13 December 2006

Chelsea 1-1 Arsenal; Wigan 0-1 Arsenal

It's not easy, but the Gunners are making progress.

Continuing my tradition of "better late than never," I thought I'd put in a few words about the 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Sunday. Heck of a match, wasn't it? It's the classic kind of tense draw: at different times you're thinking your team will win, lose, and draw; in the end, you feel exhausted and reluctantly satisfied to call it even.

Both teams wanted the three points, but in the end Arsenal feel better about taking one. Chelsea will rue their missed chances, especially from Drogba and Lampard, and the Gunners had to leave feeling a bit lucky there. But on the other hand, it took a seriously good strike from Michael Essien to even bring the Blues level. Were it not for his one good moment, Chelsea could have lost at home for the first time in forever.

And Arsenal? They had some nervy moments in defense, most notably from a few Senderos miscues, and from the fullbacks after Mourinho switched gears with Robben and Wright-Phillips. But they were hard in the tackle all day, and the Flamini goal was extremely well-worked. Mathieu is starting to take on some leadership with the club, and it's gratifying to see him have an impact in games like this and with Liverpool. And I have to give a shout for Gilberto, who has backed up the captain's armband with some magnificent performances.

The quality of play was excellent from both sides; Chelsea are not the dour defenders that they were last year. Which makes their whining and diving even more annoying. It's always hideous to see Drogba throwing himself to the floor, but it's even worse (if possible) when he's having such a great season. As it is, he'll never have a solid reputation if he can't stop his flailing. And the whole team is just pathetic in how they argue with the referees. I have no idea why it is tolerated; were it me, I'd be very tempted to show an early yellow (or two!) for dissent to put a stop to it.

But despite that, it was an interesting match, with good ebb and flow, and a thrilling finish. The draw is a fair result, though both teams will feel they should have done better. The rematch should be an interesting affair.

And then, three points today as Arsenal nick it from Wigan, 0-1 on the late Adebayor goal. Another match that could have gone either way; Henri Camara did much to trouble the Gunners, and Wigan could have easily had a couple goals. But this time, there was no Essien wonder-strike, and instead Arsenal's surging pressure finally forced open the gates.

I haven't seen the game — I heard it online from ATVO. It sounds like the Gunners missed some chances and gave Wigan some too, but in general held the upper hand for much of the match. That's gratifying, particularly when Arsenal fielded a reduced lineup after Sunday's game. Adebayor continued his frustrating but rewarding run, missing a few chances before getting the crucial winner. (His play is fascinating to me, due to its inconsistency, but that's a post for another time.) Much will be made of the fact that it took a Fabregas pass to crack open Wigan; Cesc sat out until 75' and may be seen as the Gunners' savior. But Arsenal did a lot even before he and van Persie came on.

And full credit to Wigan. In their 1.5 seasons in the Prem, they've been a genuine threat despite their short history. Unlike the standard dour relegation candidates that settle like sediment to the bottom of the table every year, Wigan always look to play a positive match, and have earned some surprising and rewarding wins because of it. It surprises me that Paul Jewell has lasted this long without being snapped up by a larger club, but for now I'm glad to see him craft a team that looks up for a win on Any Given Saturday.

So after three solid performances on the road, Arsenal return home to face Portsmouth. Pompey aren't in their best form, with 2-3-2 in their last 7. But this can be a dangerous team. If you haven't yet, see their goals against Everton from Matt Taylor and Kanu. If the Arsenal defense falls asleep, we could see another early goal for the visitors.

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