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A Game Apart

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A Game Apart


London Evening Standard



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Oakwood Estates

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Nasri does a Maradona, Bendtner does the trick, Arsenal sink Porto in a storm. High-fives all round for Gooners

SO what do you want to hear about? The Samir Nasri goal that makes Diego Maradona's 1986 effort look timid? The Emmanuel Eboue dream finish which made it 4-0 and left every Arsenal fan dreaming? Or Nicklas Bendtner's first ever professional hat-trick which made it 5-0?
Oh Porto, this wasn't a good night to come across an Arsenal side seeking their first European win from a first leg deficit for 31 years. In the end it wasn't just a first Champions League comeback, it was an apocalypse wow.
The Portuguese visitors, who relied on two bizarre Arsenal blunders to win 2-1 at the Stadeo da Dragao, were completely outplayed for the first half-hour.
Andrei Arshavin's little legs left them bemused, Alex Song didn't miss a tackle or a pass, Tomas Vermaelen and Sol Campbell were imperious at the back.
And of course there was Nicklas Bendtner, after five glaring misses against Burnley on Saturday, to stick away the first two goals and get Arsenal to half-time on a wonderful high. Bendtner had the goalkeeper stretching as he sought a hat-trick, Arshavin missed a glorious chance of his own. Any Porto in a storm? And all this without the spine of the team: William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were up with the 60,000 in the stands.
Ruud Gullit said at half-time he was worried Arsene Wenger's wonderboys couldn't sustain the pace. To an extent he was right. But just when Gooners were beginning to worry, Nasri - having saved a Porto header off the line at one end - produced the Mardona goal. He jinked his way through four defenders - clean around the outside of one of them - and stuck the ball in off the far post from the narrowest of angles.
The roars had barely died down when, 150 seconds later, Gael Clichy''s headed clearance reached Arshavin, who ran 50 yards before releasing the ever-popular sub Eboue. One of 13 children from the Ivory Coast, popular in the dressing-room and increasingly talismanic outside it, Eboue took a touch past the keeper and stuck it away with his left foot. Game over. What a night.
By the time sub Theo Walcott, the subject of my delirious preview, emerged, it was all over. Andy Gray was reduced to claiming the Portuguese League is rubbish, neatly overlooking Porto's Champions League success with Jose Mourinho in 2003. As he came off, Nasri took a standing ovation. And when Eboue was felled for the last-minute penalty (wish we had this ref every week) up stepped Nicklas Bendtner for his first-ever hat-trick. Bosh!
Bendtner said afterwards: "Today I put it right. Every time I play a game I put it behind me. The Burnley game was forgotten. It was good for me to score early.
"I haven't seen Andrey win a header before, so it was good for my first ball. I didn't know you get to keep the ball for a hat-trick!
"When we got the penalty, all the guys just wished me luck."
Wenger said: "Bendtner shows how quickly football can change but I hope he doesn't get too confident! I hope it gives him the desire to work even harder.
"Maybe it's good for us to play an English team in the quarter-final. We haven't done well against Chelsea and Manchester United this season, I have a funny feeling it would be a good opportunity we can do it against them."
Graeme Souness chose to inform us that the tackling was poor for Nasri's wondergoal, but he wouldn't last five minutes in the current card-happy climate.
It was a goal to wonder at, a goal which will be watched for years to come. Shut it Souey. Forget it Gray. For one night only, Arsenal are the best team on the planet. End of.

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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Perhaps, Arsene, you should try buying a striker before the Chelsea game. Manchester United might appreciate it.

NEXT time Arsenal play Manchester United, it might be a good idea to use a striker. And find a better midfielder than Denilson. There are several in my local Sunday League.
The Gunners' 3-1 defeat at the Emirates, their first in the League to Sir Alex Ferguson's men at their new ground, was even worse than Andy Murray's straight sets defeat against Roger Federer in the Australian Open this morning.
At least Murray showed a bit of spirit, a bit of fight. Arsenal, like Murray, will no doubt be hoping they have a bit of youth on their side, and consoling themselves that Gooners have suffered five years of trophyless hurt rather than the 74 years Britain has waited for a tennis Grand Slam.
In truth, though Murray wept following his defeat, the future is bright for the young Scotsman. For Arsenal, they've got Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next.
And what have they done so far in the transfer window? Persuaded Sol Campbell to return, so he can attract any possible new investors in his veteran talents. Is that really all they can afford? Do you think that's good enough for all those season ticket holders paying thousands to see their side humiliated by United?
Wenger, ever the spendthrift, sold Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City amid veiled threats to buy a new striker. But even with Robin van Persie injured and Eduardo struggling to recover his form after that awful ankle injury last season, he has done nothing. Scrooge sits over his candle every night counting the gold pieces while the silverware slips away.
Today we had Nicklas Bendtner coming on when the pint-sized Andrie Arshavin had been muscled out of it again and again. Oh, and Theo Walcott. The pace of a greyhound, the touch of poodle.
In the end, William Gallas, one of the few with real spirit, was up front trying to get another goal back. And he very nearly did. Shows what a positive attitude might have achieved today.
Thank God Cameroon didn't stay to the end of the African Nations Cup in Angola. Without Alex Song, Arsenal would have been over-run.
As it was, that uniquely awful midfield trio of Denilson, Amir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky contrived to produce absolutely nothing between them.
When Wayne Rooney broke away to score his goal, Denilson saw him coming and just let him run past. Glorious. Elsewhere, things are little better. Spanish beachboy Manuel Almunia managed to turn Nani's cross into his own net, but only after the Portuguese under-achiever had been given a real confidence boost by the fumbling - and lack of pace - of the once-competent Gael Clichy.
Cesc Fabregas did little and looked like he was dreaming of Barcelona, Arshavin had no chance on his own, Gallas and Tomas Vermaelen - who will claim the deflected Arsenal consolation - might be worth a place in a top three Premier League club. Song was the Top Gun. Those five aside, the rest could be replaced by decent, British-born Conference players. At least they'd give a damn. At least they'd put in a tackle. At least they'd give it some for their £60,000-a-week.
Forget Nasri, Rosicky, Clichy, Sagna and particularly Denilson. These men will never win a Premier League title, as they will prove once more against Chelsea next week. Wenger has just over 24 hours to sign a decent striker. He should be thinking about a couple of midfielders too, though why he didn't try Aaron Ramsay and let Luke Wilshere go to Bolton on loan, who knows?
Couldn't we get David Bentley back, Arsene? Or one of the other many young Englishmen you sucked the life out of before replacing them with lacklustre foreigners?
Sure, third place looms again. And perhaps a Champions League quarter-final, if we're lucky.
But having seen Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Mathieu Flamini, Thierry Henry, Gilberto Silva, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure go, Sol Campbell doesn't quite cut it as a sole replacement.
Wenger said afterwards: "We were poor defensively. We were punished. We made massive individual mistakes. It's a disappointment for us. We were poor, we know we can do much better for that. Give us some time to analyse that.
"It's our job not to feel sorry for ourselves. When you're completely off the mark, it's difficult."
He avoided the question when asked if Chelsea was now a must-win. And when Sky asked him if he was planning a late swoop in the January transfer window, it was a straightforward: "No."
The agony. You're a great manager Wenger, but a stubborn cuss. Spend some money. Find us a striker and a goalkeeper. And get rid of Denilson. The fans have spoken.
Sir Alex? He was understandably happy with a stroll against the Gunners. And he grinned: "We'd like them to go and hammer Chelsea at the Bridge."
But he knows it won't happen. It's a two-horse race. Again.

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