Semi Final First Leg
Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham
0 – 1 Jenas (37)
1 – 1 Walcott (79)
And so the unbeaten run against Tottenham continues; whether or not they have a better chance to end it remains to be seen for they should have been out of sight before Theo Walcott’s late equaliser. Of immediate concern for Arsene is the result of the scans on Robin van Persie, Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos and Theo Walcott. If you predicted who would have been injured last night, there is a fair chance that one or two would have been on that list.
The opening half an hour of the match was evenly contested; Cerny made a decent save from Bendtner, Fabianksi reciprocated. Malbranque missed a couple of decent chances where he was culpable of lackadaisical finishing. Defensively, Djourou and Senderos played exactly as they were; strangers. The line was pushed high to condense play but as a pair they were not always in tandem and of more concern, neither they or the midfield picked the runners for the ball over the top or to the flanks during this spell. Berbatov exploited this on occasions and particularly sending Keane through to square for Jenas to score.
The introduction of Sagna in the place of the injured Djourou gave the defence a more solid look after the interval; Hoyte gave as good an example as any of why he has a place in the Arsenal squad, versatile enough to be a short term stand-in centre half. However, if the defence perked up, the midfield did not. Gilberto worked hard but the combination of he and Denilson in the middle is to my mind, too ponderous. Neither has the zest or verve about their play, an aspect that makes the passing game work well for the first choice XI. That is not to say that they should be sold or are poor players, simply that they need someone more active beside them to enable them to influence the game more. Ironically, Lassana Diarra would have, I think, thrived in last night’s atmosphere and the match. The only assumption one can make is that his attitude in training has been poor, explaining why he has been dropped rather than played as such other malcontents as Vieira, Cole and Henry.
On the flanks, Diaby and Walcott were exposed by the lack of support inside. The former has yet to quell his tendency to drift inside, the absence of width starving Bendtner of decent service. Eduardo was livelier than van Persie, understandable given the Dutchman’s lack of match practice. His injury appears to be to the thigh rather than the knee, Arsene observing that it may be scar tissue which has been aggravated. It was the Croat who provided the ball through the middle for Walcott to chase onto. Whilst he was fortunate to get the rebound from Lee’s tackle, you have to be there to make your luck in the first place.
The result means that the winner takes it all at White Hart Lane, the loser the fall. Before we get despondent about the performance and that Arsene has indicated he will largely stay with the same squad, I feel this team is better suited to away games, playing on the counter rather than forcing the play. The inexperience showed last night when the tide turned and Tottenham squeezed play. In the away leg, Spurs will have to be more purposeful, leaving gaps to be exploited. That said, I would prefer the introduction of perhaps one or two more regulars to stabilise the team. The problem with that was indicated last season when Hleb picked up an injury in the first leg and spent time on the sidelines. Similarly, it can be detrimental to the youngsters, pointing out that perhaps they are not quite as good as Arsene thought although he may believe the opposite,
Tottenham were sharper than us tonight but we have shown mental resilience and strength and for such a young team that is a positive attitude
At the end of the day, the result means that the tie is still evenly balanced, a draw better than a deficit. Arsenal though have to score; away goals count. Were we to score first, it would a test of Tottenham’s mental strength; echoes of 1987 anyone? Despite the proclamations otherwise, conceding a late equaliser must reinforce the thought that they cannot beat Arsenal at the moment, no matter how well they play or how distinctly average we were.
Of more immediate concern though are the injuries, particularly with Senderos and Djourou being the nominated replacements for Toure; Arsene observed somewhat ruefully,
I cannot tell you how long they will be out, it can be one day, two days, it can be two weeks. It’s difficult to assess tonight. Hoyte, Gilberto, Sagna can play in there, we still have solutions
More will be known today but the worst case scenario I suppose is that Hoyte or Sagna will fill in against Birmingham with the other coming in at right back.
Elsewhere, it is rumoured that Jens has agreed terms with Borussia Dortmund although it seems he has other personal considerations to take into account before finally committing to them.
Finally, just to let you know that the competition to win a copy of the Arsenal Opus has been extended from its original closing date to a new deadline of 18th January 2008. The photography competition asks you to submit a photograph that to you best sums up what it means to be an Arsenal supporter. Weekly winners will be picked, the prize being a pair of VIP tickets to an Arsenal game. The overall winner will be inserted into an Arsenal Fan’s Opus whilst the runners-up are to be included in a montage page in the book.
Enter here. Good luck to you all.