The first goalless game since our last visit to the South Coast, conceding top spot to Manchester United by a point. It was nowhere near a vintage performance but nowhere near as bad as some believe. Arsene’s frustration with the manner of Portsmouth’s performance masks the Arsenal shortcomings last night, the key one being the inability to break down stubborn resistance by your opponent.
It might have been different had not the shortest of the midfield quintet been the furthest forward as Eboue fizzed a cross into the Portsmouth box with less than a minute played. Unbeknownst to us at the time, that cameo summed up Fabregas’ evening; good positional play but the final touch was not there. Later in the half, a superbly timed run would be met with a poorly timed finish.
To purely lay the blame at the Arsenal door for a below par performance ignores the fact that Sol Campbell marshalled the Portsmouth troops superbly, not quite rolling back the years but a reminder as to why he was recently recalled to the England squad.
The pressing game that the hosts employed reminded me of an interview post one of the European clashes earlier in the season with Tony Adams. The tactics utilised last night were exactly how Adams declared teams ought to play against Arsenal; close down the spaces, work hard and you will be rewarded. It also highlights why Portsmouth do not score many at home, the midfield pushing on waiting for the counter-attack opportunity is catenaccio-esque in a match where you should be pushing on, putting opponents on the back foot.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and perhaps Bendtner should have been introduced at an earlier stage. However, we need to bear in mind the number of goals scored in the late stages of games by the players on the pitch, the sum of which colours Arsene’s thinking when changing formations. Over-reaction to a goalless draw will not alter his plans; a point at Fratton Park is not a bad result in the context of others performances there this season, Liverpool and Manchester United have failed to take the spoils already.
There has been criticism of Adebayor but I would disagree to a certain extent. He gave a typical performance, a mix of good and poor touches as any other player yet the Togolese forward polarises opinions. Perhaps too much is expected of him? He is not going to be a typical leading striker, a battering ram to break down defences but he is a good striker to have in a 4-5-1 formation with his work rate and capabilities. Where the formation falls down is if the midfield do not support him properly and convert chances created by his movement.
Rosicky had two good chances, bringing a decent save from James in the first half, shooting just wide with time fast running out having been setup nicely by Bendtner. William Gallas shot over under the close and somewhat illegal attentions of Campbell. At the other end, Almunia proved up to the sporadic attentions of the Portsmouth attack, saving well from Kranjcar and Benjani in the first half, rushing out quickly to force the same player into a heavy touch which Clichy mopped up.
Let us not forget though that we are in December, not April. There is time to recover the point deficit for United will drop some between now and the end of the season. This and Everton were noted as a tough Christmas. It is proving to be so but some perspective needs to be retained. Arsene’s Modus Operandi is to make changes when games come thick and fast; This side has now played two in five days with another three away. Perhaps Everton will face a 4-4-2 with RvP or Bendtner accompanying Adebayor. Probably not for one goalless draw will not panic the manager into changes.