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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wenger got it right on the night!

Last night, Arsene Wenger reminded everyone why he has led Arsenal to eight consecutive top two Premiership finishes and a record-smashing 49 match unbeaten league run. Sure some of his selections this season have been questionable but on the biggest stage in world football before a global audience he got it absolutely right. The watching audience saw the return of the real Wenger Arsenal.

The Bernabeu has a massive playing surface that suits a 4-5-1 because it gives the midfield players room to breathe and express themselves. And with Gilberto at the anchor, the rest of Arsenal's midfield plus Henry played the attacking-pass-and-move football for the full 90 that until recently has been the Wenger trademark.

In fact, yesterday was the first time in a long time when every Arsenal player looked totally comfortable with the role assigned to them and totally confident in the tactics chosen for the match. This is down to Wenger, and a one nil win is good reward for our fantastic manager.

The innovation was Freddie Ljungberg playing on the left of a central midfield three. It's the first time he has played this Frank Lampard position, but he played it like a veteran. He gave great defensive support either side of Gilberto and Reyes, and his link up and forward support play down the centre of the pitch with Thierry was very good and always threatening.

Last week I paraphrased Benitez when saying that sometimes a small change can bring big results. The decision to shift Ljungberg from the confines of the right wing where he has been badly struggling underlines the truth of that good Benitez saying.

Every Arsenal player deserves a mention for yesterday's win, so here goes:

Jens: Brilliant overall handling and great anticipation to race off his line to twice prevent Beckham. Our young defence is reassured by having his experienced and his (amusingly over) confident presence.

Eboue: A true star in the making. He looks like he has been playing in the first team for five years such is his composure and reading of the game. Matching up well to the combo of Robinho, Roberto Carlos and Zinedine Zidane speaks volumes for young Emmanuel. Also is not afraid to launch driving attacks down the right. A Wenger gem!

Flamini: Big credit must go to Mathieu for giving massive effort at LB against Beckham and Cichino. A bit reckless in his decision-making but I really like his (literally) roll-up-the-sleeves determined attitude that he brings to the team.

Toure: Was not phased by the responsibility of being Arsenal's defensive leader, and now equal with TH as the first name of the team-sheet. His heart is massive and I'm proud that he is a Gunner!

Senderos: His fundamental attributes are excellent, and after a few shaky moments in the first-half -which luckily weren't capitalised upon - he regained his nerve to put in a solid second-half CB display.

Gilberto: The weekend rest did our Brazilian world cup winner good, and he made use of the additional CM player to concentrate his efforts on protecting the back four. Did this job superbly.

Fabregas: Only 18 years old but turned in the performance of a seasoned midfielder. Put in a textbook performance of defensive and attacking awareness, accurate passing, and overall fantastic composure on the ball that underlines his massive potential.

Ljungberg: A revelation in his new left CM position. Great to see signs that the old Freddie is not dead.

Hleb: Played on the right wing, and the wide expanse of the Bernabeu suited his equally expansive game. Tenaciously supported Eboue in defensive areas, and contributed well to the midfield pass and move strategy. There is much more to come from the Belarussian.

Reyes: Luckily he was fit because he was crucial to the Arsenal tactics. With only TH up front, it was chiefly Reyes (along with Freddie) who had the significant duty to drive forward to support our captain. And he carried out this responsibility magnificently. Every time he got the ball he looked a big threat, and there was one outstanding run late in the second half when he ran fifty yards beating about three players that was simply fantastic.

Henry: Like Gilberto, the weekend's rest did TH good as he looked sharp from the very first minute. The only goal (and it was important to get an away goal!) was a solo Henry masterpiece - though somewhat helped by dodgy defending - and overall it’s the best I've seen him play in the one-man-up-front role. This is mainly because the support he got from the midfield was excellent. Also, great post-match comments from the Captain calling for level-head's with a tough second leg still to play.

The players put in really good performances, but I’ll repeat the biggest credit should go to Wenger for getting the tactics and team-selection absolutely right. From the first minute it looked right, and the players obviously felt the same way because they played with an individual and collective confidence that has not been seen since the time of the 49ers. Last week I talked about Arsenal needing a big boost to restore confidence and get back on the right track. And thankfully it came last night.

P.S. Credit to regular EFT contributor GunnerPete for informing us last week that his sixty plus years of Arsenal-supporting-senses were telling him that something good was going to happen very soon… you were right! And thanks to SKG who earlier today on EFT posted good compliments on the Arsenal performance… nice one mate!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice written! it was a joy to watch our midfield last night.

2/22/2006 5:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought tactically and positionally Gilberto was immense. Whenever Zidane came off the left flank Gilberto was there to press him and position himself so as Zidane could not execute the pass he wanted and had to play it square and behind rather than forward. Eboue nullified Robinho and Roberto Carlos, and Flamini did a good job on Beckham. Fabregas was sensational, and the attacking triumvirate of Hleb, Ljungberg and Reyes supported Thierry magnificantly. We will have Cole and Van Persie back for the return leg too. Its looking good. Incidentally, Real paid seville 19 million for ramos whereas we paid 500K for Senderos to servette. Just shows what a fantastic manager arsene wenger is.

2/22/2006 5:20 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We were excellent last night and we played against some of the biggest names (Ronaldo, Zidane, Beckham) in the world, but... I think that will not be as easy for us to play alot of the premireship team. The reason for this is the size of the pitch, it was massive and this suits the Arsenal's style perfectly. A few years ago I remember Arsene Wenger saying when he looks for a player he looks for "SPEED, technique and movement" and that is what most Arsenal players have in abundence (Gilberto? hmmm) and work on everyday in training. When our team has space to run at players, that is when they are most devistating and effective. A large pitch suites attacking play which supposed to suit Real Madrid but last night we showed them what the meaning of attacking football with speed and movement in every department on top of that our young defense showed strength the kind that can deal with galacticos and premireship nutters. I hope this kind of form can continue in the premireship but agianst teams on a smaller pitch, sitting deep and then hitting you on the counter with long balls with cavemen for strikers and legbreakers in midfield its hard for a young team to score but its not impossible. Hats off to Wenger and the TEAM for last night, comon Arsenal;-)

2/22/2006 7:36 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

From a wonderful night of football, EFT had to have the article and T the author. A first for an English side in the Bernabeu, Arsenal earned their win as Madrid earned their defeat. It could have been more for Arsenal and orchestrating those chances was mainly Henry, and he finished as he constantly likes to, waiting just out of eyesight of the nearest defender and waiting for the through ball to run onto, slotting it wide and on target.

Madrid came close for their equaliser and they utilised the right flank often behind Flamini, who I agree deserves credit for filling in that position like a soldier following orders. Toure unfazed, Senderos may have been edgy at times but he was crucially there to break up the attack on occasion when Beckham aimed to deliver. Reyes gave Cicinho a torrid time, Gilberto gave a hearty performance, Fabregas was much better and importantly Lehmann continued from Anfield, coming out early to block and thwart and providing great presence behind his line of defence.

I was disappointed to see less of Zidane, Robinho, Carlos, Beckham, Ronaldo, Zidane and Gravesen. I've always had a sceptical opinion on Ramos, young and keen but at times can be rash and unsteady. They miss some steel at the back, potentially from Helguera, or even Raul Bravo. Gravesen and Zidane didn't show enough thought on the ball, Robinho was not as influential as he could be and Beckham played an average game.

How Arsenal needed a boost, with the current speculation about Henry's Arsenal future, league results and injuries hampening their show of form. Where it counts is where it happened and now there's the league fight to break into the CL places at home, and stay there.


2/22/2006 11:38 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Good post T & comments from anons and redsman.

I particularly attribute the performance to EVERY player...and this time I DO mean it.

My ill-spoken thoughts on Gilberto in the past (as 2nd anon mentions as well) seem to have been mocked by him, giving us a performance of the Arsenal shirt he wears! Finally! The break really has rejuvenated everybody it seems. He actually only gave away ONE pass all night...and I truly think he was committed...even out-fouling Flamini possibly!

Amazing stuff...the pace...the passing...the committment by the whole team. It was just one of those games that felt great...and a few more goals would have put is in the driving seat for sure...but as it stands...we have a good advantage...let's not get too greedy!

T's comments on each individual is brilliant - I DID really enjoy seeing Eboue close down Robinho all night...Senderos and Toure elimnating Ronaldo completely...and even Cesc outmuscling Zidane...great stuff to watch. Hleb did much better defensively and only his final pass deserted him to be honest...he is getting there! Reyes worked his pants off and I think really linked in well with Henry...not many people comment on that conspiracy theory anymore that they fall out all the time!!

Finally on the performance of Lehmann...he's looking like the World cup candidate more and more...particularly if Kahn is injured. Great stuff and reactions from him! Just less of the "Jens" antics pls...and behind all that he is a great keeper!

2/23/2006 9:57 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

GunnerPete says....Thanks 't' for your mention, and yes its nice to see the old stomach still works for me. BUT, I am more proud of the performance of Eboue, who as you know I have wanted as a regular right sided middielder. He will, Im sure (given the chance) become one of the best we have seen.

I would also like to continue with my crystal ball act, and say that I also see Djurou replacing Sol as our number three centre back, with Gilbert as right full back.

I dont know about you, but I would hate to face Cole on the left with Reyes, and Gilbert on the right with Eboue. I also still think that Kolo could be a revelation as the defending midfielder, with Fabrigas & Diaby in support. Blimey it makes my mouth water at the thought.

Funny enough, although one win will not make a season, it can However, if we look very carefully at the whole squad we now have inc Vela in Spain and Parisio, show why Arsene has not thrown big money away in panic. All this shows why he is the boss and I am not! But, please AW, buy some UK lads to keep adding some steel and to help show our kids that ALL nations inc the UK can make it at AFC> I suggest you watch youing Hawley at Carlisle to start with.

2/23/2006 10:45 am

Blogger T said...

Great comments from the three anons, and as ever from Redsman, Nturtle and GunnerPete.

Nturtle, I know exactly where you are coming from when you say that you attribute the performance to EVERY player. Isn't it great to look at every player and see that they were all in it together to put in a quality performance. This is why I had to mention every player- and it was good to do so.

GunnerPete, I will never forget that you were first to highlight the potential of Eboue. I was really close to dedicating my Real Madrid report on Eboue because I can't quite believe how composed and excellent he is for such an inexperienced player.... but then I felt that I wouldn't want to diminish recognition of the other players.

Eboue is doing such a good job at RB for Arsenal - and last month for the Ivory Coast - that I'm quite happy for him to stay there for now... particluarly as 'the fighter' Gilbert is still very young. But in future seasons I do see good possibilities for a Gilbert/Eboue combo down the right.

I have not heard of Hawley at Carlisle... but I'll try to watch out for him.

Nice description Redsman of Flamini as resembling a soldier following orders... you are spot on with this.

Finally, back to Nturtle, I laughed when I saw you say that Arsenal could have won by more but we should not be so GREEDY... I agree with this 100%. We may later rue not being able to score more away goals but I always reckon that you should appreciate what you have and not dwell on what you don't have!

For now I just (continue to) savour a wonderful Gunners performance....

2/23/2006 11:34 am

Anonymous Nturtle said...

LOL - well...a nice piece by Gunnerpete - forgot to add my congrats on supporting for so long a good club! I support Arsenal as my brother does...and not only because they have been good in recent years. I regularly go to the UK and it is such a shame I haven't made it to a game of football yet! Arsenal is damn hard and particularly highbury...I was given a chance to buy a ticket for the Ajax game last year...but it would have cost me 150 pounds! TOUTS!

Support for a team is much in the passion for the style and of course some of the individuals involved. I am sure ANY team can be supported if you are Redsman, skg and other anons with's a tradition and actually...good fun!

Coming back to Gunnerpete's comments - I also feel that some English players will do no harm...and we DO have some in defence - Connolly, Gilbert...Cole, as well as lots of other youngsters that ethnically may be different but still choose England as their nationality - case point - Justin Hoyte. He's turned down Trinidad and Tobago to try for an England spot - well done lad! Doing the hard way is not easy...but potentially it gives him a reward (as I feel England can qualify almost every time...but maybe not T&T)!!

2/23/2006 2:36 pm


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