Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A poor performance but a good result. Huddersfield match report and thoughts.

Arsenal 2 Huddersfield 1

Say what you like, you can't say that watching Arsenal at the moment isn't exciting. It's bad for my health, but we are winning - and there is rarely a dull match. And people can complain as much as they want, but we're still fighting on four fronts.

The major gripe at the moment is that the players who come in aren't good enough. There's two major points I'd make in response to this:

1) Spurs lost 4-0 on Sunday by picking their best players available. The complaints from many Arsenal fans do seem to miss the point that we won our game. Yes, the players who come in aren't as good as the first-teamers - but Chamakh, Diaby, Rosicky, Bendtner and Denilson are all good players.

2) Part of the issue is that some of the squad players are lacking form. I thought Gunnerblog made a very interesting point about how Kieran Gibbs is too good (and important) to be loaned out but also needs game time. Chamakh was banging goals in a couple of months ago but isn't now. Diaby needs to get back to fitness and Denilson hasn't been helped by being harangued by lots of fans for not very much. Arshavin seems to have turned a corner and I was really impressed by the tackle he put in on his own six-yard line which saved a probable goal.

In short, I think the players who come in are doing a good job - and it's not like you can just play the same team for every game. Tomorrow's match will be our 12th in 37 days - players who may not be everyone's cup of tea are naturally going to play when the team is involved in so many games.

What I actually find shocking is how people seem to hope certain individuals play badly just to prove a point. It's actually astonishing how people want Denilson or Eboue to do badly, and yet they say they want Arsenal to win - go figure.

Case in point: when Manuel Almunia's name was read out I cheered loudly and sung his name - a guy in my row had a go at me. I asked him why and he told me 'Almunia is sh*t, he is a lazy Spanish f*cker'. Leaving aside the xenophobia, when people don't want you to support your own players, that's a new low.

It's amazing really - Van Persie put in a string of dreadful performances while playing himself to fitness in November and December but you don't hear a bad word said against him. But when Almunia comes back after a few months out, there's no thought he might be rusty. Rather, people question why he isn't racing off his goal-line at every opportunity. As it happens, I like Almunia and think he's a model professional who gives great experience to this team; but even if he wasn't, we should support all our players. He made a really excellent save and if it was his last performance for the club, then thanks for the memories Manuel. I, for one, will miss you, even if you did go backwards after 2008/09.

It was nonetheless, a poor team display. We started okay and Arshavin flashed a few shots wide. Bendtner was derided by the Huddersfield fans (who incidentally were some of the worst away fans I've seen) but then went on to score moments later, courtesy of a heavy deflection. Without us doing too much, it was all going swimmingly.

Then Nasri pulled his hamstring, and we lost some of our rhythm. 10 minutes later, Squillaci was back in the dressing room early. I don't like seeing players get sent off in that kind of position but I can see why he was sent off. I feel a little sorry for him, because when you're coming back from a few weeks out, somebody dribbling at pace at you is not how you'd choose to have to start defending again. If Tommy V gets fit, I do wonder how much more of Seb we'll see this season.

Wenger changed things at half-time with Alex Song brought on for Marouane Chamakh as a makeshift centre half. It says something about Chamakh's form that he has fallen in the pecking order enough that Bendtner was left on ahead of him, although I feel that if he could just score a couple of goals it would help to re-start his season - but he seems to have acquired an annoying habit of checking his run every time on the edge of the box when he should really just shoot. When I notice things like this, I do wonder what the coaching staff are playing at.

Regardless, the half-time change didn't give us defensive solidity. Instead, Huddersfield dominated. Gibbs and Eboue made it easy to get in behind them, and it was only a combination of luck, a last-ditch tackle from Shava, and a great save from Manuel Almunia which kept us level. When Alan Lee headed the equaliser, we couldn't exactly complain about it.

But what distinguishes this Arsenal team from that of seasons past is that we didn't fold. Cesc came on and his sheer desire to win is telling. Sure, Huddersfield had chances to score a second but I always thought it would be us who got the winner, and we did, even if it was from the penalty spot.

Usually I hate phrases like 'it was a real cup tie' because they're very trite, but the truth is it was. Both teams had loads of shots in what was a very open game. That was partly because our defending was pretty woeful, but it can be hard with ten men. As I said after the Ipswich game, there's a tendency among many Arsenal fans to just expect lower division teams to turn up and roll over. Huddersfield were well organised and looked better than a League One side for sure.

The bottom line is we're in the next round of the cup and three favourable draws, means we're a win at Orient away from the Quarter Finals. Maybe, just maybe, it's destiny that we'll win a few trophies this season.

Keep the faith.

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