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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Young defensive leader - Kolo Toure - gains Arsenal the first leg advantage

Yesterday Arsenal came up against a Villarreal yellow brick wall at Highbury, but managed to put a dent in it to gain a one nil lead. It seemed to me that after moving ahead through Kolo Toure's goal late in the first half, Arsenal somewhat psychologically settled for this advantage and were most intent in not conceding a 'counting double' away goal. The strong pressing game applied by Villarreal which made it hard for Arsenal to find space and get into a good fluent attacking rhythm also contributed to the stalemate nature of the second half.

The attacking side of Arsenal's game may not have been at its best- but the defensive side was excellent. Again in a Champs League match this season, Arsenal put in a total team defensive effort reminiscent of a George Graham side whenever Villarreal got possession. To take one player as an example, it was great to see Alex Hleb sprint back on a number of occasions to try to catch up and tackle the rampaging Riquelme. This sort of effort and determination sets the right tone across the whole team: a mentality of total commitment. This individual and collective attitude has been a massive factor in our progress so far in the competition.

The goal scored by Arsenal's magnificent young defensive leader - Kolo Toure - was amazingly his first ever at Highbury. The way he has assumed responsibilty for leading Phillipe Senderos to this left and Emmanuel Eboue to his right in the absence of Sol Campbell shows what great character Kolo has combined to his fantastic natural defensive ability. The combination of these two superb assets make him a really worthy player to score the last ever Champions League goal at Highbury.

Kolo's interview after the match underlines why I have always really liked the Ivorian centre-back. He always comes across as amazingly humble, positive, friendly and focused. After talking about the team performance and his happiness in getting the goal, he ended by saying that we must now focus on Tottenham on Saturday. This concentration on what's ahead just minutes after a high pressure match is fantastic. He is an outstanding representative of Arsenal FC.


Anonymous Coops said...

Nice blog, keep up the good work!

Squirrel, there's only one squirrel!

Come on the gunners!

4/20/2006 11:59 am

Blogger jobby said...

if theirry leaves in the summer Kolo should be made captain.

4/20/2006 12:04 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's a bit like Vieira 5 years ago in that I would like two or three of him! He's a great centre back, but we have missed drive and aggression in midfield all season, though to be fair Gilberto was absolutely magnificant last night, and Kolo with Cesc would be a great midfield combo I feel. He can do everything! Jump, head, tackle, pass, fire off shots, and covers amazing amount of ground. He goes to the mosque every day, and thats a reason why he is so humble-he thanks Allah for everything. Also, he was rejected by Inter and Dortmund, so he is thanking his lucky stars he is employed by Arsenal and paid handsomely. With Eboue, a fellow countryman next to him who he will play at the world cup with, he is loving every minute, and so are we

4/20/2006 12:42 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Top article again, T, as I would expect. Henry was asked if it could be regarded as one foot in the final, to which the Frenchman replied no. I believe it is. The first leg is metaphorical but 50% of two legs thus far is one foot, in the final. All it takes is to deny Villarreal a goal and the Gunners are there. Henry's goal was marginally deemed offside, while Gilberto's challenge on Jose Mari was a penalty. Arsenal are set to repeat Liverpool's voyage into the final, and, dare I say, the three-letter word beginning with w.....


4/20/2006 2:30 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanks Coops, Jobby, and Anon for your comments.

Kolo has the makings of a future captain... although next season if a vacancy arises (hope not!) may be too soon for him.

Anon, I like your style of analysis! You are definitely not the first person to write about Kolo's potential as a CM, and I definitely agree that he has all the attributes and versatility to adapt to the role. But for me he is now Arsenal's number one defender- and having settled in this role for the last 3-4 years it may be asking a lot of him and the team (especially Eboue and Senderos) to make this shift.

Plus, with more development and experience, Diaby is the more natural long-term Vieira replacement.

P.S. I know that we have been struggling to field four defenders this season- but the attempt by the squirrel to find a position in the back four takes the biscuit! :)

4/20/2006 2:32 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanks Redsman too.

Must say that I, as you would expect, agree with Henry... and also that his mindset on this question is the one I like to see because as Captain he needs to set the right example in not getting ahead of ourselves just because we have a one goal lead.

4/20/2006 2:40 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

I feel that Arsenal should be going in with a 2-0 advantage...but a last ditch clearence denied Begkamp his swansong European goal...(although Spain isn't that far away for the second leg)!

Well done Toure! he could have had two had his volley not been an airshot...great guy to have...but he's looking I feel Djourou or Campbell might come back in for the Tottenham game on Sat. Cole and Clichy are back in training so that's great.

Hopefully, Sat sees us close the gap as well...since there is no guarantee to win the Champs league, whether it is AC Milan or Barca. I think Tottenham will be much there is a danger of tiredness for Arsenal.

Notwithstanding the future, it was certainly a reasonably good ending to European football at was a late substitution by Wenger...but he did show intent by bringing on two attackers...rather than defenders. Shame He didn't sub Pires for Walcott as well...that would have been fun!

Well done Gunners...and I'm looking forward to next Tuesday which I predict a score of 1-0...with Villareal opening up some space since they need to attack.

4/20/2006 2:53 pm

Blogger SKG said...

congrats to the gunners once again. arsenal v barcelona here we come!

4/20/2006 6:24 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanks Nturtle and SKG.

Definitely share the fear of tiredness creeping into our match against Tottenham, Nturtle. That said, I also hope adrenaline can kick in and get us through what will be an intense North London derby.

4/20/2006 9:23 pm

Anonymous Castanet said...

Wow, what a game! It was well worth it getting to the office late the following morning!
It's always very tempting to get ahead of us and allow zeal to lure complacency when we head off to Spain for the second leg. Let's all be careful and contain our enthusiasm. Let's be measured and look for weaknesses to plug if there are any. Let's continue to build on our strength and fortify what we do best - attack.
We cannot afford to settle for 1-0 and defend all the way. That's not Mr Wenger's way and that's not the Arsenal I know. We should pressure Villareal right from the very beginning, scare the living daylights out of them, force the pace and control the game. Another goal would be the aim and that would spell the beginning of the end of Villareal. Adopt a 4-3-3 approach and go for it. Once that's settled, move to 4-5-1 and control the momentum but whenever we break, go back to 4-3-3 and push.
Hleb was fantastic to watch. His legwork and commitment was first rate. Toure is Toure; tireless, tough and virtually impervious to pressure. Eboue - whoa - was like lightning down the right flank. His overlapping runs just makes me want to yearn for Cole to return on the other side as well. Ljunberg for whatever others may say about him is someone I'm grateful we have on our side. His loyalty is perfectly displayed on the field and echoes very much our captain.
Senderos - wow - how much he has grown in stature. That ever-serious looking face matches his towering presence. With Toure, Eboue and Senderos, you'd wonder if Campbell and Cole really stands a chance to return. Talking about them, Flamini might be overshadowed by Toure and Eboue but his work rate was as high as everyone else I saw. Although played out of his natural position, he never quibbled. In fact I don't even see any such dissension at Arsenal under Mr Wenger.
Fabregas had a slightly quieter night than what he had at Madrid and Juventus but he was an excellent playmaker and plot mapper. His reading of the game was first class. He only needed to look up for one second and he knew where he wanted the ball to go. And what - he's 18 years of age only! Comparing him with Viera is wrong. Both are so dramatically different in playing style. Viera has that composed towering presence. Fabregas is far more wily, more fluid-like, cunning and penetrating.
Henry had a good game. He mightn't have scored though he came awfully close, his body language betrays what his mind thinks. So many times, you see how he turns defenders into a spin and he's off. And he makes them all look so effortlessly it's beguiling and bewildering to watch all the time. His composure is exemplary. It's interesting to watch his captaincy on the field. He doesn't seem to shout - where Lehman and Senderos do - and so it must be his powerful talismanic presence that makes the difference on the field.
Lehman proved a safe pair of hands once again. I have never doubted how he covers his goal and how he urges his defenders on. Two occasions came close and one could have easily been a goal if Forlan's cross was met. God was surely on our side but other than that, Lehman is approaching Seaman legend status in my books.
Gilberto Silva was the rock we needed to shackle Riquelme. The strange thing was that there was so much space for both teams to play but whenever Riquelme got the ball, Gilberto was there and if he stuffed it up, Eboue was next or Flamini or Senderos. This kind of defensive commitment is, in my opinion, what helped Arsenal to constantly maintain its structural shape on the run.
Pires had a good time and it was exciting to watch him unleashing his magic of old. I do believe he will leave for Villareal next season. If only he would consider following the example laid down so loyally by Bergkamp...
The key to Arsenal's victory at Highbury can be summed up as follows:

1. Arsenal showed commanding composure. They did not panic. Defence was rock solid and up high.

2. Midfield shape kept changing but it seems to morph to the occasion so nicely and yet maintain a powerful presence in the middle of the pack. The midfield snuffed up Villareal's style of play and disrupted their delivery system. Riquelme didn't have a chance as a result.

3. Short and powerful passing game - that's a joy to watch and it increased the pace of the game to a level Villareal struggled to cope. Villareal like to build their pace according to their own game plan. By moving so fast right from the beginning, they were shell shocked - you could see it in their players' faces. If we continue this way in the 2nd leg, they won't stand a chance.

4. I do not believe Villareal's defence is that impenetrable. Why we didn't get more goals was not a credit to them but to fluffed chances on our part. Sure they're far more solid than what we'd seen in Juventus and Real but nothing we couldn't do to break apart. We just didn't have the accurate finishing and in some parts of the game, we were a little slow to take that half a chance when given one. I remember watching Eboue moving to the centre. There was that split second he should have unleased from outside the D but his delay allowed Villareal to move in and killed the chance.

5. In my opinion, we should continue to deliver our strikes via others and not just Henry. This will force Villareal to change their focus and give Henry the chance and space. Confusion will reign like it did with Juventus. Hopefully by doing so, Villareal's defence will finally fall apart once it gets stretched totally out of shape.

6. I feel that Bergkamp and van Persie should have been brought in a little earlier. 10 minutes was a tough ask even for a player of Bergie's stature. Maybe 18-20 minutes might have brought on the elusive second goal all of us were yearning so much for.

All in all, the scoreline didn't do Arsenal justice but it was definitely far better than 2-1 or worse 3-2. We take this slender advantage to the Madrigal and I have a quiet streak of confidence that the match will turn out to be any of the following: 0-0, 1-0 to us, 1-1 or we lose 1-2. In any case, some of you fortunate enough can begin to book your tickets to Paris.

4/21/2006 9:41 am

Blogger T said...

A comment worthy of an article Castanet! Excellent analysis, and I agree with your strategy to maintain an attacking emphasis with the aim of scoring a 'counting double' away goal. We are capable of doing this- lets hope we WILL do it and progress to the final.

4/21/2006 10:46 am

Anonymous Nturtle said...

I second that Castanet. Good insightful post. Pls. keep it coming!

4/21/2006 11:16 am

Anonymous Castanet said...

Thanks, t and nturtle. Appreciate your encouragement but if there're things I failed to mention or if my analysis is incorrect, do let me know. It's important that we improve and hone our skills. Hope you agree with me.

4/21/2006 3:03 pm

Blogger Skippy said...

I think this tie is in the balance. Arsenal will need to a keep a clean sheet, if they are to advance. I belive they will.

4/21/2006 3:22 pm

Blogger EL said...

You have a great blogsite but given your propensity to write mostly about arsenal matters I am a bit disappointed not to see an article giving your view (unless you didn't see it) of highbury's last derby and the astonishing behaviour of arsene 'pot' wenger. Also, though you may have discussed it before I'd like to know your thoughts on champions league winners being given the right to defend it irrespective of league position.

4/23/2006 11:44 am

Blogger T said...

Thanks Castanet, Skippy and EL.

Castanet, I take your points on board, but there was nothing inaccurate in your comments that made me feel I had to issue with any of them.

Skippy, I hope you are right mate!

EL, I'll write my comments on yersterday's match when Redsman does his usual review on all the weekend's action. My colleague SKG also posted a short article about Wenger earlier today which you are free to comment on.

RE the right given to Champs league winners to defend irrespective of league position... personally when this rule came in last summer I thought it was a reasonable one.

On the other hand, I don't think the winner's right to take part should come at the price of another club who have met the qualifying conditions. Instead, UEFA should make special dispensation for both to compete as they did with Liverpool and Everton both being allowed to compete this season. I actually thought this was the new position until being informed otherwise a couple of months back.

P.S. EL, if you read this I would also like to say that the Spurs correspondent position on EFT is open so if you are interested get in touch.

4/23/2006 8:45 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

It was a farce before where the FA considered the scenario and made a statement that the winners would go through and 4th place would have to settle for the UEFA Cup. Then when Liverpool emerged into the position of potentially becoming winners and finishing outside of the top four, there was furore that the FA's statement meant Everton would go into the UEFA Cup. UEFA felt compelled to pass the buck to the FA, who then passed it back, withdrawing the statement hastily from their web-site (but not quick enough to avert curious eyes from seeing it) and decided to keep mum about it.

Why UEFA allowed the FA to get away with it is beyond me, but special dispensation was made, though it was said to be, at the time of the decision, a one-off. I believed that in future, as UEFA were not making such an allowance again, the FA would decide, and I understood the FA's stance was the top four teams would go through, the CL winners would have to do without. So I agree with T, special dispensation should be made in such circumstances, as was the Liverpool case. How often would such a scenario occur, only twice in five years so far, and it could happen again in a month's time. I certainly do not agree any of the top four teams should forfeit. Notice little has been mentioned about it, as though we are clear as to what will happen.


4/24/2006 9:17 pm

Blogger EL said...

I've never understood the reasoning behind the belief that the champions league winners must have the right to defend it. I once heard someone say "It's tradition" but the champions league is a relatively new competition and it's entry criteria and structure is different from the old european cup. The whole basis for entry is dependent on a teams' league position during the previous season not how well they've done in europe. I also think it makes the competition more interesting if it's possible to win it whilst failing to re-enter for next year not to mention the whole 'looking after the big clubs' after-taste it leaves in some peoples mouth. Just incase you're wondering, I am a Spurs supporter but I held the same view last year and I supported liverpool in the final.

Having said all that, we haven't finished 4th yet.

4/24/2006 10:10 pm


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