Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arse Are On Their Way To Wembley

Not a wholly convincing performance, but Arsenal are but one step away from ending the drought.

Wenger went with a strong side: Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Denilson, Wilshere, Fabregas; Bendtner, Arshavin, Van Persie.

Nasri and Walcott held in reserve.

The first half bred nerves in the crowd and on the pitch. No real flow to the game. Ipswich were very well organised. Didn't have many attacks themselves, though they did threaten from set plays throughout.

An early, lengthy stoppage, following a collision with his keeper, saw a groggy Sagna replaced by Eboue.

At the back, Ipswich gave nothing away. They allowed little space between their midfield and defence, and were happy enough to push up the pitch because, as usual, Bendtner, Arshavin and Van Persie mostly looked for the ball to feet.

Early on, Arsenal already looked like they would need Walcott, to get in behind or to force Ipswich back and give the rest of the attack some space to work in.

That said, there were chances, despite the general lack of fluidity. Van Persie found the woodwork again, when he really should have netted, with a header from a Bendtner centre. Wilshere dinked a beautiful pass over the defence for Fabregas, whose control was exemplary, his left-pegged attempt less so.

The second half saw the discontent grow. Then Bendtner scored a beauty. He collected a long diagonal from the outstanding Wilshere, out to the left of the area. The full back chased, and Bendtner tricked his way inside, opening up for a lovely placed shot from the Robert Pires book of finishing.

Relief, then elation, when Koscielny rose unchallenged to power in Arshavin's corner. Still, the game was finely balanced- an Ipswich goal would force extra time. The game had been simple attack v defence, now blue shirts flooded forward, and Arsenal never looked wholly comfortable. Jason Scotland found himself free in the box but his effort was weak and Szczesny saved.

Fabregas finished the game with a left-footed finish after incisive interplay with Arshavin. Two assists should cheer up the Russian, even if his continued lack of belief was again betrayed by some wayward moments.

Overall, as is often the case in semi-finals, it was scrappy and, for a long time, nervous. Fabregas in particular looked for long stretches like he was almost trying too hard.

Although Arsenal were largely untroubled at the back, it was notable that Djourou seemed to win every individul battle he was faced with. And Koscielny's goal was deserved reward for his recent form. Bendtner's self-confidence annoys many but is his foremost asset. Just before his goal, he had tried to blunder his way in from the left, was easily robbed by the defender. His head never drops. He thinks he's the best player in the world and that is what makes him a useful one.

Foreign Footballer in Diving Shame
British Pundit Expresses Disgust

As usual on TV, everyone wanted Arsenal to lose. Mark Bright is the most insufferable co-commentator I've ever heard, and that really does say something. I hope he makes some ill-advised sexist remarks some time soon. In the studio, Shearer, Mattie Holland, and especially Alan Hansen stuck the knife into Fabregas over what was, admittedly, a dive.

"Continental" was a word pointedly used by Hansen, who belongs, like Keys and Gray, in a prehistoric age. You know what I would have said (that is, if I could go on television and not melt into a puddle of self-consciousness)? "Matt, you're English, right? (I know you played for Ireland, but only because you were shite.) When Arsenal went to the Valley in 2003, did you not crumple in the box under a non-existant challenge from Lauren, cheating to win a penalty which Paolo di Canio scored? (I remember everything) Did you? And where are you from again?" I'd bring up Rooney, Gerrard- repeat offenders- and Michael Owen against Argentina in 2002. They loved that. Hansen, you simple-minded prick: English, Spanish, French, whatever- almost all players dive.

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