Man of the Match
Man of the match, by a country mile, is Andrei Arshavin. He has gotten a lot of stick lately for his seemingly lazy play and his emo outbursts about the World Cup but yesterday he was neither lazy nor emo. He was simply scintillating.
He’s always maintained that he’s the right guy for the Center Forward spot, which on its face seems preposterous since he’s only 4’9″, and on yesterday’s performance he may very well have won over some detractors. He seems to have the strength, the touch, the vision, and the pace to do the job, especially since Arsenal love playing the ball on the ground.
His upper body strength was outstanding, holding off the 6’2″ 195 lb. Abdoulaye Faye to score the Arsenal first goal. But the little Russian isn’t all just raw power, his touch is mesmerizing, there were several plays where he was being harassed by the Stoke defenders only to turn them with ease and pick out an onrushing Arsenal man.
Obviously he’s not going to be the typical target man, you can’t lump the ball up to him and expect him to chest it down to an oncoming midfielder, but what you can do is lump the ball over the top where he has the pace to beat the defender to the ball and the vision to pick out the right pass.
If it hadn’t been for the outstanding keeping of Thomas Sorensen, who many Arsenal supporters must be wondering why we aren’t pursuing, Arshavin could easily have had a hat trick, plus several assists.
As it was, he just gets Man of the Match.
Despite Almunia’s shaky match, and don’t get me wrong, he had a nightmare, Arsenal managed to keep a clean sheet against a team which is supposedly custom built to beat Arsenal. If there are two things that all Arsenal supporters are tired of hearing about it’s that we are vulnerable on set plays and that we don’t like to be kicked. Yesterday showed that when we stay focused we can overcome both of those knocks.
Vermaelen was no less than magnificent, heading away the hundreds of long throws that Stoke lobbed toward us. The one type which is particularly bothersome is the one from just under the half-way line where Rory Decrap basically tries to throw the ball straight into the goal. Time and again they tried and time and again we repelled them. The real test will be in the swirling winds at the Brittania, where Decrap gets his own ball washer, and terrifies opponents with a combination of kicking and throwing but on the day, Arsenal knew the test was coming and stood tall against it. All that and with our most diminutive team on the pitch to date.
Speaking of diminutive, look who showed up!
Stylish as ever, Freddie.
The pain train continues.
Eduardo picked up a “thigh problem” ahead of yesterday’s match and is expected to be out until Liverpool on the 13th. Rosicky was subbed at half-time and it was revealed that he pulled his groin and will be out “for a while.” Traore was replaced by Silvestre at the death after a red card challenge by Wilkeson, but it was actually a hamstring problem which saw him taken off. Eboue limped off with a muscular problem and was replaced by match winner Aaron Ramsey. And Gallas also picked up a hamstring problem yesterday. No word yet on when those three will be returning.
Arshavin picked up a kick on his ankle and will not play on Wednesday.
It’s not all bad news, Walcott could be back for the Olympiakos match, Diaby could be back for the Liverpool match, Bendtner could be back in 2-3 weeks (though it won’t be until January before he regains his form), and Song will return from his one-match suspension.
We’ve got some serious injury problems piling up and some supporters are already getting upset about the “lack of squad depth” but honestly you can’t expect to have long term injuries to both of your starting Center Forwards, both of your starting Left Backs, and one of your starting Center Halves without some problems.
I honestly feel we started the season with the depth to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League and have been unlucky with several major injuries. I mean, how can you plan for two broken feet, a broken back, a groin tear, and a knackered knee?
Mark Clattenburg did one thing right: he awarded Arsenal a penalty. After the Sportsmail’s campaign to ensure that Arsenal never win another penalty ever again I was pretty certain that the refs in the league had been instructed to be stingy in awarding Arsenal a spot kick. In this case, it was a stonewall penalty as Rory Decrap hauled down Arshavin in the area, Crapenburg had no choice.
What he could have gotten right, however, was Sorensen’s encroachment. There he had a choice, and you know that Arsenal should feel aggrieved when even the anti-Arsenal television announcers were calling for the penalty to be retaken.
That said, Cesc’s penalty was so poor that had he been forced to retake it I would be willing to bet that Sorensen would have stopped it as well.
As I have said, Clattenburg is not fit to oversee my Sunday pick-up matches. His style of officiating is exactly why there are no English refs in the World Cup and there never will be as long as the FA continues to support refs who call matches in which this is just a foul:
Wilkinson shouldn’t even have been on the pitch by the time he made this “tackle” and Clattenburg is a disgrace for allowing this thug to kick, punch, and injure Arsenal.
It was a great performance from Arsenal and the perfect response to shake off the hangover of the last two weeks. 3 points in the bag sees us go ahead of Tottenham who play Everton this morning and since Chelsea lost to Man City yesterday, the gap at the top is back to 8 points and Arsenal have a game in hand. Moreover, if you remember last season Chelsea had a match with Scolari in charge in which the whole squad started to revolt against him and throw a huge hissy fit in every match. Yesterday Chelsea had 6 yellow cards, their captain limped off, and Lampard had a tame penalty saved all the while complaining about Howard Webb. Howard Webb is another referee who is a joke and I can see why Chelsea would be angry: every time Webb referees Adebayor he sends him off and for some reason failed to do so yesterday.
Anyway, the league is wide open again with a bunch of teams piled at the top and as I have said many times it will probably be January and the Africa Cup of Nations knock on effect which will decide this season. Tellingly, Man U have very few players leaving in January while all the other contenders will lose crucial cogs in their machines. Arsenal don’t escape this effect as our Most Improved Player, Alex Song, will be representing his country.
That’s a long way off and what we need to do is focus on the next 4 weeks and keep our foot in the race. I still think Arsenal have the goods to win the league, but we need to stay close.