05 May 2006

Man City 1-3 Arsenal

In the end it was a comfortable win but Citeh kept it close for much of the match. Both City and Arsenal had their chances in the first half, and Arsenal finally took the lead on 30' from a sweet Thierry Henry pass followed by a strong Freddie Ljungberg finish. It was Freddie's first Prem goal of the season, and it's good to see him get off the mark. Unfortunately the home team equalized just a few minutes later, with David Sommeil poking home after a corner. It was a poor piece of defending and a bit worrying to revisit our old difficulties at set pieces. So 1-1 at halftime.

The second half saw a real back-and-forth develop between the two teams, but the Arsenal subs made all the difference. The offense really gelled when Cesc Fabregas was brought on for Alex Song, but it was late sub Jose Antonio Reyes who took over the match, scoring first from an outstanding Emmanuel Eboue cutback and later from a generous Henry. Man City had their threats too, drawing a couple of fine saves from Lehmann, but in the end the Gunners made it look easy.

Just a word about Henry and Reyes. I would pay a chunk of cold cash to understand what their relationship is about. There seem to be real issues there; Henry didn't really congratulate him on the first goal (he found Eboue, who surely deserved acclaim as well) and was rather subdued for the second too. This is a long-standing pattern; I'm not one to over-analyze onfield relationships, but it's difficult to miss the tension there. And yet, Henry's selfless layoff found Reyes for the second goal, when he could have taken the shot himself. If they play that well together, then maybe the personality clash just doesn't matter. But with Henry's Arsenal future up in the air... well, I think every Arsenal fan wants him to be very, very happy with everybody at the club.

Player Ratings:

Lehmann: 7 A mixed game for Jens. Had a couple of absolute top-quality saves that kept Arsenal in the match. However he also allowed himself to get wound up by the City players, particularly Darius Vassell. Should have done better on the City goal. City used the familiar set-piece tactic of stationing a big player in front of Jens to impede him in coming for crosses, and it was effective.

Cole: 6 Nothing spectacular but very solid. Still needs to recover some speed but played the full 90 with no real worries. Looked solid and effective, though he didn't get forward as much as we would expect.
Campbell: 6 Bit of a mixed bag for Sol. For the most part he was confident, well-positioned, and able to deal with the attack. Had some problems though on set pieces and arial work. I think we're all beginning to understand how good Senderos is at defending with headers; Campbell was lacking in that department. Could stand to lose some weight. Should have had a goal on an early free header.
Toure: 7 Another excellent game. Had a touchy tackle in the box, that could have gone for a penalty on a different day. But generally kept the defense organized and effective. Clear choice for the next captain if Henry leaves.
Eboue: 7 One of the brightest lights for this season. His defensive play was only good today, but his runs forward brought a great deal of threat; his run and cut-back that found Reyes for the second goal was a thing of beauty. The scary part is that you can still see some room for improvement. It will be fun to watch him burst into the international scene this summer.

Ljungberg: 7 Did all his usual stuff -- worked like a demon, fought for balls, made timely runs. The one difference was that he got the goal, which was long in coming and well-deserved. Hopefully this sparks a Freddie renaissance.
Gilberto: 7 Did his usual Gilberto thing, and did it well. Seems like his forward passing is getting crisper and more dangerous. I've said it before, but Brazil fans must be happy to see him peaking at the right time.
Song: 5 Not really sure why he's playing for Arsenal. Yesterday's game was particularly damning, because he didn't play that badly; he just didn't do anything very helpful. In other words, this may be the best that he has to offer. Clearly has speed and agility, but continues to prove himself unable to mesh with the team. I suspect his loan won't be renewed, so hold off on buying those 06/07 "Song 17" jerseys.
Hleb: 7 Another good game from our #1 Alex. Had a fine shot saved by James; looked dangerous all evening. His ability to hold posession has proven to be the pressure-relief valve that we need.

Henry: 8 Built much of the threat for the Gunners all night. His assists unlocked both the Freddie goal and the second Reyes goal. If he leaves, the Arsenal are in trouble.
van Persie: 6 Difficult to rate. Played well and had some quality shots, but also squandered a couple of opportunities. Somehow allowed himself to get wound up by Sommeil, and was lucky not to receieve a yellow card from the uncharacteristically generous Graham Poll.

Fabregas: 8 (58' for Song) That Cesc guy? Yeah, he's pretty good.
Pires: 7 (72' for Hleb) Did well for himself, took a good outside shot that found James. Worked well in his 20 minutes of action.
Reyes: 8 (72' for van Persie) He does love the warm weather, doesn't he? Two quality goals, the first with quickness and power, the second with patience and placement. Hopefully we will see more of the same on 17 May.

So we're down to the last game of the season. Arsenal are now one point back of Tottenham, so fourth place will come down to the wire. If Spurs beat West Ham, they'll take fourth, but even a draw leaves the door open. Arsenal now need help and so every Gunner is becoming a true Hammer fan, for one week at least. Arsenal will have Wigan in the final game at Highbury, but aside from the history of the occasion, you have to assume that Arsenal have the ability to win that match. There's 10 days to rest after that, so no reason to save anyone; and with the historic occasion nobody will want to sit on the bench anyway. So let's get a win, Gunners, and the same to you Hammers as well.

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