Spyin' Kop: Arsenal (Away)

Posted by -HH- on March 10, 2006, 03:31:57 PM

‘We can concentrate on the league’ really doesn’t cut it when the defence of a trophy you won so incredibly last year ends with a 2-0 defeat in front of your own fans. We will be hoping for an immediate response against an Arsenal side sure to be buzzing from their own European adventures. Inconsistent in the league but on a good run in Europe – Arsenal will surely hope to emulate our feats of last season in Europe and in doing so potentially keep their near neighbours out of the Champions League, something the rules last year prevented us from doing.
Both sides go into the game with questions hanging over them. For Arsenal it’s the old chestnut of how a team performing so well in Europe can look so average in the league. From our point of view we’re left wondering if we actually will have to walk 1000 miles to see Fernando score.

Arsenal v Liverpool
Sunday 12th March
Highbury, North London
K.O. 16:00

Referee, Gordon Steve Bennett

Arsenal’s season so far

Whilst we all know pre-season can be meaningless – Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for thinking good times were right around the corner after winning six and drawing one of their seven pre-season friendlies prior to meeting Chelsea in the community shield. This was the first indication that their season might not all go according to plan as they went down 2-1 to 2 goals from Didier Drogba. A home win against Newcastle on the opening day of the Premiership season will have gone some way to allaying their fears. However, this was followed by an away defeat at Chelsea. A comfortable home win against Fulham was then followed by a worrying 2-1 reverse at the Riverside against Middelsborough. The trend of winning games at home and then losing games away is one that has continued apace throughout Arsenal’s league season. Somewhere in between all this though came the source of optimism for Arsenal this season. Drawn in a weak Champions League Group with FC Thun, Sparta Prague and Ajax – even the most pessimistic Arsenal fan would have struggled to be downbeat about the chances of progressing through the group stages. They qualified dropping only 2 points and landed a plum draw against Real Madrid. A 1 – 0 win at the Bernabeau was followed by one of the most attacking end-to-end nil-nil draws you’ll ever see (I think most of us were otherwise occupied at the time though, understandably.) Jekyll and Hyde is a perfect way to desrcribe Arsenal’s season thus far, which has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. A 7 - 0 thrashing of Middelsborough at home was followed by a 1 – 0 defeat at Everton. Their 1 – 0 win in Madrid was followed by a defeat away at Blackburn. Though this season has been a mixed bag for Arsenal, the hope of emulating our feats in May will surely be what pushes them towards the finish line.

Last season

A terrific Arsenal display against a Liverpool side with minds on Istanbul saw a 3 – 1 victory for the home side in the corresponding fixture last season. Goals for Reyes, Pires and Fabregas sent us home disappointed, with a deflected Gerrard goal the only high point. This time round we should be anything but distracted.

Spyin’ Kop

The quirks of the fixture list this season has put our two fixtures against Arsenal very close together this time round so it’s a slightly shorter Spyin’ Kop than last time. Once again Nick Marsden answers questions from www.arsenal-land.co.uk and he is joined by Ali-Luke Matthews, an excellent poster from their forums.

First off, the game at Anfield – what went wrong?

NM: Easy really.

The Arsenal 'back 3' win the ball - Garcia being tracked by Hleb

Fabregas heads it on. Hleb and Flamini are ball-watching, Garcia has started to drift wide of Arsenal's back line

The defensive line starts to come out. Everyone is watching the ball, nobody is watching Garcia

Hamann shoots, Garcia starts his run anticipating a loose ball from the shot

Lehmann saves, Hleb hasn't moved an inch, Flamini isn't close enough to shut down Garcia

Garcia pounces on the loose ball, Flamini and Senderos can't make up the ground

In my opinion it's 75% Hleb, 25% Flamini. Flamini can't be any wider as they come out, without leaving a big gap between himself and Senderos, who is marking Cisse. Hleb has to provide cover, and he's not doing his job, simple as. That said, Flamini is also ball-watching, and so neither alerts Hleb, nor responds himself, as Garcia runs back in.

AM: Far too much to explain; I think Wenger got it wrong from the off. Pires and Ljungerg were poor choices for the wings, their performances had been lightweight all season and coming up against what I consider to be the strongest midfield in the league we were always going to pay the price. There were other problems which were clearly evident that night but I think that’s where half the trouble started.

How have things been going since last we spoke (humbling at Anfield aside)?

NM: Much the same really, two steps forward, one step back. Straight after Liverpool, Arsenal go and beat Real Madrid in the Bernabaeu, then lose at Blackburn the following Saturday. The Champions League result has been a major boost to team morale, but the next four league matches (home to Liverpool and Charlton, away to Portsmouth, home to Aston Villa) are crucial must-wins.

AM: Not bad actually, few decent results but more importantly the team is coming together nicely. We’re starting to gel and you can see that the good football is returning and more importantly the team is looking more competent as a unit. For far too much of this season they’ve been playing like strangers but over the last few weeks (including the Blackburn loss) the signs have been very positive.

Beating Real Madrid over two legs was an excellent result – Are Arsenal finally coming of age in Europe?

NM: I think quite a few clubs (including Liverpool) could have beaten Real Madrid the way they played, so I'm not counting my chickens exactly. It was certainly good for morale. Those sort of results and experiences create a team bond, which is something that will stand the younger players in good stead. Whether Arsenal can build on that... I'll wait to see what the draw is like in the next round. I have to say I'm relieved Chelsea are out, simply because I think they have the beating of Arsenal over two legs at the moment.

AM: I wouldn’t jump the gun just yet, the results were excellent and the performances were very pleasing but I always knew we had the beating of Madrid. There are far greater tests to come but having said that we have looked very solid defensively, something which hasn’t always been the case, six clean sheets in a row now. I watch a lot of European football and I can guarantee that we’ll match any team at Highbury and away, we just need a bit luck as you always do in these knock-out phases.

Given the eerie similarity to our season last year, have you got your hotels booked yet for Paris?

NM: Actually, I'm semi-seriously considering taking a low-risk punt on a couple of cheap Easyjet flights before they all get snapped up. Worst case, I take the wife for a surprise romantic night away from it all.

AM: Not quite although I’ve been dreaming of an Arsenal v Barcelona final. Quickly turns to a nightmare when I see Ronaldinho!

How do you feel about the possibility of Arsenal finishing outside the top 4 but knocking Spurs out of next years Champions League by winning it yourselves?

NM: I'm not really fussed about what impact Arsenal have on Spurs really, I'm just interested in Arsenal. Winning the Champions League was a priority at the start of the season, so it has to be the same now. That said, the club's overall priority has to be to qualify for next season's Champions League by whatever means are available. I'm sure that there would be some smirking among Gooners fans, whether it's by winning the trophy and taking a qualifying place off of the 4th-placed league finishers, or by snatching 4th place ourselves right at the end of the season.

Matt: The idea of finishing 5th but knocking Spurs out of the Champions League would be a fantastic achievement simply for the fact that we have won the champions league. It would be nice to knock them out before the competition has even started,it would give me, as an Arsenal fan, huge satisfaction. Although i would prefer to win the champions league and still finish 4th because we would always have that smae arguement with Spurs fans who will be saying that we shouldnt be in the champions league because we didnt qualify, much like Liverpool had last year.

I have a few Tottenham friends and to get one up on them would be, as always is, great but i dont really want them to get their chance to get one up on us.

At the moment i am just concentrating on our fixtures and as long as we keep winning then i dont see a reason why we cant over take them in the league.

With Europe out of the way, this will be Liverpool’s last visit to Highbury. Do you have any fond Highbury memories you’d like to share?

NM: I think your first visit to see 'your' team play is always special. Mine was Boxing Day (26 December) 1972. Other than that - the first time I took part in an Arsenal game! Me, going in the front entrance, turn right, up the corridor and into the changing rooms, changed and running down the tunnel, crossing that white line. A quick glance up into the stand while I was warming up, seeing my dad and thinking what it meant to him. Then in a heartbeat it's kick-off, the whistle blows and it's game on. It wasn't a first team game, but even so, imagine how you would feel given the same opportunity at Anfield...

AM: I was considering a funny story about Ray Winstone or a guided tour that I had when I was about 10 years old but after the events of this week, it could only be the match on Wednesday night. People will say that Madrid are poor at the moment etc. but we still hosted the biggest team in the world in our final season at Highbury and knocked them out of the competition they’ve won nine times. I’ve been waiting for them to visit for about 8 years now and the night was magical. Highbury was really rocking; you could feel the expectation in the air.

Best part for me was when Pires stole the ball and shot from the half-way line, for those thirty seconds my ears shut down, I could see people screaming but I couldn’t hear a thing. The balls rolling and I’m willing it to go a little faster; come on, please go in....

then bloody Carlos stopped it on the line and reality came crashing back in. Quite the surreal moment, I could swear it all happened in slow motion.

Theo Walcott was all over the press a couple of months back – but he’s yet to make a start – any reports on his progress in the Arsenal reserve set-up?

NM: He's played well. He's smaller than I thought from seeing him on TV playing for Southampton. Very fast and intelligent in what he does, with and without the ball at his feet. There were some valid concerns that he was being overplayed by Southampton, and wasn't learning his skills, just doing match fitness and tactical training with their first team. I think there was always an expectancy by all parties that he would 'go back to school' to some extent once he arrived at Arsenal.

AM: I think he’s played on the right wing in the reserves and scored one goal, he suffered a small shoulder injury which kept him out for a little while and then he’s been on the first team bench for a couple of games. From what I understand he has impressed the coaching staff greatly and looks a fantastic buy.

Do you expect him to feature at all for the first team this season?

NM: Quite possibly, but it will be at a time of Mr Wenger's chosing. I'm more interested in how long his first team career lasts, and what he does with it, rather than when it will start.

AM: Wenger says that he is improving very quickly and will definitely see first team action before the season ends.

I have a feeling that we won’t see him play until he signs his professional contract because even though it’s complicated he can still walk away for free before then. I think he turns 17 next Saturday so by my reckoning his debut will follow shortly afterwards.

Just how confident are you about the Liverpool game?

NM: Well, apart from the last few minutes when a couple of players switched off, Arsenal didn't do that much wrong up at Anfield, so it depends how much Wednesday has taken out of both sides. Liverpool won't kick (err, I mean 'press') Arsenal, so hopefully it will go better than Arsenal's match at Blackburn.

AM: Optimistic, though I’m not buying all the nonsense about Liverpool having a goal drought etc. Liverpool is a team full of quality individuals and a goal can come at any point from any player. We have a bit of a soft centre at the moment and if you guys score first we’ll have a mountain to climb.

Having said that, it takes a lot to beat us at Highbury this season and unless you’re more clinical than you were at Anfield then we’ll definitely take the three points; as I said above the team is just starting to gel and the bigger players are finding some form, while conversely you guys are feeling the effect of the longest premiership season in history. If we score first, I have a feeling we’ll give you a roasting.

Care to predict a score?

NM: 2-1, close game I expect. Wouldn't be surprised if Fowler got off the mark.

AM: 3-1 Arsenal: Henry (2), Adebayor and Alonso replying for you guys.

And finally, we’ve got several world class strikers – fancy a swap for Henry? You know it makes sense….

NM: I expect Mr Wenger gets messages like that left on his voicemail seven days a week. I think every club in the world bar none would like to whisk Henry away from Arsenal.

AM: Well Henry may leave anyway at the end of the year and Benitez seems like a persuasive guy…

In all seriousness, Crouch does a good job for you guys but he doesn't have a 'foil' at the moment, you're definitely crying out for a pure finisher (and no, Robbie Fowler was not the answer).

Spyin’ Kop once more thanks those at arsenal-land for their excellent responses. I’m not going to break with tradition since we won at Anfield so as I said last time let’s hope we do our talking on the pitch.

© -HH- 2006

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