Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fenerbahce v Arsenal, October 23, Champions League

This one in Istanbul contributed seven out of the 34 goals scored across eight games this Champion's League night (Villareal v Aalborg saw nine goals and Steaua v Lyon had eight). As the stats suggest this was not a day for defenders, but even so the 2-5 scoreline shows them in better light than their performance deserved.

Had Fenerbahce (specifically Danny Guiza...pronounced Geetha I he a babe from South India?) punished Arsenal for all their defensive errors like the Gunners did to them, maybe this one would have ended 5-5. But it didn't and Arsenal deserve all the praise for making this one look like a thumping.

This was an entertaining Champions League game. Open, attacking and of course with lots of goals. This was also like our weekend 5-a-side game. Flowing this way and that with only the scoreline at the end being the difference. And so many goals scored that it even that being difficult to keep track of!

I'm not trying to imply that Arsenal were not the better side. They were miles ahead and deserved the win. It was also evident that if the two sides played ten games between themselves, the Gunners would end up winning eight of them as their personnel are so obviously more talented.

But as a team Fener did not look inferior. They passed the ball around equally well and exploited the Arsenal Achilles heel as many times as they suffered the same. The difference was in the finishing. The difference was in the number of players who could make an impact. The difference was in the ability to turn position and possession to goals.

With Song and Silvestre responsible for protecting the goalkeeper and Eboue at right back, the Gunners defence was a question mark and within the first five minutes Almunia had to make a critical save. This will be a toughie I thought...but not for long.

Ninth minute, Fabregas plays that pass from the middle of ht epitch splitting the central defenders, perfect for a striker to run on to. The pass I love to watch. Adebayor gets to it and is easily stronger and faster than the men expected to stop and scores. As soon as the replays get over and we are back to live action, Fabregas does it again. Only this time it's Theo Walcott who receives it, lets a touch take it wide of the diving goalkeeper and with the next touch the ball finds the back of the net. Then a Silvestre own goal gives Fener some hope but in the twenty second minute a long ball is played and Diaby manages to hold off a number of defenders and score!

That to me was Arsenal's strength. It wasn't as if they always had to look out for Adebayor and depend on him to do the job. They had so many guys involved and willing to exploit the situation. By contrast, the Turks seemed to have only Guiza to turn to. Sentruk was trying hard to do some hero support work, but was not in a difference making position often enough when it mattered. And Guiza? Well he was like Luca Toni at Euro 2008. Making life difficult for defenders but not goalkeepers. Yes, Almunia was great. Not just with the blocks and stops but his reading of the situations as well. But it is also true that everytime Guiza got the ball with the defence beaten, his first touch let him down. Never did he manage to get wide like Theo did. When he did score it was off a bouncing ball which was gifted to him by Song. On the grass, his form wasn't smoking!

For the Gunners, it was yet another shuffled line up that delivered. Diaby's performance was outstanding and if the defence was a concern, the attacking potential of the defenders was not. It seems sad that even in the Champions League you have teams with such a mismatch in quality. Player-on-player all Arsenal players were better than their Fener counterparts thought the defenders ran each other close on that one.

A final thought on this one. Arsenal may have won comfortably and will top the group and make it to the next rounds of the Champions League for sure. They also have some very good players. Yet some of them are not finished products. Walcott has some amazing skills but needs to get smarter. Nasri can be more threatening. An interesting situation. If they are so good now, how will they be as they get better? Also if they don't get better soon enough, will Arsenal yet again end up falling just short in the league. For Arsenal, the learning curve cannot be fast enough.

No comments: