Category Archives: Chary

Man at the match, Chary: Robin’s twin strikes send Bolton to the bottom

An unusually mild late September afternoon saw Arsenal’s third home game of the season take place in what the media would like to say was an air of apprehension amongst the support.

First off – that tabloid generated assertion was way off the mark as the feeling in the bars and streets around the N5 area of London was certainly not apprehension. The mood was that of expectancy and quiet confidence that the real Arsenal would show up today.

Your humble scribe found himself in the Upper tier of the Clock End where conventional wisdom would assert there would be a soporific feeling generated amongst the support, only slightly less lack lustre than Club level.

Second off – not true either; the support was surprisingly vocal and while my less than complimentary remarks about Cyril Davies (when he replaced the anonymous Ngog) were still met by inquiring looks from pre-pubescent Gooners, irregardless (c. Tim) from where I sat Block 124 backed the team as well as the rest of the home support did.

From this view point the Red action section of the North bank could be seen passing around the giant club flag.

Red Action flag

Red Action flag

Once all the crowd had arrived it seemed the stadium was around 90% full with Bolton’s support taking up around 80% of their allocation

Prior to kick off we saw a rather cheesy “huddle” from the Bolton players – that’s so 1990’s; who does on pitch team huddles anymore?

Cheesy Bolton huddle

Cheesy Bolton huddle

After a slightly nervy start, where Chesney pulled off a great one handed save from an early Bolton attack Arsenal settled into their passing game gradually although nowadays it is more customary to highlight our defence. Chesney is without a doubt the leader of the defence – for such a young man he commands his back four like a seasoned pro, not someone who was keeping goal for Brentford the season before last.

Apart from the early shot on our goal Bolton offered very little going forward in the first half and in that respect the defence seemed to settle. There was the odd hic cup, where a hoofed Jaaskelainen goal kick would bounce a few too many times before our centre backs cleared their lines however no groans were to be heard.

What we still heard were the odd groan when our forward would not shoot early enough, although that was harsh on us as the Bolton 4-5-1 line up was basically two banks of 4 close together with little room for manoeuvre, hence the probing for an opening prior to shooting.

Early impressions on the new players were that Arteta looks very much like a player used to the hurly burly of a rumbustious quality of a premier league midfield and at home there. There were a number of efficient forward passes he made that although not Hollywood, eye catching long range passes, kept our attacks ticking over nicely.

Mertesacker looked a gentle giant rather than an orc-like animal of a defender in his style of play, but I saw a clever cut back to nutmeg the Bolton left winger and keep the ball in play and pass forward as well as several passes in the opposition area which progressed attacks nicely. This suggested some finesse and skill – I wager he’ll fit in nicely. I suspect as his game time grows he will become that big lump in the centre of our defence that we have needed ever since “Big Tone” (TA06) retired.

It soon became apparent after the substitution of Ngog that K Cyril Davies is indeed an odious individual – he took less than two minutes to commit a foul after coming on and his whole repertoire of football skills consist of backing into the defender and falling over to win free kicks.

As half time approached I realised that I didn’t feel nervous after a goalless first 45 minutes; partly because although we were feeling our way back in our attacking play Bolton offered very little goal threat and their “strategy/tactics” consisted of nullifying our attack by making sure Robinson hacked Theo at every opportunity and Wheater grappled with Robin, the way in which Vidic is allowed to WWF-style-lee, whenever we had a free kick in the Bolton half.

Half time was spent by of me kicking myself for not getting any pictures of “The Carlsberg girls” who were around the stadium concourse posing for pictures with supporters before kick off; as a middle aged chap I naturally felt uncomfortable asking for a picture with the trios of twenty somethings, however there’s always next time to rectify this omission.

At the restart the stadium big screen showed a close up of Arteta and Gervinho on the centre spot pointing and discussing how to get the second half underway – whatever they said, they could quote Hannibal Jones in saying “I love it when a plan comes together” as Ramsey fed Robin onto his hammer left foot seconds later who then buried the shot bottom right past Jaaskelainen who had, typically, been repelling Arsenal’s attacks almost single handedly.

A minor miracle was Clattenburg playing the advantage when another Bolton ankle crusher took out Gervinho in the build-up to the goal – and another miracle, after the goal was scored he booked the offending Bolton player (Steinsson)

The Bolton fans who had, up till then, contented them themselves with chanting “Champions League you’re having a laugh” fell silent so we returned the favour by shouting back “Premier League, you’re having a laugh!”

Arsenal gained confidence and the attacks became more fluid and Theo more influential, with another one of his central runs leading to Wheater, taking time off practising his half-Nelson on Robin, deciding – by way to hack him down.

DOGSO – red card and flash forward to Coyle bemoaning how even the game had been up till then (excuse me, you were one nil down and camped in your own half) in the post-match press conference and how the red card was the turning point.

Despite being hacked relentlessly Theo kept ploughing forward and another run from centre to right set up Robin for his 100th goal for Arsenal with a deft flick from the Dutchman who now has 26 goals in 31 games for 2011. His thanks to Theo visible even from my distant viewpoint.

The blow Gervinho took earlier probably accounted for his replacement by Arshavin ten or so minutes from time and Robin was taken off close to the end so he could get applause for his brace and 100 goal achievement. There was still time for Theo to set up our Russian enigma with a shot he rifled against the side netting, Andrey’s guile and craft will be needed on Wednesday night as we look to gain points in the Champions League.

Sadly Theo, after having missed an easy opportunity when put through by Ramsey, then pulled up with hamstring trouble as a Bolton corner led to a through ball to him that should have made him one on one with the Bolton keeper. A sting in the tail of this match that we could do without and we await medical bulletins on the extent of the injury.

As the full time whistle approached the early departees were punished by a late Song strike, a rising drive into the top of the net as Arsenal attackers pulled apart the tiring Bolton defence.

All in all a satisfactory win and, at the very least, a platform to build on.

A satisfying final scoreboard

A satisfying final scoreboard

Is this result the start of a change in our wretched form to date – who knows? Gooners world wide will be hoping it is.

Man at the match, Chary: Arsenal’s season distilled

Those hoping for a rousing send off by the team for our last home game found themselves sorely disappointed by half time.

Typically, by then, Arsenal had three shots on target and zero goals, while Villa had two shots on target and two goals. Now if that doesn’t sum up our defensive frailties and our lack of striking efficiency in one 45 minutes segment of play nothing will.

A crazy first twenty minutes of defensive tomfoolery let a chipped pass to an unmarked Darren Bent tap in for a goal preceding another where a Vermaelen slip let a pass across the box arrive at his feet again and he duly converted and repeated his rather muted goal celebration, perhaps (and I have this on good authority, an acquaintance of his mother’s) because he is a gooner.  

Wind backwards to a couple of hours before kick-off and your humble scribe wandered to the starting point of the “You are my Arsenal” procession in Blackstock road where a handful of police and a film crew were stationed.

The mood of the assembled crowd there was just like that of any other pre match crowd in the vicinity of the Grove however the occasional chant of “We want our Arsenal back” was proof of simmering discontent as well as a smattering of supporters in their colours of yellow and black.  

Police-Marchers face off

View from the marchers side

View from the marchers side

According to the press release from the organisers the march was due to leave at 3pm however they left ten minutes early, for reasons unclear.

At that point I was at my regular pre match watering hole a few hundred yards up the road and to my dismay I saw the march stream off early and, as far as I could tell, in relative quiet. There were certainly no chants of “Wenger out” from the crowd, which I estimated from my vantage point to be around two or three hundred at least.

As I took my seat in the North Bank lower tier ten minutes before kick off the atmosphere was one of nervousness and as Elvis struck up a red headed girl in front of me held her black scarf above her head to show her allegiance to the demonstrators I’d seen earlier.

Our team started as they normally do with the usual suspects looking good (Jack and Robin) but our defence barely communicating each other even with Vermealen back, who is one of our more vocal defenders. 

Even after the second goal went in our back four hardly spoke, normally when a goal is conceded the back four would at least ask questions amongst themselves as to who was at fault and how to rectify the error, here the space afforded to Darren Bent.

Large gaps between CB's

Large gaps between CB's

The north bank lower tier could see what Bent was asking for “Float the diagonal ball over to me” – a tactic which our back line couldn’t counteract.

Once we went two behind a dose of urgency did enter our play and even from my distant view point the barge on Ramsey in the Villa area was as blatant a penalty as ever yet the referee was happy with the challenge and another recurring feature of Arsenal home games – ”The anti-Homer” referee – showed itself, namely the one who makes a conscious effort to favour the away side.

Sadly on the half time whistle a chorus of boos rang out, although it could be said the crowd were angry at the referee for his decision rather than the lackadaisical performance by our defence and attack, or even a mixture of the two.

One of the weaknesses many have seen in Wenger’s match day tactics is the reluctance to make early, decisive changes when things aren’t working and the half time substitution of Squillaci (who was being jeered by the home support for his granting of space for Bent) for Chamakh was a sign that Wenger thought the efforts made by the team in the first half were wanting.

The second half did see the crowd encouraged by Arsenal’s attacking play having a bit more bite and our forwards being more likely to shoot with the introduction of Bendtner for Arshavin (who tried hard but was having no luck), of course greeted by more jeers. To my eyes Bendtner did seem to drive forward more than our team had been earlier and we all thought Chamakh had pulled a goal back, until the anti-homer effect from the referee of a fair challenge by our number 29 being deemed a foul worthy enough to rule out the goal.

Prior to that Robin hit the post, as he seems contractually bound to in every match. Just to compound the injustice Bendtner was booked for showing frustration at the disallowed goal. 

To further rub salt into the wound Petrov should have been given a second yellow a few minutes before he was subbed and received only a talking to after another foul, on Theo if my memory/sight is correct.

Collision in Villa box

Collision in Villa box

Another cross into Villa box

Another cross into Villa box

From the moment the first goal went in the Villa fans were bouncing all the time, celebrating their lead and when Robin finally got his 20th of the season for a few minutes at least they were motionless.

Luckily for them all it took was a bit more time wasting from their defenders (in feigning injury to use up the time) and Brad Friedel (taking slow motion goal kicks) and the four minutes of injury time soon went and their joy at gaining three points at our expense segued into jeers and cat calls from the home crowd. Numerous calls of “Six per cent, you’re having a laugh” were shouted at the director’s boxes as the Arsenal bench sat motionless and stoney faced.

There was still booing when the players came out for the lap of appreciation and they first came over to where I was; luckily the “We love you Arsenal, we do” singing drowned out the booing and the lap went ahead without any of the ugliness I thought may have happened after a home defeat. 

Lap after full time

Lap after full time

Both Cesc and Wenger had faces that showed their disappointment however I take it as a good sign that Cesc did NOT wave (as in goodbye) to the crowd but Bendtner threw his shirt into the crowd, perhaps good news for his detractors if they read that as a sign of his imminent departure.

Cesc and others applaud crowd

Cesc and others applaud crowd

B52 sans shirt

B52 sans shirt

At the moment the dissenting voices, while in the minority, are vociferous and if the significant changes which virtually every other supporter you talk to says are needed don’t happen, then these dissenters will become more numerous and, it may be argued, they have good reason to gather other supporters into their fold.

A chilling thought as I hurried into the underground station on Gillespie Road a few hours after the final whistle and felt a similarly chilling wind whip up. 


Man at the match, Chary: Ah nuts, another home nil nil

As the sun set over North London at full time the Arsenal supporters still in Ashburton Grove at the final whistle had a moment to ponder if the sun had set on Arsenal’s title aspirations also.

The optimism of having four first choice players available again (Cesc, Robin, Theo and Song) to play against a distinctly ordinary Blackburn team, that had lost nine out of their last ten away games, suggested there should have been an upbeat atmosphere in the ground, despite (yet) another referee assisted ManUre comeback earlier in the day.

Following an emotional tribute to Rocky Rocastle the match kicked off and as ever Arsenal started brightly with Arshavin exposing Salgado on our left flank and getting a rousing cheer when he tracked back to block a cross on one of the rare times Blackburn were not pinned back on that side. Where I was sitting, at the corner of the North Bank and the East Stand, the Russian’s efforts going forward and in defence were well appreciated.

First half action near dug outs

First half action near dug outs

In a similar vein Kozzer made a number of headed clearances that went down well with the crowd, our aerial defensive capabilities were one area we expected to be tested on however that didn’t seem to occur to the extent that was anticipated.

The chicken-sponsored away team’s tactics were little changed from the days of Fat Sam and we had the expected banks of defensive players sitting very deep and with the attacking tactics limited to the ex-Spud Robinson being the chief goal assister (and time waster – but rest assured you’re humble scribe was in a position to scream expletive laden abuse at him whenever he came near my corner to take his slo-mo goal kicks) with his goal kicks and free kicks being Blackburn’s sole hope of scoring.

Robust tackles were the order of the day as were elbows leaning into headers as Wilshere and Nasri could attest to, Samir’s Terry Butcher sized head bandage masking a huge bump on the head, as was customary the in-stadium big screens didn’t show the replay leading to the head injury as it was deemed too controversial.

It would be unfair to say that Blackburn didn’t threaten at all, in fact a shot exposed Almunia who misjudged the flight of the ball and appeared to scoop it past the post when he was trying to gather it. They would have moments of possession in our half, however these were fleeting and the lack of quality in their final ball showed just how poorly they operate as an attacking unit.

Jack is by now used to being kicked from pillar to post, be it playing in friendly internationals as he was earlier this week, or when donning the red and white.

When play was stopped for an injury to Jack the drop ball restart was very unsportingly contested by Blackburn, can you imagine the outrage were the situations reversed?

From my vantage point I could see that no matter how many crosses or balls in wide came from either side we seemed to lack a presence in the box to either get on the end of the crosses and convert/make chances to shoot.

Theo was being double teamed pretty much all of the time, Nasri became slightly subdued after his head injury, Alex Dmitri looked decidedly rusty and Robin was isolated; Cesc was clearly not fit enough to start.

One wag a few rows back from me had brought an Arsenal min-flag (a memento of that ill-fated Champions League quarter final with ManUre a few seasons back) which he pointed like a linesman would do on one of those rare occasions Blackburn passed forward and found one of their outfield players actually in our half; “I’m here to help” he shouted when the lino raised his flag in the same way a few seconds after he did.

The end of the first half approached and we continued to bombard the Blackburn penalty area but could find no way past the 8-1-1 formation that Fat Sam’s successor was employing and for that we should look at our team for not being able to breach the oppositions defences as the opposition are fully entitled to use whatever formation and strategy they like.

At half time Bob Wilson cycled round the perimeter of the pitch to publicise his sponsored bike ride in aid of his cancer charity for young Adults – “The Willow Foundation.”

Bob Wilson half time lap

Bob Wilson half time lap

With Arsenal now attacking my end I got to see a lot more of Sagna’s charges up field and a number of times he would cross and no one would be in the danger zone to latch onto them however a flurry of corners would result, sadly a lot of these were before our two best players in the air (Bendy and Chamakh) were brought on.

Robin prepares to take a corner

Robin prepares to take a corner

Robin-Nasri set up corner

Robin-Nasri set up corner

The introduction of Cesc for Arshavin should have allowed us to find more probing passes and hence carve out more openings; again it seemed Cesc’s lack of match fitness meant our attacks were more deliberate and ponderous than usual by which time the Chicken farmer’s team 8-1-1 could come into play.

This 8-1-1 became 8-1-0 when N’zonzi was given a straight red for what I later found out to be a two footed lunge on Kozzer, being at pitch level I couldn’t really gauge the severity of the challenge and those around me were slightly surprised to see a red being brandished, especially considering who the referee was.

Sagna continued to run past me and put in crosses, when one cannoned off a defender and failed to reach Bendy he admonished the full back and an unseemly little episode of bickering ensued, “Come on lads, don’t fight amongst yourselves” I thought at the time.

Sagna sends in another cross

Sagna sends in another cross

Cesc was then stupidly called for a foul when a defender was trying to keep the ball in the corner flag and yet all our number four was trying to do was to get back possession, he walked away with his head bowed as he realised time was almost up.

Cesc after time's almost up

Cesc after time's almost up

I saw only two players bother to applaud the home support on the final whistle, Bendy and Jack; gestures like this mean a lot to the fans who stay till the end however the booing heard elsewhere in the ground then was less than edifying.