As much as we might moan… as much as we might gripe.. as much as we might curse.. 1-1 was a fair result on the whole despite a blunder by Reina in letting in the 89th min Chamakh equalizer after fantastic work by Ngog to open the scoring early in the second half.
Roy Hodgson, in his first EPL game in charge, dished out a surprise by fielding Mascherano despite his impending departure. So much for keeping goods undamaged when they are for sale..
Steel was also added at leftback with Agger assuming the role that he played in the Rabotnicki away game. Johnson, Skrtel and Carra compeleted the back four.
Gerrard was back at his central midfield with Cole up ahead, aiming at Ngog in the centre and Jovanovic and Kuyt at the wings.
Pre-match rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was rousing in line with the expectations… But as business got under way, it was quite clear the youthful Arsenal was not there for the taking. Both sets of defence matched what was thrown at them… but it was the Red attacks that were easier countered compared to the wave of Yellow shirts advancing. Arsenal gained freekicks and corners in rapid succession but to no rewards.
We did enjoy some determined defending in the midle of the park with short passes to one another rather than trying to pick out a wide player and losing the ball. Definitely a change in approach has been our method of defending set-pieces… now it’s man-marking and no more the much-maligned zonal marking of seasons past.
Despite all of Arsenal’s exertions, Reina wasn’t really troubled except for a bullet freekick by Vermaelen. In fact we ended the half on the front foot pegging back the Arsenal defence, especially from a fine run by Johnson and a neat one-two with Kuyt opening the path for a left-footed dipper which Almunia just tipped over. From the resulting corner, Ngog had a header stopped by a Gunner on the line.
In what was to be a straight-forward end to the half, Joe Cole was spotted by the ref Martin Atkinson diving in with a tackle which seemed to take out Koscielny. Harsh ?? If you had the benefit of tv replays, you might think so as Cole had no intent whatsoever as he was not maliciously aiming at the player. In fact, Cole was looking the other way, diving in with the foot (not raised !!) and away from the player !! It was just his follow-through that wrapped round the Frenchman and seemed more malevolent than it should be..
A straight RED.. and what a way to start your EPL career..
BUT what transpired after the break must be someting we RED FANS MUST BE PROUD off !! With a man short, we assumed a concerted rear-guard action to snuff out the Arsenal attacks by again playing intelligently.. tackling, backing up each other, short passes to extricate ourselves from danger. It was helped of course by a moment of genius by Ngog, preceeded by a clever steal by Mascherano with a neat pass for Ngog to claim the glory !!
Oh what an ending it would have been !! Mascherano was certainly playing his heart out, helping in defence and even marauding forward at times.. always chasing, always industrious… We will miss him when he departs..
So it was then a batten-down-the-hatches approach. And when you have Carra, Skrtel and Agger in the box, it’s very hard for anybody to get through. Even if they did, there was Pepe Reina to pull off some incredible saves !! To be fair, he did keep us in the game, or not it would have been worse..
Soon it was time for Torres to make his entry for the goal-hero Ngog. Flashes of speed & guile were rare as there was hardly any passes that came his way. There was one where he was held back by Koscielny who seemed to have “recovered” from what Wenger would term as a Cole “horror tackle”. No freekick but poetic justice was to come later when the French defender picked up a second yellow when the score was tied at 1-1 with 1 minute of added time remaining.
The goal conceded is best consigned into the back recesses of our brain archive… for what we should be proud was how our RED MEN pushed and stood up to the Gunners in the face of numerical disadvantage. Cole’s red card may or may not be rescinded if we do eventually appeal (or not). BUT we have Aquilani ready to step in after being “accorded” a full holiday as he was not even in the squad. Poulsen was in the stands lapping in the scenes… and I’m sure he will be eager to kit on the RED SHIRT and show that he can be an able replacement for Mascherano.
So points shared it is.. with many, many to play for… and a quiet optimism in our RED HEARTS !! YNWA !!
Boo Soon Yew