Manchester City 1 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Ljungberg (30)
1 – 1 Sommeill (40)
1 – 2 Reyes (77)
1 – 3 Reyes (82)
A match that Arsenal had to win, ended with the required outcome. Their fate is still in the hands of Tottenham but now the pressure is really on. One point separates the two teams, Tottenham have to win to be sure of Champions League football next year. Lose and should Arsenal avoid defeat, the UEFA Cup beckons.
For much of the first half, Arsenal failed to treat this other than a meaningless end of season fixture that is exactly the attitude that was not required. It required a stick of dynamite up their collective backsides, which is exactly what they appear to have received in the changing rooms during the interval. Do not get me wrong, during the opening forty-five minutes they did little wrong. It is just that they appeared to believe that by turning up, the three points would automatically return to Highbury. This was proven not to be the case. Television captured one moment of frustration with Wenger, hand on hips, seemingly unhappy with a challenge made by a Manchester City player. I suspect that he was more upset with the mental attributes of his charges that manifested itself at that particular moment.
Neither side had any rhythm for the first quarter of the game, tired passes, lazy flicks being the order of the day. This changed when suddenly the passes from the visitors started to find feet, Van Persie thumping the bar before realising he was offside. The opening goal came from a familiar sight yet somewhat surprising for this season. Henry picked up the ball midway in the City half, dribbled through two challenges, made one reverse pass that took out another two defenders and Ljungberg took the ball out of reach of the last man before shooting across David James into the far corner. All well and good, everything seemingly on track, for ten minutes anyway. A City corner on their right was played deep into the area, volleyed back in a scuffed fashion, squirming under Lehmann’s grasp before Sommeill drove the ball into the net. Politely called a “soft” goal by Andy Gray, Wenger would have been furious with his defence for their slow reactions. Two minutes later, an unmarked Sol Campbell flicked the ball wide from a corner when from my sofa with can of Stella in hand, it seemed easier to score. The move that summed up the first half came started and finished with Henry. Receiving the ball midway in the City half, Henry proceeded to beat four defenders, some twice, played the ball into Van Persie who instead of taking the seemingly simpler option to shot, reversed the pass to Henry in the penalty area with a clear strike at goal, and promptly put the ball six feet wide.
The second half started in fine fashion from Arsenal’s attacking point of view. Within thirty seconds of the restart, Henry played the ball through to Van Persie whose shot from the edge of the area brought a good save from James. Did I just type that? Calamity James made a good save. Heaven help us all, the world is about to end! Minutes later, Henry swept the ball to the left to Ljungberg who cut inside and from twenty yards hit the near post. Barely ten minutes later, a succession of City corners, which were blocked, resulted in Lehmann losing his cool, stepping on Vassell’s toes that understandably reacted to this provocation by shoving the German to the floor and getting booked.
On fifty-eight minutes, Fabregas emerged to replace Song with an instant impact. A turn and flicked pass ten yards outside of his own area resulted in Van Persie forcing another good save from James. The half then proceeded with a succession of chances and half chances that were spurned, Hleb bringing a good save from the former England Number One. On sixty-eight minutes, just as Reyes and Pires prepared to come on, Dunne forced a great save from Lehmann from a header, the German flying to his left to push the ball wide from another poorly defended City corner, before repeating the feat tipping Micah Richards header over the bar. Pires had an immediate impact, a fierce drive being well held by James. Reyna’s intemperate handball then gave Henry the chance to ensure England’s Number Two or Three got some more shot stopping practice, safely holding the well struck freekick. David James? Safely Held? Ye Gods, the sky is falling in.
Just when it seemed it was going to be one of those nights, hopes of a fourth place finish were raised. Reyes took a quick freekick to Henry whose short pass to Pires allowed the soon to depart Frenchman to split the City defence to allow Eboue to pull the ball back to Reyes whose side footed shot could only be diverted into the net by James. With twelve minutes to go, the nerves were sure to jangle. After all, this is not Europe. And so it proved. Twice in the three minutes after goal, Lehmann had to save smartly, more edgy defending by The Gunners.
This was merely a prelude to the icing on the cake. Another spell of City pressure seemed to be looming, when a breakaway resulted in Henry sprinting into the area. Once in the box, the defence forced him across the area until a short pass gave the ball to Reyes. Showing the finishing that prompted Wenger to make him potentially the clubs most expensive signing, Reyes curled the ball into the net past the despairing leap of a City defender and the unfortunate James. Unfortunate? Certainly, he made several good saves and could not be faulted on any of the goals. It is only good news for England if he continues this form, knowing that at least one of the substitutes is more than capable of doing his job if required.
On that subject, what of the World Cup hopefuls on show? Well, for sure, Vassell will not be going as any sort of replacement for Rooney. Campbell only had one moment of concern when Vassell outmuscled him for a header. Other than that several good recovery tackles show he is getting back to form and Ashley Cole came through the full ninety minutes without seeming to aggravate his injuries further. One last World Cup attendee was on show. Graham Poll, England’s only refereeing representative had a good game, dealing with most incidents with a calming word in players ear or a bollocking as required. Clear signals and kept up with the play well. Keep it up.
Today’s Tunes come from Calexico, whose new album, Garden Ruin, is on constantly at home since its’ purchase. A band that never seek to limit their boundaries, they are frequently pigeonholed into the “Americana” category which, whilst I can understand, seems to do a disservice to their repertoire. Stand out tracks for me on the new album are “Cruel”, “Letter to Bowie Knife” and “Lucky Dime“. The bands website, Casa De Calexico, carries a fine selections of MP3’s to download. Commendably, the band publicise their support for the Live Music Archive, an American site that promotes the exchange of live music for fans. These two are part of that choice: