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John Utaka, We Hardly Fouled Ye (Video Highlights)
Arseblog wrote yesterday: “I suspect there are students of Arsenal statistics out there who may well prove me wrong but I can’t remember a start to the season so filled with goals.” Well, I am a “student of Arsenal statistics,” so let’s figure this out. Keeping it to the Wenger-era, we have not had such a goal-filled first two matches. However, in 2000-01 we did score 10 goals in our first 4 matches. In the run-up to Nottingham Forest’s record at the start of 2004-05, we began the season with a 4-1 win against Everton and then went on beat Middlesbrough 5-3. We followed that up with the 3-nil win over Blackburn that gave us the unbeaten record, thus giving us 12 goals in the opening three matches. So, while we have never had more goals in 2 matches, should we be held to 1 goal or less at United, our start will not be as “goal-filled” as 2004-05.
Anyway, on to the match. Two days on, there is not much I can say that you probably haven’t already read elsewhere. Song made way for Abou Diaby, who went on to give a very good performance. It shows that we may already have enough options should Song depart for the African Cup of Nations in January. Ramsey also looked good when he came on and it looks as though either Diaby or Ramsey can come on for Song with Denilson falling back into a more defensive role. Nasri as well can take the same role. It’s not exactly ideal, but what team has two class defensive midfielders?
I should also mention the officials’ decisions. I must admit that when seen live it did look like it could very well have been a foul on Gallas’s part. However, after seeing the replay, especially from the reverse angle, you can clearly see that Utaka tripped over his own foot. I’m sure Paul Hart must’ve felt like an idiot after making those statements following the match. On the other hand, I was screaming at Almunia for not stepping up and attacking the cross which led to Kaboul’s goal. However, once again, the reverse angle seemed to tell a different story. From that angle, it seemed that Almunia may very well have been impeded. Of course, either of those calls can go both ways but it seems like for the first time in a while we have luck on our side.
Both Hart and Utaka came out after the match claiming it was a “clear foul” by Gallas. Admittedly, this was before they would have seen the conclusive replay and Hart’s view was likely obstructed by his shirt collar (see video and pic below). Yet, today, Utaka was in The Sun, of all places, claiming Gallas “admitted” to the foul and that he “smiled” at Utaka. He also claimed that Gallas was pulling his shirt but you can clearly see on the replay (below) that it is Utaka who is pulling Gallas’s shirt. Also, it isn’t clear if the smile is what Utaka was considering the admission or if he actually verbalized it. Seems highly likely to me that Gallas wasn’t smiling, but laughing at Utaka for tripping over his own feet. Since the highlights above omitted the Utaka fall, I have included the MOTD highlights (with the sharp, unbiased, and always insightful analysis from Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer):
[gigya width="435" height="300" src="http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/xa8wyo_arsenal-v-porstmouth-22-aug-2009-mt_creation" quality="high" wmode="tranparent" ]
The other issue, which seems to have carried throughout the first three matches, regards the lack of goals from our “strikers.” Arsene has made the point that the strikers are the ones creating goals and that he is confident that van Persie, Eduardo, and Arshavin will score goals. I am inclined to agree with him. I really don’t care where the goals come from and for a team that has been sorely missing goals from midfield in recent years, I find nothing to complain about. Besides, in reality, the only true striker we had on the pitch was Eduardo. Van Persie is at his best linking up play, no matter who he is linking up with. Not to mention that he also tested James three times. On another day, van Persie could have had two goals. Also, does any of this really matter when you have William Gallas creating a new position: striker-back? Rather than seeing this as a problem, I will take the optimistic route and see this as a positive.
Defensively, we may have had a few shaky moments for what seems like the first time this season. The defense was gotten in behind a few too many times and Gibbs was getting pushed off the ball far too regularly. He looked nothing like the player he was at the end of last season. But, besides for a 15 minute span, Arsenal bossed the entire match and I don’t think the scoreline was flattering at all. One really has to sympathize with Paul Hart -and, no, not for the way he wears his shirt collar- but for what is going on in the board room and even more for what is going on on the pitch. With James set to want out in January in his bid to secure a World Cup place and the fact that Kranjčar will surely be the next to go, one has to fear for Pompey and their genuinely enthusiastic supporters.
Arsene Wenger’s Post-match Interview: