Monday, 15 March 2010

2010: a glorious year for Arsenal?

Illness, work commitments, and lethargy have precluded me from blogging since the Stoke game. Perhaps I should take a break more often.

In the intervening couple of weeks, we have witnessed three performances which all, quite differently, illustrate this club is in good health.

First, Burnley: a team who are in dire straits and look like going down. To be honest, the performance wasn't fantastic and the national press fawning over Walcott is something I can do well without. One good performance does not make a player: form is temporary; class - or lack of it in Theo's case - is permanent. Against Hull - admittedly on a dodgy pitch - his performance was nondescript. A couple of good crosses do not convince me he is finally becoming a good player. Because flashes of brilliance are not everything a talented player needs. It is not just about being able to put a good cross in; it is about knowing when it is better to square it to a team-mate, and that is the problem with Theo. There was much poo-pooing of what Chris Waddle said, but the gist of it was correct. Theo does not have a great football brain. His crossing will improve if he works at it but for me, he will never learn to read the game and that is a great shame.

But the success of the Burnley game was not really on the pitch, even if we took three points. It was off the pitch - or, more pertinently, in the stands. Not the support, the atmosphere still leaves something to be desired, but that is another point. The attendance was impressive: the published figures by the club should be taken with a pinch of salt, but looking at the stadium either on TV, or in the ground, it is easy to tell when it is truly full.

Overlooking the fact Burnley is not a so-called 'big' game, it is worth remembering that matches go on sale two months before. So this match went on sale at the beginning of January, just after Christmas and New Year and the extravaganza which accompanies them. And at a time when our form was patchy and it was unclear whether we would be in a title race.

Now sure, part of the reason the stadium was so full was that the season ticket holders have started turning up. But I genuinely think that all the talk of season tickets holders relinquishing their tickets if we win nothing this season is rubbish. On the contrary, if we can sell out games like Burnley - especially placed in this context - it seems good evidence that we are doing well financially.

Nevertheless, it may well be a moot point: looking at the Porto match, we may well win something this season. And it could well be the Champions League. 5-0 does not tell the full story. But in almost any football match your opponents will have chances; even though Farnborough scored against us, it did not make it a real match-up. But still, that is somewhat disingenuous: for all Nasri's goal was a moment of majestic brilliance, where for the first time in a while he really warranted his fourteen million pound price-tag, it was a few minutes earlier where he clear a Porto chance of the line, which was probably the critical moment of the evening.

It has been said elsewhere, but it is still true: with no Van Persie, no Fabregas, no Gallas, this was a quite majestic performance. The crowd did seem even more ignorant than usual - at 2-0 some youth started chanting 'shall we score a goal for you'? This was remarkably stupid on two levels: first, if Porto had scored then, the tie would firmly have been in the balance; but, most crucially, we scored two goals for them in Portugal, so it really would have been rather silly to score any more for them. There is charity and then there is stupidity.

The performances of our midfield were subtly different in that for once they were actually prepared to run at the opposition. It is fair to presume that if we want to win the Champions League, we will have to beat one of United or Chelsea. The problem earlier this season, was that we simply tried to pass it around them and this did not work. Hopefully, the team will take not of how their dribbles bamboozled the Porto defenders and will make use of this more. Particularly with small, nimble, fleet-footed players like Arshavin and Nasri, it is a tactic we really must employ more. On Facebook before the Porto game, I speculated that it could be the first great European night at The Grove. That came true, but that was mainly due to a change in the tactical system with our attacking play becoming more direct. One must hope the team will take not of it and play that way in future. The draw on Friday will give us some idea of how our season will go; I've a funny feeling that Thierry will finally have to come back and play against us...

The Hull match was notable, because for all we have a difficult run-in, the weekend just gone was one where we had a harder match than United or Chelsea. Part of me was thinking last night that another weekend has gone past and we did not make up any ground; but all I will say is this: I would be flabbergasted if we won all our remaining matches and did not end up champions.

That was why Bendtner's goal was so important. The man who couldn't finish for love nor money against Burnley a week earlier, reacted superbly to stab the rebound from Denilson's shot home. How many other Arsenal players could do that? It is easy to mock Bendtner but one must also remember the important goals he scores. I've never bought into bashing him, and if I was being supremely self-indulgent, this week has shown exactly why one should not. If that goal is what separates the top teams at the end of the season, it will go down in folklore. It was a goal of supreme reaction times, and, on a day when Arsenal struggled, Bendtner worked hard for 94 minutes and eventually got his rewards. (As a passing note, what was he booked for? Telling Boateng not to be a pr*ck judging by the replay).

On a bobbly pitch, in poor weather, and with an officiating team having a shocker, it was a huge three points on Humberside. It is worth remembering that glory nights like Porto come about partly because we get ourselves to the Champions League by winning games like Hull. Our recent lack of success is probably because we did not win games like Hull away. Our opponents will be trying to work out where we will drop points and will point to each away game: Hull and Stoke were potentially difficult matches (in fact, they were). Spurs and Blackburn still look like potential slip-ups.

For now, we have a week off till we play West Ham next Saturday. But what with those two majestic wins, me passing my driving test, and Phil Brown being put on 'gardening leave', this really is the week which keeps on giving. Do us a favour Inter, keep it going...

Keep the faith,
Adam

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