I have not yet had a prostate exam. When a man reaches a certain age, it is incumbent upon him to have his prostate checked as part of an annual physical. Soon I will reach that tender age and experience the unpleasantness for myself. Since I haven’t had a prostate exam, I am unable to describe the sensation to you now, but I imagine it feels something like watching our match at Eewood Park on Saturday.
It started almost from the opening kickoff. Balls flew into our box from goal kicks, free kicks, corner kicks and throw-ins. The Eewood Park pitch was in excellent condition and I can only surmise that it arrived in such a state due to under-use. Blackburn could play their brand of football in a parking lot. But there was no room for excuses. Arsenal had to endure the football equivalent of a 90 minute prostate exam. It’s the kind of pressure to which we would have succumbed all too easily in seasons past. But on Saturday, Arsenal passed this particular test and proved that lessons have been learned.
After the game Arsene Wenger claimed that any team in the world would have been given a stern examination by Blackburn’s tactics on the day. I’m inclined to agree with him. To be fair to the home side, in seasons past their efforts were more focused on the dirty tackle than the dangerous delivery. But on Saturday they played a relatively clean match, opting to flex their muscle with long balls rather than their studs. Blackburn are a big, strong team and even the most accomplished set-piece defenders find themselves struggling to keep Rovers out when they launch the ball into the box. We faced a barrage of deliveries throughout the match on Saturday, and did not falter.
|Sam Allardyce’s anti-football did not prevail on Saturday|
The statistics tell the story of our resilience. Rovers delivered 16 crosses, 6 free kicks and countless long throw-ins into the box. The results tell the story of our triumph. From those efforts, Blackburn failed to score a single goal. For a team like Arsenal, these are not fun games to play. They are matches where we’ve capitulated in the past. But on Saturday we held firm, in no small part due to a wonderful performance by Manuel Almunia. If that was his last match as our number 1, then he did himself proud. So proud that some supporters will suddenly develop amnesia regarding his shortcomings. But that’s another discussion entirely.
What’s ironic is that Blackburn scored from their best piece of passing. On the surface it might seem pointless to dissect the goal. We won the game, at a park where only three teams managed victory last season. It would be easy enough to ignore Diouf’s goal and celebrate only the positives from this match. But there are just a few points to make about Blackburn’s equalizer.
The most troubling aspect of Blackburn’s goal is that it reminded me of a goal we might concede to Chelsea, or Manchester United, or Manchester City, etc. It’s an all too familiar pattern. Our players get comfortable in possession. They start to creep further up the pitch. And when the ball is given away, we’re instantly outnumbered at the back with no one to support our two or three remaining defenders.
On Saturday, the give away lead to a quick outlet pass to Diouf #1. At that moment, only Koscielny, Vermaelen and Clichy were in their own half. Alex Song was standing on the edge of Blackburn’s penalty area a few yard away from Barcary Sagna. Abou Diaby was criminally lazy when the ball was played to Diouf. Rather than racing back to support Koscielny, he watched the play from the halfway line. Song, who was approximately 20 yards further up the pitch than Diaby managed to make it back into the box just as the ball was being slotted home.
The outlet pass to Diouf never should have happened in the first place. Diaby, Van Persie and Arshavin all stood nearly stationary as Blackburn casually moved the ball out of their own half. It was a rare instance in the match where we failed to press the ball properly and we were punished. If Arsene is going to stick with this 4-3-3 formation, then ball pressure is key to our defensive stability. On Saturday, it took only one lapse for Blackburn to punish us. Against better opposition, it can only be worse.
There’s probably an entire article that could be devoted to Gael Clichy at the moment. He’s capable of such brilliance but his man marking is shambolic at times. The way he watched the ball and completely lost track of his man allowing Diouf #2 to score easily was beyond poor. With Kieran Gibbs chomping at the bit and the English media hungry to see him play, Clichy will know that his place in the starting eleven is far from assured. Unfortunately, there’s a growing number of goals allowed over the past few seasons that can be linked directly to Clichy’s mistakes.
I realize that it sounds like I’m being overly negative in an article devoted to a crucial away win. Not the case. But before waxing poetic about our strength, our resolve, and our victory for beautiful football, I wanted to devote just a moment to recognizing that some of our bad habits are still lingering on the periphery.
Although we never had a prolonged period of dominance in the game, I thought we always looked dangerous. Diaby nearly scored the opener within the first five minutes, and while we might not have had shots flying at Robinson throughout the match, we had a multitude of near misses in the passing game. When Cesc gets his passing touch back in regular season form, it’s going to be delightful to watch. On saturday, there were several occasions where he just barely missed sending Theo in on goal. There were also a few “nearly” balls for Chamakh and Arshavin.
Speaking of Arshavin, I thought he played another solid game. He came in for criticism after the match, as having been “quiet,” but I think that’s unfair. His clever pass to Van Persie helped created Theo’s opener and he scored the second. He had one brilliant move in the box in the second half where he eluded half of the Blackburn defense but couldn’t get his shot away. Many of our most dangerous moves were created by Arshavin. He makes the clever little pass that isn’t always noticed but can be instrumental. I also see him working a little harder defensively. It’s not his strong suit, but the effort is improving.
Robin Van Persie didn’t look his best on Saturday and the ankle knock that sent him from the game looked innocuous to say the least. But if he is only out 10 days as the boss suggests, then it’s really the best case scenario. Van Persie would miss Holland duty without necessarily missing our next match against Bolton. Before RVP left the pitch, he managed to make the pass that put Theo in for his first goal. Otherwise it was a quiet performance.
I think it says a lot about the depth of the squad that our better period in the match came in the second half when RVP and Cesc were already out of the match. Rosicky continued in fine form and proved that he can hold the midfield together when Cesc and Nasri are gone. I’m not entirely sure that Diaby deserves a place ahead of the Czech. I realize that the frenchman is taller, but when you see his lack of commitment to defending costing us goals, you wonder if his added size is worth the poor work-rate. Rosicky is one of those players that always seems to give a committed performance. It’s hard not to like his game.
Once again Theo was amongst the goals, and although the chances weren’t as prevalent, he showed flashes of genius. The goal itself was well taken. A great combination of pace, control and clinical finishing. But watching the match again, you can see that Theo might have had another hat-trick had some of the passing been just a bit more precise. He lived on the edge of the Blackburn defense, but his midfielders failed on a number of occasions to pick the right pass. He certainly should have added an assist to his game when Wilshere missed his chance on the counter. It was an example of Theo making the simple, proper decision in a split-second. He’s also starting to spend more time in the middle of the park during matches. That’s an area where he looked out of place in the past, but now looks much more self-assured. If his development continues on this trajectory, he’s going to be one of our best players this season.
I think special praise belongs to Marouane Chamakh for his work after replacing Van Persie. There are many strikers in the Premier League whose reaction to being left on the bench would not be so professional. They might sulk, and when introduced into the match, wander aimlessly around the pitch. Chamakh came into the game for the injured Van Persie and worked as hard as anyone in the side. He provided great help on set piece defending, and might have scored a goal from a neat Fabregas pass across the edge of the area but saw his goal-bound shot blocked by Givet. Late in the game he lead that counter attack from the right wing, and played a perfect ball to Theo. The move ended with Wilshere’s slip as he readied himself to fire in a likely third goal. It was a disappointing moment actually because the goal would have added some gloss to the result and been a huge lift for Wilshere as he grows into his first team role. Wilshere had one of my favorite moments in the game, throwing himself into a “rugby-style” tackle that gave us back possession. Chris Foy, unsurprisingly, allowed the game to continue.
But for all this talk of midfielders and forwards, the real credit belongs with the defense and Almunia. On this day, Arsenal weren’t soft. Arsenal weren’t afraid to defend set pieces. Arsenal couldn’t be bullied. It’s a shame that Koscielny made the error that lead to Blackburn’s lone goal. Otherwise we would be praising him for a remarkable game. Koscielny has started two Premier League matches: at Anfield, and at Eewood Park. Not exactly the best locales for a defender new to English football. He acquitted himself marvelously in both games. With Squillaci having joined the team, some wonder if he will be the first choice partner for Vermaelen. On the evidence of two appearances, I’d have to say that it’s Koscielny’s job to lose. His error on Saturday was that he should have been more determined to foul Diouf. Lesson learned I’m sure.
With Gallas gone the defense doesn’t appear to have lost anything. On the contrary, there is a cohesion and camaraderie that was lacking last season. Maybe that observation is clouded by my personal opinion of Gallas, but that’s the way I see it. Vermalen and Koscielny work well together, and both seem to enjoy the more physical side of defending. It’s a welcome change from some of what we’ve seen in the recent past.
Although Blackburn’s goal came from Barcary Sagna’s side of the pitch, I thought he had a good game. He was solid defensively and it was his excellent run and pass to Cesc that ultimately lead to Arshavin scoring the winner. Clichy also looked dangerous at times but right now he and Sagna need to spend some serious time at crossing school. Our full backs get into great positions on the wings but rarely deliver a telling cross. Of the 19 crosses that Arsenal delivered during the match, it’s hard to remember any of them finding their target. However, our full backs aren’t alone in their futility. We racked up 8 corner kicks, but rarely saw the delivery beat the first defender. Crosses and corner kicks offer great chances to score. We create more of those chances than most teams and need to start converting them into goals. It’s one of the few offensive areas where we can stand to improve.
Speaking of areas where we need to improve, we wouldn’t have won on Saturday without a strong performance from our goal keeper. Last season we travelled to Eewood park with Fabianski as our number 1 and it was a calamity. This time, we had Almunia. While one performance does not change the entire resume of any player, Almunia won over a lot of supporters on Saturday. He seems like a classy professional who has always had the right attitude. If he put in more showings like the one at the weekend, perhaps he would be Arsenal’s number 1 for a little while longer. But I’m not convinced that the defenders completely trust him and that’s a recipe for disaster over the course of a season. I think we will have a new goal keeper this week, and while I feel a little sorry for Manuel, I think it’s for the best. However, on the outside chance that Almunia continues as our number 1 this season, at least now we have a little bit of confidence upon which to build.
Analysis aside, the most important think about Saturday is that we garnered all three points. The win keeps us second in the table and should give the team confidence. We will face other difficult matches like this one. Hopefully the win at the weekend will serve as a reminder to the team that proper effort yields proper results. It’s also nice to head into an international break with a win. Not just for the players, but for the supporters as well. You know the media was just relishing the chance to write all the same tired criticisms about Arsenal after losing in Lancashire. Thankfully we rewrote their headlines for them. I don’t think I could bear any self-aggrandizing quotes from that miserable fat walrus, and now I won’t have to. We even got to hear Ian Holloway discuss how nice it was to have a drink with Arsene Wenger. You see, Sam, it’s not that he won’t have a drink with managers. He just won’t have a drink with hideous cunts.
And speaking of headlines, Tony Pulis, the once and future Phil Brown, made some headlines this weekend. Apparently he is suing Arsene Wenger for slandering his team. Here’s some legal advice Tony; truth is always a defense in a defamation suit. You manage a rugby team. And it’s really a disgrace to that fine game. Moreover, you have to be able to walk without your knuckles scraping the ground to be heard in court so I doubt you’ll have your day. If you wanted the attention taken off your side’s pitiful performances, you could’ve simply worn your baseball cap around town and let people opine about that. Maybe Tony should ask Phil Brown what happens to clubs and managers that get caught up worrying about Arsene Wenger instead of the relegation zone. Twat. I’ve already has enough of him this season.
As the transfer period reaches its conclusion, I expect that we will have signed a goal keeper before all is said and done. I base that entirely on a smirk. When asked about the transfer window after the match, Wenger responded that “for us, the transfer period is already over.” The cheshire cat grin on his face told a different story entirely.
And that’s all there is to say at the moment. I won’t bother spending any time on the news of Jack Wilshere’s run-in with the law regarding the assault on a woman outside a club, because it seems like much ado about nothing. It was funny to follow the story on twitter however. In the span of 15 minutes he went from pariah to hero. No such luck for Collymore I’m afraid.
So here’s the worst news of all Gunners … It’s another international break. Someone set my alarm for September 10. (Then I can hit snooze for one more day of sleep.)