Ramsey And Song Hit The Right Notes In Arsenal Cruise
Portsmouth 1 – 4 Arsenal
0 – 1 Eduardo (28)
0 – 3 Nasri (42)
0 – 3 Ramsey (68)
1 – 3 Belhadj (73)
1 – 4 Song (81)
2009 finished in the same manner as 2008 with a comfortable victory over Portsmouth, this time the scoreline reflecting Arsenal’s dominance. The hosts had received a winding-up order from HM Revenue and Customs, informing the Premier League of their financial plight beforehand. Little wonder that Richard Scudamore was supportive for on this showing, Portsmouth will cease to be members of the top flight at the season’s end.
Arsenal aspire to greater things. Temporarily elevated to second place ahead of the final whistle at Old Trafford, a permanent opportunity to that placing presents itself next week when Bolton visit The Emirates. By then, the calls for a striker will probably have reached a crescendo despite the squad passing the half century of goals in the Premier League last night.
The sixth game without defeat since Chelsea, the third by a three goal margin. Previous failings of being unable to put ‘smaller’ sides to the sword have been corrected thus far, a run that needs to continue in 2010 for silverware to be nestling on the sideboard in May.
Arsene observed afterwards that his team should be taken seriously as title contenders, mental strength the key to success:
I’m proud of the team because the belief is there and we played like a real team. It was a big game for us tonight. We knew, to keep chasing, it was important to win here.
This win was not the only boost with Cesc a borderline returnee for the home fixture against Everton a week on Sunday, possibly the following week against Bolton, Theo Walcott likewise. It is a similar schedule for Nicklas Bendtner whilst Tomas Rosicky appears to have come through his 20 minute workout unscathed. A shard of sunshine starting to emerge through the injury gloom.
Performance wise, there is little to be critical of last night and much to celebrate. Aside from the goal, Gallas and Vermaelen were excellent, afforded much protection by Diaby, Ramsey and Song. Key to this win though was the team defending as a unit; Portsmouth were unable to replicate the constant pressurising of the Arsenal midfield and attack when the opposition had the ball. Slack defending will be punished when facing the top teams and last night it was received its due reward.
Portsmouth’s opportunities were few and far between. In the opening quarter of an hour, Piquionne forced a save from Almunia, the Spaniard turning the shot aside. Pressure mounted on the home defence through set plays with a number of half chances being shunned. Diaby had a shot saved by Begovic before the stalemate was broken, a fortuitous intervention by Kaboul sent Eduardo’s freekick flying into the corner.
Arsenal controlled the game and the question became not if a win could be achieved but by what margin? Part of the answer arrived three minutes before half-time. Eduardo was allowed time and space, passed calmly to Ramsey whose equally composed pass was despatched into net by Samir Nasri, a deserved reward for his recent performances.
The second half was pretty much as you were. Arsenal controlled, Portsmouth huffed and puffed but rarely looked by blowing the visitors defence in. The third came, a testament to the progress Aaron Ramsey is making. He was outstanding last night and in my view, Man of the Match. He collected the ball midway in the Portsmouth half, moved in field past lax challenges before coming back onto his left foot and burying the shot from 20 yards.
A brief ray of sunshine shone through for the hosts with fifteen minutes to go. A break down the right found Gallas and Vermaelen drawn too close to the goal, ball watching rather than paying attention to the forwards as Belhadj dropped back to fire home via the Belgian’s outstretched leg. A moment of rare slackness that will no doubt be seized upon by those who believe that this team will drop away.
The rout was completed as once more Arsenal were given too much time and space in possession. Song tried to dribble his way through the home defence thwarted as Diaby had been moments earlier. The ball fell kindly to Nasri who with time and space, crossed exactly where Song demanded the ball be put, the Cameroon international leaving the ball in the net with an excellent header, a perfect parting gift.
The win was crucial, dismissing for a while the claims that Arsenal do not have the firepower to win the title. A new striker would allow Arshavin to drop back into his natural position but the Russian is working hard for the team despite not getting his due reward in front of goal as often as his play deserves. Arsene refused to rule out new faces after the match but crucially stressed that he will not panic, looking at all of the options he already has before deciding on whom to spend his money.
A gap is opening to fourth place and below, slowly putting to bed the lie propagated at the start of the season that Arsenal were vulnerable to the new money, the new kids on the block. The gap to the top is closing, putting to bed the lie propagated one month ago that Chelsea were champions, leading a procession to their crown. Time to ensure that doubters are silenced.
Finally, congratulations to Vic Akers on receiving the OBE, richly deserved for his efforts for the Arsenal Ladies and women’s football in general.