Believe it or not, I've written over 2,500 words since last Tuesday's incredible encounter up at Anfield. But I've been so busy with work that I haven't managed to get this missive finished. Hopefully I will find a few minutes to finish it before Wednesday's big game so that I can post it, before it all becomes too outdated
Meanwhile if I was a Boro fan, I would've been angry if I'd spent my hard earned wedge to travel down South to support my team's struggle to retain their Premiership status, only to see my side lie down like lambs. I was amazed to here it revealed on the radio that Stuart Downing has played every game and has yet to score a goal. This just about says it all really. Perhaps they'd already written off the game against us but at only 0-1 down, I would've expected them to fighting for grim death to try and snatch an equaliser. But based on their apparent lack of intensity, I'm beginning to revise my opinion of Southgate as a manager, as on this evidence, they looked like certain relegation candidates.
Yet without any further ado, I want to watch the Barca v Chelsea semi and if I don't get this sent out now, I never will
Come on you Yellows
I’m not sure what Fergie will have learned from his presence at Sunday’s stroll in the sunshine. I’m assuming he was only paying a visit to our place, on route to donning his penguin suit for the PFA Awards. Yet I doubt he was left any the wiser as to the Gunners line-up at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, by a game which, to my mind, really only stood as testament to the disappointing amount of fight left in Gareth Southgate’s dogs.
In the absence of Van Persie, Arsène might fancy the goal threat posed by Fabregas, playing in the more advanced role. Yet Cesc might not find Man Utd’s defence nearly so accommodating as Boro’s and for my money, the Gunner’s passing game is only ever truly on song, with our Spanish maestro at it’s heart, acting as the fulcrum, where Fabregas is best placed to bring all our other attributes into play, with the quality of both his long and short passing.
On the basis that we’re likely to have a better chance of outscoring Man Utd than keeping a clean sheet, personally I’d love to see us go for it, with a more offensive 4-4-2 formation. But le gaffer is hardly known for his gung-ho qualities and so I guess we can expect the Gunners to line-up with a lone striker.
Undoubtedly, over the course of 90 minutes, Adebayor is the player most likely to conjure up an inspirational, game-changing goal. I imagine that the Man Utd defence would be more apprehensive about the Togongator’s ability to do the unexpected, than Nicky Bendtner. Nevertheless, with Ade’s incessant tendency to stray offside, his apparent inability to get off the ground (to take advantage of his height) and his recent woeful first touch, where we’ve invariably lost possession as the ball has bounced straight off him, one could make a meaningful argument for selecting the Dane in his stead, since Ade patently isn’t suited to a role demanding so much selfless graft.
Several other selection quandaries were the source of heated debate on Sunday. Where Sylvestre appears more than competent when coping with the modest abilities of the likes of Marlon King, I get the sense that there’s an acute awareness of his limitations, which can result in brown-trousered bedlam, when he’s required to thwart more accomplished strikers. By contrast Djourou’s “too cool for school” tendencies might have me kacking my own pants at times, but I’d much prefer to have the Swiss youngster emanating a “no fear” air of calm amidst our defence at Old Trafford, than the probability of the panic-struck alternative.
Sunday was one of the few occasions I can recall a fit Bakari Sagna being confined to the bench. Can we conclude that Eboué will continue in the right-back berth? Admittedly, in Sagna’s absence, the immature Ivorian appears to have relished a return to his original position. Although ultimately our ability to deny Utd the ammunition provided by their raids down the flanks could prove crucial. If Arsène chooses to place his trust in the more responsible Sagna, I would’ve much preferred for the French full-back to have got his nightmare return at Anfield out of his system, with a confidence restoring run-out against an impotent Boro.
Selection and formation arguments aside, my principal concern is that le Prof doesn’t repeat the mistake he appeared to make at Wembley. Perhaps it was related to his esteem for Hiddink, but I felt his team selection paid Chelsea too much respect, instead of simply putting his faith in our most in-form XI. Arsène responded to his critics in Sunday’s program notes, explaining that with 9 games in 27 days, it’s essential that he makes the most of his resources. He also referred to the irony that the same people who were crying about the exclusion of Alex Song, were moaning about his selection six months back!
However, it felt almost as if Wenger was contradicting himself, as Monday’s weekly email from the manager revealed “it’s better to win, than to lose and rest players”. Perhaps if le Prof had stay true to this policy, Shava might’ve had less to prove at Anfield last week and would be saving some goals for a return to Wembley in May?
If Fergie learned one thing this weekend, it was how lucky Utd are that the little Cossack is cup-tied in Europe. Cesc and Shava have only played a couple of games together, but already you can sense an intuition developing between the two of them. I’m positively licking my lips at the prospect of a pre-season which will enable all of his teammates to tune into the diminutive Ruski’s wavelength and instinctively occupy the sort of vacant areas that Shava was finding on Sunday.
For the Gunners to triumph at Old Trafford, we need Utd to set the same cup final high-tempo that Liverpool produced last week. The Scousers frenetic pressure forced us to zip the ball around at the sort of furious pace that was far more likely to encourage the best out of us, than 90 minutes of tentative probing in a contest where the fear of loss prevails.
In spite of Ashley Cole’s suspension, I’ve a totally illogical inkling that our Wembley appearance will prove to be a dress rehearsal for Rome (hopefully with a different denouement!). Although the Gunners are guaranteed at least one cup final appearance, as by some weird coincidence on 26th May, 20 years to the day of Micky Thomas’ magical night at Anfield, the kids will be returning in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup Final, after they mullahed Man City 4-1 in the second leg of the semi on Weds.
It’s all too strange for words, as only the night before, apart from savouring the most scintillating awayday of the season (so far!), I was delighted to be present, to pay my respects to an Arsenal and Liverpool legend. Although it was a somewhat pitiful sight, seeing a Parkinsons riddled Ray Kennedy shuffling onto the pitch at the break, credit where it is due, with the impressive pre-match card display at either end of the ground, of Kennedy’s respective shirt numbers, the Scousers once again proved themselves a proper football family, when it comes to honouring their heroes.
Win against Utd and Wenger will once again walk on water. Lose and you can be sure certain short-sighted Gooners will be sharpening their knives. Many will be too young to recall Ray Kennedy’s goal at White Hart Lane in ‘71, on a night when the Gunners finally emerged, after an entire decade spent in the shadow cast by our neighbours and the “glory, glory” exploits of Danny Blanchflower’s Double side. No matter what fate and fortune has in store for us this season, we can savour a sumptuous feast of football to come, safe in the knowledge we’re in comparative clover.
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Tuesday, April 28, 2009