I said last week that 8 points is all you can expect from this run of four games. Any less is a poor result, any more a good one. I said yesterday that the match was not going to be a walk in Villa Park and it turned out to be a hard fought game with both teams having their chances, working hard, and both teams deserving a share of the points. Though, to be fair, Arsenal had the best chances and had it not been for Villa’s 12th man (the woodwork) their 13th man (Aaron Ramsey) and their 14th man (Lee Probert) the outcome would have been very different.
Villa have beaten Chelsea 2-1 at Villa park, Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield, and United 1-0 at Old Trafford. Hardly the type of team which people think of as 3 points in hand.
So it’s not a loss, it’s a draw, and a well deserved draw at that.
Because he created all of Arsenal’s best opportunities I have to give Man of the Match to Cesc. That run, where he beat the entire Villa team (left them scrambling and picking themselves up off the ground) and his shot was just inches from a goal, caromed off the post and but for the timely intervention of Villa’s 13th man, Aaron Ramsey, would have been a goal was absolutely brilliant. It shows the strength that he’s developed and the killer instinct that he has now.
Cesc also had the vision to set up the Rosicky shot which went off the crossbar, but then you already knew that Cesc has eyes on all sides of his head.
Sol Campbell had a good game as well and was vital in Arsenal keeping a clean sheet against old Long Balls. Sol only played 60 minutes but he was absolutely solid and adds a huge presence in the air. Sure, he hasn’t got the pace he had when he was part of the Invicibles but he made several crucial interceptions and he’s got the experience to know how to get under the skin of players like Heskey. Imagine what he would do to Adebayor?
Bendtner too looked very solid. He won a bunch of headers up front, held the ball up nicely and generally added a different dimension to Arsenal’s game. Question marks remain over whether the boss will want to play him 90 minutes quite yet, but I really like that Arsenal have another option up front.
And finally, I’d like to give a shout out to Denilson who I thought had one of his all around best games of the season yesterday. He was non-stop action for 90 minutes, tackled hard, hardly put a pass astray (in fact he had to make up for Ramsey’s poor performance there), had a great shot saved by Friedel, and more times than I can count was there with the 4 defenders cutting out Villa crosses and intercepting Villa passes.
No, he’s not a towering aerial presence in front of Heskey. Nor is he a burly midfielder like Song, dominating tough center-forwards but he worked very hard yesterday and really put himself about in the best way that he can. I’ve long said that he’s not a traditional holding midfielder and I see him more as a backup to Cesc, but he went out yesterday against a determined Villa team and did his best to imitate one and that’s good enough for me.
Almunia’s high claims were slightly better than we’ve seen from him this season, but I still think that if they put it on a wire at 7′ in the air, Almunia wouldn’t be able to claim his paycheck.
All joking aside, I understand why he’s terrible at high claims: Arsenal don’t have anyone who can put in a corner or a cross like every other team in the EPL has, so he doesn’t get any practice at it. I’m being dead serious. It’s been this way for a few years now, you know it, I know it, and our opponent’s know it.
For their long list of great qualities Arsenal’s fullbacks simply cannot put in a dangerous cross. There’s a reason that they are defenders and that reason is shown week in and week out with ballooning crosses which are more likely to go out of touch than find the head of 5’4″ Andrei Arshavin.
As for the corners, that’s been a long standing gripe. Cesc has gotten much better at dead ball situations, even scoring goals off free kicks this year. But there are games like yesterday, where he reverts back to some old form and simply cannot get the ball over the first defender.
I disagree about all the talk about needing height. What good would it do us to have a 6’7″ player while we’re playing in dead balls which are flying in at 4’3″?
I’d be lying if I said that the injury situation wasn’t a cause for deep concern. Eduardo is in a slump and pulled up with a hamstring injury which, even if it’s just another two weeks out, pretty much means he’ll spend the rest of the season trying to regain the form of two years ago.
Meanwhile, the extent of Vermaelen’s injury is unknown as of the posting of this blog (look for a links post later today) but even if he’s out for a few days with some nerve damage it means that Arsene will need to find a replacement in the center of defense.
Song has been mooted, but according to rumors he’s picked up a knock and won’t be available for Sunday. Arsene’s been reliant on Silvestre in the past but according to reports he picked up a knock against Stoke. That leaves Sol Campbell as the only choice. As I stated earlier, I thought he looked fantastic yesterday and as long as he’s paired with someone who has pace (like Gallas) he can do the job. But can he play 270 minutes over the next two weeks?
Wenger would be the man to know Campbell’s fitness level but he’s also the man who pumped up the bid for Chris Smalling as recently as yesterday only to be beaten out by Man U at £12m. Something made him bid for the Fulham youngster and whether it was to address this exact situation or as a future signing, I don’t know but I suspect the former.
As for a striker, again, as I pointed out above, I thought that Bendtner looked good enough and I’d be shocked if Arsenal dipped into the transfer market and bought a striker. Bendtner’s not a world beater, but he’s also not utter crap. He’s going to do the job, work hard, and play the center forward role. I’ve heard many ask that we buy Carew or Cole and I’d certainly welcome any new additions anywhere in this team, but those two players are not any better than Bendtner and I’d be willing to bet that most Arsenal fans would be frustrated with their profligacy in front of goal within a few games. Besides, they’re injured as much, if not more, that our current strike crew.
But what I find really amazing is the assertion that Arsenal’s goals have dried up. Yes, Eduardo has failed to find the back of the net in 6 games and Arshavin has just one goal in the last few games but in the 6 games prior to yesterday, Arsenal had scored 18 goals. That’s an average of 3 goals per game and even if you count yesterday’s goose egg this team is averaging 2.57 goals per game. Hardly brown trousers time if you ask me.
I know that pretty much all the papers are calling for Wenger to buy a striker to “save the season” but given the argument above, I’d be shocked if Arsene Wenger takes a huge gamble on an expensive multiple league failure like Klaas jaaan Huntelaaaar. Nope, if he buys, it’ll be a defender or someone who can play both the holding role and the center back position.
And that’s a big IF which depends largely on the condition of Vermaelen’s fibula.
Finally, I want to mention Lee Probert. Overall he had a typical EPL Official’s match last night which is to say, he was bare shite. For example, Thomas Vermaelen was booked in the 12th minute for a foul but the exact same foul on the other end of the pitch was routinely not even called much less booked.
The foul on Aaron Ramsey was a particularly egregious, professional foul and clear yellow card and yet Probert, looking at the play saw none of it. Or how about the leg breaking foul on Thomas Vermaelen? He did call it a foul at least though didn’t see enough in it to reach into his pocket.
And that’s the point. I’m willing to accept that officials are people and even that they may have officiating styles. But those styles need to be evenly applied and too many times in the EPL, the officials have one style for Arsenal and one style for everyone else. You want to send the message that hard fouls won’t be accepted by giving a yellow in the 12th minute? Fine, but you need to hand one out to both teams. And the fact is that despite persistent hard fouling by Villa, Probert didn’t hand out a Villa yellow card until the 56th minute when Emile Heskey tried to physically assault Cesc Fabregas in a blind rage.
Simply put, his officiating last night was a disgrace.
If 8 points was all I expected out of this run of 4 games and that was based on the notion that we’d draw the 2 away games and win the two home games, then yesterday’s result is right on pace. That said, not winning yesterday means that we now have to win 2/3 of our last three games to get to 8 points and that the maximum we can get is 10 from this run.
I can understand the disappointment that a lot of folks feel but for me the most disappointing news is that Arsenal picked up two more injuries right as it looked like the squad was getting better. Not only that, the injury to Thomas Vermaelen is potentially season ending blow.
But before we panic, let’s at least find out the extent of TV5′s injury and give Wenger some room to think. After all, he’s hungry, this team is hungry and I’m sure that the last thing he wants to do is risk this youth project with a gamble of not filling in the squad when the hole is so glaringly obvious.