Awful for 80 minutes – Arsenal vs Leeds Review, Walcott Naivety

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Jan 082011

My betting tips for this game were perhaps a little over-ambitious, but I genuinely thought they were possible. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, 5-1 seems absurd.

Leeds played well, but not so well that if we had been playing well, we couldn’t have won. They harried, defended, closed down as well as any other team we’ve played this season. With more technical players we would have been a couple of goals down by half time thanks to their superior energy and desire.

Arshavin was frankly Arse. He had some good touches, but more dreadful ones. He went one-on-one with Schmeichel Jnr, but made it comfortable for the impressive Dane. When Walcott was about to come on, the little Russian started trotting over to the dug-out, despite the fact it was Chamakh’s number that was held up. That tells me he wasn’t in the mood.

But I have to say I don’t agree with fans getting on his back. That’s just not going to help. What he needs is a few stern words from the manager and captain. The question is – and it’s not one the average fan can answer – does that happen? Will he get a b*llocking? I hope so.

Schmeichel made a series of fine saves, especially towards the end of the game. There was one from Denilson that would have made his loud-mouthed daddy proud.

Song didn’t play terribly, and I’m glad he did start because without his physicality we’d have been overwhelmed in midfield.

And that’s mainly because Denilson was anonymous. In his role of defensive midfielder, and given his (lack of) build, he needs energy, commitment, drive, and the ability to pass well. He lacked all those today. The penalty he gave away was about as stone-wall and blatant as you get.

Rosicky was a bit better, but not much. Leeds did make it difficult for us to “pass through their lines”, as AW said, but all too often the two of them gave possession back to the visitors.

Bendtner was shocking. His first touch was poor, his second touch – if he got one – was worse. As for his finishing, the less said the better.

Out of those that started, the only players who shouldn’t be self-flagellating tonight are Djourou, Gibbs, Song and Szczesny. The Pole pulled off a top save to deny Becchio shortly after Leeds had gone one up. Djourou put in a good shift, and rate him as our best centre back this season.

What changed the game was first the introduction of Fabregas, and then Walcott. The captain’s passing and vision sped the game up, and Theo’s pass troubled Leeds’ tiring legs. All of a sudden passes weren’t going astray, and we had an incisive edge in the final third.

I thought we should have had 3 penalties until I saw this on the official site from Walcott:

I want to apologise to the managers because I actually dived. I was trying to win the penalty… I am not the sort of player to do it but I own up to it and apologise. It is something I don’t want to see in my game… I don’t have to own up to it and I can’t speak for other players but I have just expressed how I feel. I hope people respect that.”

I admire his honesty, but I fear it may come back to bite him in the arse. Now he’s admitted to a dive, maybe referees will be more likely to deny him geuine penalties. I honestly can’t remember a single occasion a player has actually admitted to and apologised for diving. You often hear players say, “I felt a touch” with an ironic smirk on their faces, but to come out with an official apology is a bit odd. Nice, but odd.

[edits blog] It appears the press are catching on to this – see the Sun here. Really don’t understand why it appeared on the official site. Was that with Wenger’s blessing? Of course the Sun’s screaming headline doesn’t mention the fact that he wasn’t successful in trying to con the ref.

That incident apart, Theo can be proud of his performance today. We were absolutely awful until he and Cesc came on. Beforehand we didn’t seem to have anyone on the pitch wide right. Eboue didn’t get forward much (credit to Leeds) and Bendtner drifted inside all the time. Song popped up on the right from time to time. Usually we have Nasri and Walcott, but without them we had no penetration on that flank whatsoever.

Only when those two came on did the pace of the game speed up, which is obviously to our advantage with our technical ability. All of a sudden we created chances, and the last ten minutes were nervy for the visitors. Theo, ahem, went down once, then got pulled back in the area to win the penalty which the captain converted. Our FA cup run saved.

And so we have another fixture to add to our already congested schedule. AW said:

It was not exactly the wish I had before the game but it was the second worst wish. The worst would have been to go out. We go to Ipswich on Wednesday, we play West Ham on Saturday and then the replay of the FA Cup is after that.

We’ll surely rest some of the ‘first team’ for Ipswich on Wednesday, but after that perfomance, can we afford to?

Arsenally Yours,