Before I get onto the review, let me thank the London Underground’s District Line for doing its level-best to try and stop me watching the annihilation of Sheffield United. A journey which normally takes me an hour took me two hours, and I only managed to get home just in time for kick-off because I left work 15 minutes early.
Like I say, I barely made it in time for kick-off, actually switching the TV on as the referee blew his whistle. That meant that I’d missed all the build-up, which on its own would not be too big a deal, but I was mighty confused at our line-up. Having expected Gilberto to slot in at the back, you could imagine my bewilderment at seeing Diarra pop-up on the right side and Justin sweeping in the middle. Only then did I realise that Gilberto was in midfield, with Justin at centre-half and Diarra filling in at his Chelski position of right-back. Fair enough, I thought, until I saw Fabianski with the armband. Now that was a shocker, and the rumours of a Gilberto/Arsene "disagreement" must be true…like they say, there’s no smoke without fire. Arsene’s interview after the game did little to dispel the doubts either.
Onto the football itself. A whopping eleven changes from the game against Liverpool, personnel-wise there was no surprise as young Kieran Gibbs filled in at left-back for the absent Armand Traore. The game begun with the home side having a flurry of long-throws, eventually resulting in someone (I forgot who) having an effort on goal that was saved by Captain Fabianski (didn’t think I’d be saying that…) On 8 minutes came the opener as Bendtner dropped deep and found Eduardo who had pulled away to the left side. Having manufactured a bit of space for himself with his clever movement, the Crozillian let rip from 20 yards and absolutely hammered the ball into the back of net. Keeper had no chance, and the goal looked even more impressive on the replays. It reminded me very much of Robbie Fowler – minimum backlift, maximum power.
The early goal really settled the kids down and seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Blades. I’d been worried about their long-throw threat early on, but following the goal they barely got close enough to threaten for the remainder of the half. Only five minutes after the goal we could have doubled our lead as the lively Theo found Bendtner in the box who in turn squared to Denilson, but the Brazilian youngster had a touch of the Wilkinson’s about his finish and blazed it over. Then came a few incidents when our new Polish keeper looked less then assured as he opted to fist the ball away rather than catching, but I guess you can’t fault him because his actions cleared the ball.
Theo was looking sharp and has developed a wonderful knack of being able to dribble through two players, such is his acceleration. He still seems a little clumsy with the ball at his feet though, often stumbling on it or leaving it behind. For now I’ll put that down to the urgency of youth. He could have doubled our lead five minutes before half-time as Bendtner slipped him in on the right but he snatched at his shot and skewed it wide of the near post. Replays showed that the ball may have bobbled, so his effort was excusable. Bendtner had a very good first-half, always offering himself to the midfield and linking things well. He dropped deep quite regularly (maybe a bit too much seeing as he is supposed to be a target man), but I was looking for more of a selfish streak from him as there were a few opportunities for him to have a crack from long-range but he opted to pass instead. Can’t fault him for that, he had a good game overall and posed a lot of problems for the United defence.
The last meaningful action of the half came when the opposition got in behind the left-side of our defence and crossed to the near post. However with all his experience, Gilberto was there waiting to intercept the ball and clear the ball. His performance certainly didn’t show any effects of the apparent rift with the gaffer.
The second-half began in the same fashion as the first: Eduardo scored early. A delightful through ball from the out-of-position-but-nonetheless-impressive Gibbs found Eduardo onside and one-on-one. Cool as you like, he sent the keeper the wrong way and side-footed the ball into the onion bag. Whilst not as spectacular as his first goal, I felt that this one was more significant: we have plenty of players who can bang them in from 20 yards (Robin, Cesc, Diaby, even Rosicky when fit), but sometimes our one-on-one finishing can let us down (Ade, I’m talking about you…)
The above sentiment was echoed 10 minutes later as Bendtner played the ball round the corner for Theo, whose pace took him away from the defender and past the keeper. However with the angle narrowing, he hit is shot against the near post and it rebounded to safety. Sure, it wasn’t the easiest of chances but those are ones we MUST take. That’s now three open goals missed in the last two games…all of which were taken early. Maybe the culprits should have taken their time and walked the ball into the net instead (just kidding!)
The result was settled soon thereafter as more slick passing in the middle third saw Denilson burst clear through to the edge of the box. He set himself on his right foot and unleashed, his effort taking a wicked deflection off a defender and looping over the hapless keeper. 3-0, game over.
The remaining twenty minutes were much ado about nothing, all eyes were on Eduardo to see whether he could grab a hat-trick, but it wasn’t meant to be. He came off a few minutes before the end and in all honesty was quite anonymous barring his goals, but that is the beauty of a player like him. He can be in Australia for 88 minutes but two moments of pure finishing class are what we signed him for. Barazite came on for him, making his debut along with young ENGLISH midfielder Henri Lansbury. Fran Merida completed the replacements, meaning that Gavin Hoyte must wait a little bit longer to make history by sharing the pitch with his older brother.
My Top (Young) Gun of the night was a player I have barely mentioned: Lassana Diarra. Playing in his unfavoured position of right-back, he gave a performance every inch as good as the one in the previous round against Newcastle. With a player like him, it doesn’t matter where he plays, such is his quality. Wherever you put him on the field, he’ll tackle hard, dribble well, pass efficiently and get out of tight spots adeptly. I wish I could say the same about Diaby, who in my eyes had a pretty poor game. While a few of his dribbles came off, too often he was lackadaisical in possession – like Kanu, he has such a languid style that when he is not playing well, you think he is not trying.
Honourable mentions go to Denilson, Theo and Bendtner. And even though he wasn’t the official skipper on the night, Gilberto lead the team with the experience and assuredness you’d expect from a World Cup winner. I’m very intrigued at the captaincy decision, and it almost guarantees that he is off in the summer, if not earlier. Still, at least he hasn’t been shooting his mouth off like Jens.
When we won at Spurs, one of the chants was "It’s so easy at the Lane". You could have used it last night as well, such was the manner in which the Young Guns swatted aside Sheffield United. I doubt it’ll be as easy in our next game, the small matter of a summit meeting against the Uniteds of Manchester.