the second yellow was for the pull or for the disset that followed, but he certainly can't expect anything else.

74': Another rampant Arsenal attack and this time we get to see Hleb getting involved. It's not at all useful; he works hard and has a nice touch but he's been horrible at getting into the flow of the Arsenal attack. If anything, it's getting worse rather than better.

78': Boro come close to getting that goal. Riggot hits the corssbar on an open look, though it's a difficult over-the-shoulder ball; the follow-up from Yakubu is swatted away by Lehmann. A minute later, Arsenal have a surging counterattack that nearly pays. Arsenal on the counter are at their best, and it's breathtaking to watch when they're all on the same page.

84': Goal! Hleb gets his first. Henry once more runs amok on the right side; his pass is actually misguided to Reyes in a crowd in the box, but it springs out and Hleb has an open look at the net. Reyes is left in a heap; hopefully it's nothing serious. He's back on the field, anyway. 7-0... wow. Now, the only question is whether they'll beat last year's Everton score.

91': A free kick for Arsenal's last chance... Henry takes, but it's into the wall. Reyes tries to hit it on the volley but doesn't let it come down enough. On the resulting goal kick, the whistle blows.

So that's it -- 7-0 for the Arsenal. Fun to see, and a perfect start to Arsenal's key league run. Definitely a game worth saving.

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