Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Diary Of A Pessimistic Arsenal Fan - The Return Of The King

By Shane Thomas


12 minutes away from yet another frustrating FA Cup draw with Leeds United, Thierry Henry scored a timely winning goal to send the Emirates Stadium into raptures. The Arsenal legend's storybook return was the headline of an otherwise sterile encounter in which Simon Grayson's side almost earned themselves a creditable replay.

As expected, Arsenal had the lion's share of possession. But they have been struggling to break sides down with increasing regularity this season, and this affliction persisted last night. Mikel Arteta continued his impressive form by dominating the middle of the pitch, but when the ball was worked towards the penalty area, moves often broke down - with a lacklustre Marouane Chamakh, an erratic Andrey Arshavin, and an enervated Aaron Ramsey all at fault.

There's no doubt that the absences of a rested Robin Van Persie, and an Africa-bound Gervinho exacerbated this, but Arsenal will have to find a viable alternative to break sides down who are content to play for a draw.

As well as Arteta played, his position in front of the back four means that he can construct a platform for attacks, but he needs someone with sufficient devil to make the most of these opportunities. It is a similar dynamic to Andrea Pirlo at Juventus or Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid. The difference is that Pirlo has Claudio Marchisio to get the ball to, while Xabi Alonso can pass to Angel Di Maria. Not only is the need for Jack Wilshere's return ever more urgent, but it's clear that Arsenal will immediately need to him to be firing on all cylinders when he recovers from his injured ankle.

While Leeds passed the ball tidily on occasion, they often resorted to long balls to Luciano Becchio, while hoping for devil from their wide-men, Andros Townsend and Ramon Nunez. In fairness to the Yorkshire team, they were missing Robert Snodgrass due to injury - a player whose talents are worthy of the Premier League. Had the Scottish international been playing, Leeds would surely have carried a greater attacking threat.

The pre-match headlines focused on one man, and it transpired that the post-match headlines would be no different. At times The Emirates resembled a sightseeing tour, with fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Henry - sitting on the bench, warming up, desperate for his involvement. When he lined up on the touchline with Theo Walcott to make his entrance, a fan behind me implored for the Arsenal players to kick the ball out of play, expediting the substitution. You could empathise with the fan as Arsenal looked devoid of ideas, and the match looked to be heading towards a stalemate.

Henry said in the lead-up to the match that he would not be the same record-breaking forward who thrilled Gooners and terrified opposition defences for nearly 10 years. The Frenchman is older, but also smarter; he was only on the ball 5 times in the match, but as critics of the Arsenal style love to state, it doesn't matter how much of the ball you have, but what you do with it that counts. Henry's stylish goal was a perfect illustration of this.

There haven't been many iconic nights in The Emirates's short history; only the 2-1 wins over Manchester United and Barcelona spring to mind, but this was one of them. A night that will go down in the stadium's folklore as an "I was there" night. And it may not be the only time in Henry's short loan spell that he'll be required to have such a positive effect.

ARSENAL (4-3-3)

Szczesny - 7, Coquelin - 7 (Yennaris - 6), Squllaci - 7, Koscielny - 8, Miquel - 6, Song - 7, Arteta - 8, Ramsey - 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain - 6 (Walcott - 6), Chamakh - 5 (Henry - 7), Arshavin - 6

"The Greatest Events in Sporting History" is available to download from www.simplysyndicated.com/shows/sportinghistory/, e-mail us at sportshistoryshow@googlemail.com and you can follow us on Twitter @TGEISH

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