Game 22: Saturday 10 January 1998
Arsenal 2 - 1 Leeds United
(Half-time: 0 - 0)
Referee: G R Ashby (Worcester)
|« Oxford United
|Sheffield Wednesday »
|Martyn, Kelly, Haaland (Molenaar 21), Radebe, Wetherall, Wallace (Lilley 88), Ribeiro, Bowyer (Hasselbaink 53), Halle, Kewell, Maybury
|Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Wright, Bergkamp, Overmars, Keown, Parlour, Petit
|Anelka, Manninger, Grimandi, Boa Morte, Hughes
|Overmars 60, 72
|Shirt numbers of goalscorers
|Arse! Feck! Drink!
|View from the North Bank
|George's script is rewritten
|Overmars takes battle honours
|The Sunday Times
|Overmars throws spanner in Graham's defensive work
|The Electronic Telegraph
|Arsenal over moon thanks to Overmars
|Links to Reports on the net
|Soccernet match report
|Carlingnet match report
Leeds started out with a formation looking something like:
Martyn Maybury Wetherall Radebe Halle Haaland Kelly Bowyer Ribeiro Wallace Kewell
and it looked like we might be in with a chance against Arse's lumbering and aging back line. With 2 minutes gone, Bowyer's through-ball sprung Wallace through the offside trap that was to make most of the rest of the afternoon such a bore. Wallace was clean through on goal with almost no pressure from the defence....and as I'm sure you've read by now, seemed to hit the ball into the ground and in a straight line at David Seaman.
Still - all's not lost, right? A good chance like that after 2 minutes is heartening and the ref showed admirable blindness for a foul on Winterburn in the Leeds area after - but he'd already endured 20 minutes of whining and moaning from Bergkamp and the despicable Parlour, so he could be forgiven for failing to realise that this time they weren't just complaining out of gamesmanship. A further dive by Bergkamp should have been punished by a booking - and about then, the game started to turn.
Haaland went in for a tackle, committed as ever, and ended up being helped off. It now looks like he'll be out for 6 weeks with a broken bone in his foot. Pull away the keystone, and the whole edifice comes crashing down. The substitution of Molenaar for Haaland was more than a little puzzling. Breaking up the Wetherall/Radebe partnership and pushing Lucas into a midfield role he is clearly less than comfortable with seemed a strange decision, particularly when Ian Harte was on the bench and could have slotted into left back, leaving Halle to make the switch. All of a sudden, we didn't have a midfield. Kelly went missing for the rest of the game; Bruno stayed out on the left wing (but made a couple of good tackles chasing back); Bowyer appeared a couple of times in a forward role, but could only produce a Wallace impersonation when the second-best chance of the half fell at his feet. We were effectively playing a 5-1-3 formation now, with Radebe not getting forward, Ribeiro as a nominal attacker and Kelly missing, presumed waiting for a free transfer at the end of the season.
And then the fun really started. It was as if Wilko was back with us as a masterly tactic was played to full effect. I am, of course, talking about knocking long high balls for Wallace to be hopelessly outjumped by the Arsenal centre-backs. Yep, after all this time, we've still not learnt from our mistakes.
I guess we could claim a moral draw here - after all, we only conceded one goal - it's just that we conceded it twice. With no midfield protection, Overmars twice ran diagonally at the defence, looked up in amazement when he realised he'd reached the edge of the penalty area and fired home 2 good shots. If Martyn could have taken partial blame for one of them, he redeemed himself with 2 world-class back-pedalling saves (producing applause from David Seaman at the other end of the pitch), one from Wetherall's deflection off Parlour's shot, the other from Ian Wright's 30-yard chip as the defence again sought to commit suicide.
In between the Arse goals, we once again proved we can score class goals when we want to. Wallace broke down the left, beat the defender 3 times and stayed on his feet to deliver a cross-shot that Seaman could only knock away to the feet of Jimmy.
This wasn't the greatest, most battling performance we're ever going to see by a Leeds side, but the tactical genius of GG must be severely called into question here. Most puzzling of all was the decision to sub Wallace with 90 seconds remaining: what the hell did he think Lilley was going to do in the time left? Or maybe he was just trying to waste a bit of time. And what does Ian Harte have to do to get a game.
The most worrying thing was the total lack of confidence on the ball displayed by the Leeds defence (with the occasional exception of Halle). They've got to learn to move, make space and distribute the ball with more self-belief otherwise we'll continue to fall short when it matters.
MOTM was definitely Nige, with creditable mentions to Halle and Jimmy - who was the only player who looked like he could unsettle Arsenal's organised calm.
Oh well, it was a good (couple of) list meets anyway....
I went with my cousin who lives within walking distance of Highbury and is an Arsenal fan. He got me the ticket. It never occured to me that we would be in the North Bank sat among the Gunner Neanderthals. I was sat next to some nutter who I'm certain had clocked me as a Gods fan as my cousin kept asking me obscure questions about where Molenaar came from and who Derek Lilley was, things like that. Anyway my accent made me a marked man, and I wasn't going to spend ninety minutes with a stupid Dick Van Dyke cockney twang.
Anyway, the thing next to me starts giving a load of 'Leeds scum' and 'dirtest bastard team we've ever played' stuff and his mates start joining in and I'm starting to get a bit worried half way through the second half. I realise that, although it seemed unlikely at the time, we might just score and I would have to remain still and quiet. Just as I'm sure that my self control will not need to be tested, Jimmy goes and taps it in. I didn't move a muscle. I bit the inside of my cheek as I felt the glare of the mob next to me. But then the attention shifted to some brave Gods fan who was about three rows below me who had lept up and done exactly what I had been trying to avoid. The North Bank went beserk, standing up and shouting 'Leeds fan' and'get him out'. About a dozen coppers appeared from nowhere and there was a bit of a scuffle and the hero was ejected. I did wonder if it was John Boocock's brother who had managed to get a ticket after all, but in the wrong end. Since when has it been an offence to be an away fan in the home end? You hear racist abuse and there's never the law anywhere near. One poor lad gets a bit excited and he's out on his ear.
Anyway, Overmars (who looked very ordinary all afternoon until our defence invited him to have a couple of unchallanged runs at goal) restored the good humour of the North Bank and I got out in one piece. I would still much rather had seen the Gods win and had to talk my way out of a good hiding.
I was right behind the goal when Wallace missed that chance. It really was the worst strike you can imagine. Nope, it didn't bobble, yes he had all the time in the world; it was really, really gruesome. Bowyers chance was much harder and at least he got it on target. Harry looked a bit out of sorts and even when he had a run at goal it always ended up going nowhere. It looked at half time as if GG had decided that two reasonable chances were all we were going to get so we should go for the point. I was a bit bemused by the tactics. It seemed that Harry and Wallace up front are only going to ever get any joy from balls coming through on the ground and them timing the runs well enough to spring the offside trap. The best ball through would come on the diagonal. Belting the ball over the top was made for the Arse defence to clear up every time, and Belting the ball on to Rodder's head was a bit embarrasing as Keown wasn't even bothering to jump and was winning it clean everytime. Giving Harry and Wallace the ball to feet was an idea, but if there are not going to be anyone from midfield coming to support(as there wasn't), then that wasn't going to achieve much. I couldn't see what the thinking was. Even when Jimmy came on, when we at least had some one who could win headers (or at least flatten the defender when losing them) we were still pumping the ball up for the Plonker to do his worst. My cousin reckoned that Molenaar was our best player, but this might be because I said he was a bit suspect and that GG had only bought him because of these coaching badges he's got. We thought it would be a good idea if he had them sewn onto his shirt like you used to do with those 50M swimming awards and trunks.
When Martyn ran out of his area, had the ball at his feet and Wright ran in to challenge him. Nige sold him this outragous dummy that Wright bought completely and cleared the ball. Wright obviously felt a bit stupid because he got up and did another exagerated dive into the corner, which although it got a laugh was a bit pathetic really because essentially while he can give out plenty he's not prepared to take it. There didn't seem to be any love lost between Martyn and Wright, which is strange since they are both in the England set up, but maybe it's just that Wrighty is bonkers.
Saw a minibus not far from the ground with "Adelphi van hire" on the side and 'United rentals' on the back.
I'm afraid Graham wanted victory against his old club so badly that he completely lost it. The decision to drop Molenaar for Daft Alfi I could understand, but dropping the currently prolific Jimmy for the hapless Wallace defied logical analysis. Indeed, the folly of this move was exposed in the first few minutes when the Plonker was put clear by a Bowyer through ball and he tamely scuffed it straight to Seaman.
The loss of Daft Alfi may indeed have upset our formation, but the inescapable fact is that Arsenal were simply far more competent at playing "football" (y'know, that passing and moving stuff) than we are. Our execution of the basics of modern football was often so inept that you have to wonder what the hell the first team does in training all week - probably run up and down big bloody hills with rucksacks full of breeze blocks. Our passing was at best haphazard, but far worse was our Stephen-Hawking-like movement. We simply seemed unaware, unable or unwilling to give the player in possession an easy option or two, leading to yet more aimless hoofs in the general direction of the Arsenal goal.
I'm afraid a team can only get so far on team spirit and running around the pitch like loons (as Leicester have found out). Over a full season quality (or, in our case, a desparate lack of it) will tell. I still think that we will be _very_ lucky to get a UEFA place, especially now that quite a few of our players seem to have had a collective dip in form. Unless we buck our ideas up sharply, Rustbelt Weds will have no trouble returning to the shitty part of Yorkshire with all three points on Saturday.
Picture this scene. The ball is drifting nowhere and Robert Molenaar whacks a clearance deliberately against Marc Overmars and into touch. Well, there was nothing else on.
All this in the name of Premier League entertainment. Just as it seemed as if the only beauty discernible at Highbury was the powder-pink sunset above the stadium, Overmars produced a rare moment of delight with a dynamic goal. One-nil to the Arsenal' The irony would not have been lost on George Graham.
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