Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Arsenal 5-0 Porto: A Feelgood Night (in the end)

A bit of a misleading scoreline, perhaps, but Arsenal have been belittled so many times for not taking chances that you can't help feeling satisfied with a handsome haul of five from what was not a five-star performance.

It turned out everyone talked Porto up a little too much, although all they were really doing was talking Arsenal down, and there were moments of justification for such an outlook. The visitors enjoyed spells of danger in both first and second halves, particularly the latter, in the fifteen minutes or so before Nasri's astounding goal. Campbell looked jittery at times, others sloppy. Arshavin had a vintage Arshavin night- involved in three of the goals, but also so erratic that he was starting most of Porto's best moves in the first half. If Porto had scored with either of their big chances after the break, the nerves that were so obvious to that point would have turned to dread; instead, a two-punch combo of high quality ended the contest. Bendtner's hat-trick sealing penalty iced a cake that every fan should enjoy because we could all be eating shit again soon.

It was really a night for unsung players. Bendtner is really quite valuable now. The first two goals are goals that we simply couldn't score in the spell without him and RVP. His finishing is erratic, and he is not always the most aethetically pleasing of players, but only a fool would argue that he hasn't improved the team since his recent return from injury. And make no mistake, there are plenty of fools following football (myself included- as I had an unfair pop at him after the Burnley game). But if you go back I think you'll find that I've often defended Bendtner, whereas some people see fit to call him the worst striker ever. His attitude is great. As has been pointed out by a few, he never hid on Saturday, kept getting into goalscoring positions. Some people find his disproportionate ego offensive, but it is surely his best trait aswell. Not many could follow up an experience like Saturday's with a hat-trick. That's not overconfidence, it's character. And now, again, Arsenal have some semblance of that mystical "plan B" that everyone's always bemoaning the absence of. Crosses are no longer aimless, longer balls are not necessarily hopeless.

Nasri has become an irritant to some followers, but as alluded to in a recent post, I think his inconsistency is more down to being played out of position. He is a quite different player to Fabregas, but would doubtless prefer to play in a similar area of the pitch, and it is in a central prompting role that he has shown us glimpses of his best. A bit of a paradox then, I guess, that his wonderful goal stemmed from receiving the ball out wide, but the confidence to produce that audacious slalom probably derived from his providing a generally influential display in the middle of the pitch. It suggested that maybe we could abstain from cesc for a short time without suffering TOO much. Although he is the most creative player in the league, an attacking triumviate of Arshavin, Nasri and Rosicky behind Bendtner is hardly lacking in artistry. But the 5-0 scoreline hides somewhat the chaotic aspect to the game that was also evident after the captain's departure against Burnley, and his inherent ability to control the tempo of a football match will prove difficult to replace, so one hopes that his lay-off is a very short one.

While Arsenal looked less than organised at times, Song and Vermaelen continued their outstanding seasons by, as usual, covering for the team's collective deficiencies. Vermaelen threw himself into plenty of heroic challenges. Song patrolled in front of the defence, and in possession showed again that he is really too good of a footballer to become just another Claude Makelele, even if that is exactly what we need him to be. His habitual marauding runs through the opposition midfield embody the gung-ho attitude, equal parts charming and infuriating, that seems to define this incarnation of Wenger's Arsenal.

Eboue's cameo was very effective; he's become a useful sub and a bit of a cunt, sorry, cult hero. His goal proved Arsenal can, despite my recent reservations, still do devastating counter-attacks, and the way it followed so hot on the heels of Nasri's belter inspired a rare sort of euphoria. It was, in the end, a feelgood night.

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