Five-star demolished Arsenal demolished a hapless Derby to stretch their lead atop of the Premiership mountain and capping off one of the best Gooner weeks in recent memory.
The main team news ahead of the game was the loss of our "wingers" Hleb and Rosicky to minor injuries following the impress victory over Sevilla in midweek. Replacing them was Abou Diaby, even less of a winger, and Theo Walcott, nominally a striker. Another thing that didn’t help was the fact that Emmanuel Eboue was still out, underlining our real lack of depth in the wide-midfield areas. Phil Senderos came back from his one-game ban, a move which you’d assume would see Gilberto pushed up into the middle. However, it turns out that the Brazilian had fallen ill, and so the Flam kept his place alongside Cesc. The cynic in me says that Gilberto’s "illness" was a manufactured one to avoid having to choose between the impressive Flam and the rock-steady Gilberto. But maybe Bertie had actually fallen ill, which would be no surprise given his recent air miles exploits Either way, the choice between Flam and Bert was averted (for now). Eduardo came in up-front, replacing Robin van to partner Ade.
The first chance came early on as Gael intercepted a loose ball in Derby’s half, drove forward and teased the ball across the face of the goal. Unfortunately Ade couldn’t quite connect, but at least we’d begun on the front foot.
Our bright start was rewarded on 10 minutes. My feed was having a ‘mare, and Arsenal TV Online’s commentary is always a minute or so delayed, so when I got a call from my mate Dschin I knew something interesting had happened. However, when you’re a pessimist like me, it’s funny how the words: "Diaby scored one of the best goals ever" sounds like: "Derby scored one of the best goals ever"! I got him to repeat what he said whilst flicking over to Soccer Saturday, and thankfully it was Diaby and not Derby who had taken the lead. And what a goal it was. Sagna showed a lot of desire to get in front of his man and win the loose ball, and having done so he shepherded the on to Cesc, who squared it to the makeshift left-winger. He wasn’t very good against Spurs last week, but nearly managed to get on the scoresheet nonetheless, so you got the feeling that a goal would do wonders for his confidence. Showing clever footwork, he stepped inside three Derby players before unleashing a rocket into the postage stamp. Unstoppable.
He nearly repeated the feat soon thereafter, receiving up cutback from Gael and once again stepping inside a few challenges. This time his shot was powerful but low, allowing Bywater to get down and save. The keeper could only manage to parry the ball out though and Ade took control of it on the right and picked out Theo near the penalty spot, but while he kept his tricky half-volleyed finish low he couldn’t direct it around the defender, sending it wide. Theo was involved in the game’s next incident as he showed great pace to get on the end of Gael’s clearance, bursting between two Derby defenders. Whether he was simply outmuscled or unfairly pushed I’m not quite sure, but either way nothing came of it.
Then came the second. Again it stemmed from a full-back winning a loose ball, this time it was Gael, who like Sagna fed Fabregas. The little maestro looked up and clipped the ball over the Derby defence, who appealed in vain for offside but both Ade and Eduardo were through. Ade controlled the ball on his chest and rounded the advancing Bywater to slot home. In days gone by this kind of goal would be commonplace at Highbury: midfielder picks the ball up deep in his own half and launches it over the top for a speedster to run on to. Think of Petit and Overmars, Bergkamp and Anelka, Vieira and Henry. Over recent years it was an attribute that I felt we had lost, partly due to teams defending so deep against us and partly because our build-up play had become more methodical (i.e. slow). But aided by Derby’s high line we went straight for the jugular, and it paid off handsomely. If we can continue to utilise this potential goalscoring route then we should get more chances like this, especially if we are already in the lead and the opposition are chasing the game.
Apart from at set-pieces Derby never threatened, and even then we looked more comfortable than on recent occasions. And it was from a Derby corner that our next opportunity. Almunia claimed a corner and swiftly launched it upfield for Ade to challenge. The ball broke to Eduardo on the left, and in a carbon copy to our first chance where Gael set up Ade, Eduardo fed the ball across the six-yard box but again the big man from Togo couldn’t latch onto it. But the simple fact that our rapier like counter attacks are coming back to the fore was pleasing in its own right.
Eduardo soon nearly opened his domestic account for the club. Cesc and Diaby played a lovely one-two in the inside left channel, but Cesc was forced slightly wide. Not to worry though, as he cut in and play another sumptuous one-two, this time with Ade who was at the heart of everything good about Arsenal. Cesc received the ball on the left edge of the box and put in a low ball to the Crozilian, who seemingly mistimed the swing of his left foot and the ball was cleared. The ball came back to Arsenal though, once again Cesc picked up the ball inside the centre circle and sent it over the top for Eduardo. His lack of strength told though as he was nudged off the ball, legally or illegally, and the danger subsided. I feel Eduardo had a good game seeing as he is new to the league. This season I reckon he will be more effective in Europe where defenders do not simply rely on brute force – because I think he has the nous and guile to outskill most defenders. Europe is more similar to international football, an arena in which Eduardo has excelled. In the league though, he may need a year to settle in and adapt to the physical side of things, a la Robert Pires. In Bobi’s first season, he was nicht so gut, but the following season he went onto become Footballer of the Year and I can see Eduardo taking a similar path.
Five minutes Theo sprang into life again as he played a give-and-go with Cesc, who somehow with eyes in the back of his head managed to give a perfect reverse pass into Theo’s path. Unfortunately the youngster’s shot was straight at the keeper, but a bright move nevertheless. Perry Groves when commentating for ATVO bemoaned Theo’s performance, suggesting that he was shorn of confidence and his decisions were often wrong. While I agree to some extent, I think it’s awfully harsh to criticise one so young. He has featured for his club since the first couple of games, and as a kid he’ll need more time than most to get his eye in. Yes, while his final ball at times left a lot to be desired, he should enough quality and pace when dribbling to provide more than a glimmer of hope for the future. I saw an article on NewsNow comparing him with the flop that was Jermaine Pennant and I was livid – how can they compare the two of them?! One was an arrogant, troublesome early 20s plank, whilst the other is a quiet, unassuming teenager. And don’t forget that Theo IS playing out of position. I say give him a start alongside Bendtner up-front against Newcastle, because his apparent finishing prowess is being wasted out wide. And don’t get on his back if he doesn’t produce the goods, he’s only a kid, not everyone is like Cesc dammit!
The final actions of the half centred around Eduardo’s efforts to break his Premiership duck. Picking the ball up on the right, he positively skinned his man and moved into the box. But with the ball on his right foot and running at that speed, you kinda felt that he wouldn’t let rip. He took an extra touch and then his cross/shot was blocked for a corner. I mentioned it a lot in pre-season, but he does seem to take an extra touch when through with the keeper in his sights. The resulting corner saw him left unmarked and direct a powerful downwards header which produced a great save from Bywater. One thing I will give Eduardo is his ability in the air – while he ain’t the biggest, his ability to get direction and force behind his headers is a definite plus point. It’s not always the tallest of strikers who are the best headers of the ball, compare Michael Owen with Peter Crouch for example.
The second-half was not even five minutes old when we were awarded yet another Emirates penalty. I believe that’s now four in four games, a remarkable run when you look at it, but examine deeper and it’s not overly surprising given the amount we attack at home that sooner or later a defender is going to commit a foul inside the box. Adebayor left his man for dead out on the left wing, his low cross being only half-cleared by Leacock as it fell into Eduardo’s path who had his shirt pulled by Matt Oakley. Away from home you wouldn’t get that decision, but who am I to complain? No mistake from the spot as Ade stepped up and stroked it home, despite Bywater getting his fingers to the ball. At three-nil it really was game over, the question now was not if Arsenal would win, but by how many?
Captain Kolo nearly got in on the act as he bombed forward from the back. He passed it to Cesc who looked for Ade but the ball was blocked. It fell kindly back to Cesc and he spotted Kolo ghosting in at the back-post before dinking the ball in that direction. Kolo get on the end of it but could not direct his header under the defender’s challenge and so it flew wide. Enthralling stuff.
Arsenal proceeding to cruise control the remainder of the game, keeping Derby at bay and attacking when they saw fit. Another swift counter attack saw Cesc release Theo down the right but he hit his cross straight at the first man, and any claims of handball were waved away by the ref. Then Sagna got to the byline on the right and sent in a peach of a cross which was just a little bit too high for Ade to get over his header and send it downwards. The fourth came from Kolo – again – bombing forward. He gave the ball to Eduardo who had drifted right, and the Crozilian refused the invitation to shoot on before laying it back to Scholes…I mean Cesc, who let fly with another cracker. The keeper got a touch and maybe should have saved it, but the end product was yet another goal for the Spaniard, with his last kick of the ball too. That’s a goal in six consecutive games now, and unless I’m mistaken then he is our top goalscorer this season in all competitions. Fancy that.
He is not, however, our top goalscorer in the league. That lofty status is reserved for Ade, who completed his hat-trick with less than ten minutes left. And what a goal it was too as he controlled with his chest a long ball from Denilson (if you weren’t aware of the substitution, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking it was Cesc who made that pass). After leaping like a salmon and fantastically bringing the ball down, he shrugged off his marker, stepped into the box and sidefooted the ball into the bottom corner, using the defender as a shield from the keeper’s view. Not only is he our top league goalscorer so far, that goal cemented him at the top of the charts for the whole league, and seeing that he only got his first three weeks ago against Pompey, it highlights the hot streak he is on.
He could have added another goal to his tally, but alas it wasn’t meant to be when out of nowhere Mears disposed him. Never mind, there’s no point in getting greedy, might as well save a goal or two for next week away to West Ham eh?
So it was the biggest when we’ve had in a while, I think the last time we hit five was against the Villa back at Highbury. It was the biggest victory at The Emirates, which looks every inch our new home now. The reason for that, I believe, is because none of the players are pining for Highbury anymore. For instance, Thierry Henry had his best years at the old ground, he truly was the King of Highbury. These players had never peaked at Highbury, so they are not comparing their personal fortunes at The Emirates to the personal fortunes at Highbury.
To cap off a good day, Liverpool were held by Birmingham thereby allowing us to stretch our lead at the top. By all accounts it was the kind of frustrating home game we had to contend with last season. As I write this, the eagerly anticipated showdown between Man Utd and Chelsea has yet to take place. The narcissist in me would like to see Chelsea get plunged into further depths of despair and get beat, but the Gooner in me comes to the fore and prays for a draw.
Top Gun: no question, Ade gets the vote. He is become more and more our Drogba, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
A few final random points:
1.Diaby needs to sort his boots out, he keeps slipping.
2.That’s seventeen goals in the last five games, spread between seven players.
3.If the defence can get a lust for clean sheets, this team will go all the way.
Up next is the kids in the Carling Cup. Look out for the likes of Fabianski, Traore, Justin, Diarra, Denilson, Theo and Bendtner to feature. Maybe Eduardo will get a run out too as he searches for his first domestic goal, and maybe even the younger ones like Merida will get a chance? It won’t be easy against a Newcastle team hell-bent on ending their trophy drought, not forgetting that they are now managed by our old nemesis, Big Sam Allardyce. If anyone can pull it off though, it’s this current crop of players. Last year’s vintage took us all the way to the final, so who’s to say this bunch can’t repeat the feat either?