Cracking result and further evidence, were it needed, that this team is capable of some very special things when in the mood. The world’s best player illuminated another dismal Manchester evening and the arrival of Cesc in the second half galvanised the side in a manner comparable to a 29 year old pro rather than a boy on the day of his 19th birthday.
Arsenal began sluggishly as is our want these days. Man City were obviously keen to bid farewell to their crowd for the summer on a positive note. They were urgent and pressing and we repeatedly lost the ball in central midfield. I’m not on a one man victimisation campaign here but if Song never plays for us again I will be happy. He is effective at covering space, physically strong but his positioning is diabolical – overstretching Gilberto to the edge last night and his passing is some of the worst I have ever seen. His relentless releasing of possession kept putting the back 4 under pressure and with a rusty left side of Sol and Cole we were continually caught napping. As the game went on he improved and I counted him doing 4 constructive things so he’s not all bad.
Arsenal had barely registered a shot of note until RVP smacked an offside effort off the cross bar after finding space in between the right back and right central defender. It should have served as a warning to Man city but just a few moments later something wonderful happened. Freddie scored a goal. We had been waiting over a year in the league, and it was his first goal of 2006. Magic. It was a peach as well, using Richards’ inexperience he created half a yard after Henry’s exquisite reverse pass on the left and found the bottom right hand corner, across the keeper, like an arrow. You could see the relief flooding over him. Henry deserved as much credit for eliminating 3 defenders with one slide rule pass.
Then followed the depressingly predictable slump into submission, made famous this year and many other years when we are a goal up against markedly inferior opposition. Ok we have bigger fish to fry but this was a game we should have shut out. A comedy of errors allowed City to gain a corner from our left back position. Cole’s lack of sharpness his undoing this time. The cross was swung in deep and unchallenged the ball returned across the box for Sommeil to receive a tap in at Lehman’s foot. The Madman was understandably livid at his statuesque defence and justly berated them.
Without Senderos and Adebayor in the team we suddenly look very exposed at set pieces and this was evidenced throughout the match. It was the dark days of last season where every ball into the box looked like a goal and Jens pulled off a superb save in the second half to keep the scores level. Before that though Henry and RVP had attempted to combine for an effort at the, "World’s sexiest goal" competition. Henry beat 3 men, got a slight piece of luck with the 4th and slipped a beautiful ball inside that open channel between central and wide defenders, RVP took a touch and slid it back to Henry. The body opened up, I unzipped my flies but it wasn’t to be, the ball flew wide and Henry knew he’s missed a chance at yet another wonder goal.
The game was beginning to liven up and Man city began to press, for once our substitutions were spot on, Cesc for Song changed the game within seconds. His first touch was a turn and glide away from Barton before releasing the galloping Freddie up field. It was a sign of things to come as he began to pull the strings in midfield. Not more than 5 minutes later Reyes and Bobby entered the fray and both had a ridiculously effective performance. Hleb’s tendency to drift inside was making it difficult to find room, Bobby was wise to this and found space outside. The ever willing Eboue was already beyond him when an inch perfect pass was threaded through to him. Eboue looked up and the man who had started the move, Jose, banged in the chance with his left foot. James should have held it but it was more welcome relief for a man who hadn’t scored since Christmas.
Man City surged forward and with only 10 minutes remaining I feared the typical onslaught but a quite sublime counter attack ended any lingering doubts. Once again Cesc began the move picking it up just outside our box, within an instant it had travelled to Henry via Freddie. Henry’s favourite inside left channel, he glided past the city defenders and just as it looked as though he was ready to have a shot he slipped the ball to Reyes, who with the confidence of a man possessed stroked the ball effortlessly into the top left of James’ goal. It was a superb goal. If Reyes and Freddie are scoring goals again, and they certainly looked confident last night, then we are in business for Barcelona.
Whisper it quietly, I really think we can do it.
Jens – Solid 7
Eboue – Legend in the making this boy but needs to maintain position better. 8
Toure – A rock as always, looking tired mentally though. 7
Sol – Got better as the game went on, jumping still a huge issue. 7
Cole – Solid first game, not match fit but looked good. 7
Hleb – Needs to vary his game more. 6
Gilberto – A Machine, I nearly cried when I thought he was injured. 7
Song – Utter shit, improving to upmarket shit. 5
Freddie – Worked hard as always and deserved a goal, let’s hope he’s back in the groove. 7
RVP – Trying too hard at the moment but loving the commitment. 7
Henry – Quite simply a class above the rest. 8 MOM
Cesc – Sublime, 19 yesterday and better than most already. 8
Reyes – Brilliant cameo, showing what he’s all about – 8
Bobby – How good is Bobby at the moment, his sub appearances are a joy to watch. 8