Today's goodplaya:


Latest Updates:

11 MAY 2005

Arsenal v Everton: Gunners in red at Highbury for the very last time

09 MAY 2005

Arsenal 3 Liverpool 1: Men and boy against boys as Cesc runs show. Report + playa ratings

08 MAY 2005

Arsenal v Liverpool: Gunners wear red at Highbury for second last time

04 MAY 2005

Liverpool v Chelsea: A Gooner's perspective

03 MAY 2005

Very late Arsenal v West Brom report + playa ratings

02 MAY 2005

Revealed: Arsenal and Chelsea ARE affected by each other’s performances + West Brom preview

30 APRIL 2005

So, another season without retaining the league

26 APRIL 2005

Henryless Arsenal still thrill. Report + playa ratings

25 APRIL 2005

Spurs preview and that Rooney goal

21 APRIL 2005

Super Pires, Lauren + Cesc earn deserved point at Chelsea. Report + Playa ratings.

20 APRIL 2005

Chelsea preview and no Savage charge

19 APRIL 2005

Arsenal can take it up ‘em + Blackburn only copied Lancashire cousins

17 APRIL 2005

Vieira leads us to another cup final

15 APRIL 2005

Jermaine Pennant: I'm not buying it

12 APRIL 2005

Interesting Cole quotes and FA Cup Semi-Finals

11 APRIL 2005

Goodplaya at Boro v Arsenal: report, analysis + playa ratings.

7 APRIL 2005

Arsenal actually better off scoring one goal rather than two

4 APRIL 2005

Henry hits 181, I live in Newcastle and competition time

2 APRIL 2005

Gilberto and some guy called Henry return.

31 MARCH 2005

David Rocastle four years on

30 MARCH 2005

Freddie not to quit, Aliadiere may do, Edu probably will and England

29 MARCH 2005

Freddie to retire? Aliadiere and England to win the WOrld Cup

25 MARCH 2005

The Ashley Cole saga. Yawn.

21 MARCH 2005

Let's not lose the league at Chelsea

19 MARCH 2005

Blackburn and early kick offs: very popular this spring

13 MARCH 2005

Arsenal defeat dirty, diving, dour Bolton

11 MARCH 2005

The fallout from elimination: where Arsenal stand now

09 MARCH 2005

Arsenal 1 (2) Bayern 0 (3)

08 MARCH 2005

Arsenal v Bayern

05 MARCH 2005

Owen linked with Arsenal, striking choices + Pompey preview

02 MARCH 2005

Arsenal battle, roll up sleeves and deservedly win on penalties

01 MARCH 2005

You’ve still got to tackle, you’ve still got to close down, but lads, we must watch our bahaviour

27 FEBRUARY 2005

Van Persie, pushing the ref and why Arsenal must be more like Phil Neville

25 FEBRUARY 2005

So how much is Patrick Vieira really to blame?

23 FEBRUARY 2005

Why did Arsene play four out-and-out attackers in Munich?

22 FEBRUARY 2005

Do we need to score twice in Munich tonight?

20 FEBRUARY 2005

Arsenal conceded a goal direct from a throw-in

19 FEBRUARY 2005

Good game: Bergkamp lets himself down, Arsenal battle and Sheff United equalise.

18 FEBRUARY 2005

Merson, Keane, the foreign 16 and a wee bit about Sheffield United

15 FEBRUARY 2005

Arsenal 5 Palace 1: Our season in a nutshell + playa ratings

13 FEBRUARY 2005

Reyes, Henry, Arsene on political science and all foreigners are divers

9 FEBRUARY 2005

Warning: update contains references to an England friendly. Viewers may find some scenes disturbing.

8 FEBRUARY 2005

Ferguson's comical headbutt defence + the Cole saga part 967.

6 FEBRUARY 2005

Bergkamp's assist up their with his greatest moments and just what is the Ashley Cole story?

4 FEBRUARY 2005

Don't boo Edu

2 FEBRUARY 2005

The United game, their shocking disciplinary record and our defence (or lack of it)

1 FEBRUARY 2005

No time for touchy feely refereeing

30 JANUARY 2005

Mike Riley: Extends arm; awards Arsenal penalty

29 JANUARY 2005

Pre Wolves update

27 JANUARY 2005

A new goodplaya, goodbye Edu, Truss fuss and Toure banned

26 JANUARY 2005

Why SKY had every right to sack Rodney Marsh

24 JANUARY 2005

We used to watch football played like that.

17 JANUARY 2005

Press unbiased in Fergie/Wenger incident and do we put too many forwards on?

16 JANUARY 2005

Bolton,our defence, Paddy and injuries

15 JANUARY 2005

Desperate Fergie kicks bucket on eve of Wenger tribute

10 JANUARY 2005

Race to be next Arsenal right back kicks off

08 JANUARY 2005

What actually went wrong in last season's FA Cup?

06 JANUARY 2005

Big players have poor games

01 JANUARY 2005

Excellent goals in Valley victory + playa ratings

31 DECEMBER 2004

Edu seemingly off (again), team news + no league reds in 2004

30 DECEMBER 2004

Arsenal bad, Newcastle worse

29 DECEMBER 2004

Fixture list doing Arsenal no favours, Newcastle team news + Fergie

26 DECEMBER 2004

Guess what? Henry and Pires scored in 2-0 win.

24 DECEMBER 2004

Goodplaya.com Christmas message: Ever gone unbeaten?

23 DECEMBER 2004

Cole, Edu and Pennant - contracts, contracts, contracts

22 DECEMBER 2004

Not much except the pathetic fine for the Spanish FA

21 DECEMBER 2004

Brazil coach voted for Ruud and the Vieira debate

20 DECEMBER 2004

Are we giving United/Chelsea a defensive head start?

19 DECEMBER 2004

Hard fought 1-0 victory at Pompey: feels good.

17 DECEMBER 2004

Update: Champions League draw

17 DECEMBER 2004

Wenger fined, Edu looking more optimistic and £45 for Charlton

16 DECEMBER 2004

Why Van Nistelrooy can only cheat people

15 DECEMBER 2004

What's really going on with Edu? + Aliadiere hits the comeback trail

14 DECEMBER 2004

'What Ron said': A review

13 DECEMBER 2004

Unsure what Chelsea are moaning about + spare a thought for Freddie

13 DECEMBER 2004

Impassioned Pires, Henry, Cesc and Flamini halt Chelsea juggernaut

12 DECEMBER 2004

Edu 'changes mind'/Yaya Toure + final Chelsea preview

11 DECEMBER 2004

A bit of maths for Mr Mourinho

10 DECEMBER 2004

Do we have to do to Chelsea what United did to us?

09 DECEMBER 2004

Our reward for finishing top: Madrid, Barca, Germany's top two or the European Champions.

07 DECEMBER 2004

Very young Arsenal march through + playa ratings.

07 DECEMBER 2004

Tonight is a bigger game than Chelsea.

05 DECEMBER 2004

Wenger told almost whole team to improve. Did they?

01 DECEMBER 2004

Defeat with dignity and classic Old Trafford hypocrisy.

Arsenal 7 Everton 0

Sadly I won't have the time to write a proper report on the game until Thursday night at the earliest. But suffice to say, it was a true a joy to watch.

And maybe I was wrong about Bergkamp's time being up.

11 MAY 2005 07:20 BST

Arsenal v Everton: Gunners wear red at Highbury for the very last time

Second place became a mathematical certainty last night after Chelsea’s 3-1 victory at Man United. Of course it does not make amends for not winning the league but this is the eighth season in a row we have finished in the top two and the third out of four we have finished ahead of United.

I also think it was very important psychologically to finish above them. Winning the FA Cup would be great, but it is ultimately not much more than a one off occasion. But as for coming second, we realised about seven games ago that Chelsea were going to win the league and us and United would be in a direct fight to finish runners-up. We started about two points behind them but have remained strong and got what we deserve.

Moving on to tonight, for the second time in four days we welcome a team in celebratory mood to Highbury. Everton will be flying high and will feel they have nothing to lose – a loss at Highbury is hardly a disaster but a win or draw would help show they can mix it with the big boys.

As for the team news, Thierry Henry and Freddy Ljungberg are welcome returnees and should be involved at some stage. As I suggested before the West Brom game it also looks like Sol Campbell will get some action before the cup final and he too could be involved tonight.

Edu is also likely to come in for the injured Gilberto and Flamini is back in the squad after injury. It will be interesting to see who Henry is paired with if he does start. I have a little hunch Pires could be rested, putting Reyes out left and Henry and Van Persie up front. Just a hunch. Nothing more.

The most interesting news going round at the moment is that Lyon coach Paul le Guen has stepped down and could be poised for a move to Highbury where he could be groomed as Wenger’s successor. Not that I even want to think about a new boss (I’d have to completely rework the theme of the site) but if we are lining up someone who has just helped Lyon to four league titles on the spin, that sounds good to me.

And finally, tonight is of course the very last time that Arsenal will wear their famous red shirts at Highbury.

...

09 MAY 2005 08:05 BST

Arsenal 3 Liverpool 1: Men and boy against boys as Cesc runs show. Report + playa ratings

A funny game where we were excellent from about the 10th minute until half time, by which time a Pires free-kick and Reyes goal left us 2-0 up. Then we conceded a half fluke, half poorly defended free-kick and for much of the rest of the game found ourselves under the cosh from a Liverpool side who grew and grew in confidence.

They were helped in my opinion by us allowing them far too much time on the ball to pick their passes. We weren’t closing down enough and because of that Liverpool were able to pick far too many holes through our midfield. That said, they never came all that close to equalising.

Then in stoppage time we scored a well worked third through Fabregas, ensuring Everton fourth place and meaning we can only lose out on second to United through goal difference.

A few thoughts on the game: We produced some really excellent first half football and showed that even without Henry and Bergkamp we are still capable of flowing beautifully. Cesc was absolutely excellent – he ran the show.

The second goal was very funny – faced by an onrushing Reyes, Carragher fell over in exactly the same way he had when Henry had scored against Liverpool last year. Sadly there was no Steven Gerrard to fall into this time.

Liverpool would not have scored if we did not have this infuriating habit of turning our backs on the ball when someone looks like they are about to hit a hard shot. Had Cesc been facing front on to Gerrard’s shot he would have been able to see it coming at him and get a firm leg in the way of it. These guys are paid a lot of money – enough to warrant taking the odd ball in the face.

The way Liverpool got back into the game was a little worrying. They played well, but we gave them far too much time on the ball. Rather than bring on Bergkamp, who frankly does very little chasing, a full of beans Aliadiere might have been the wiser choice.

But still, a deserved win and second place is within touching distance.

Playa ratings to the right.

...

08 MAY 2005 13:05 BST

Gunners wear red at Highbury for second last time

Next season is going to bring a lot of lasts at Highbury:

The last game, the last league game, the last cup game, the last European game (hurrah), the last Spurs game, the last night game, the last Saturday 3pm game etc etc.

And Wednesday night against Everton will be a poignant last too. For the final time, the team will do something that we have taken completely for granted for as long as we have watched Arsenal.

We will play Highbury in red for the very last time. And today we will play during the day at Highbury in red for the very last time.

Which has probably got most readers saying: “And?” But to me it seems a little eerie that after today we will never see that great combination of us in perfect red, the pitch perfect spring green and the end of season sun casting a long shadow across the old ground.

Obviously this assumes that Highbury gets sun this afternoon and not the enormous hail stones that have battered Newcastle this weekend.

Incidentally, I’m not particularly against the blackcurrant kit next season. At the very least it marks a genuine attempt by the board to embrace the history of the club and what it means to leave Highbury. Changing the kit might not be spot on but it looks like an honest effort.

And one thing you realise living up here in Newcastle is that we actually are a very well run club. Things are so bad here that the team won’t even be doing a lap of honour after their final home game next week. Apparently it turned into a farce last year because half the fans had left before it and some of those who did choose to stay started booing certain players. Classic.

Anyway, back on today’s game and the team news looks unchanged from Monday at West Brom. Myles Palmer writes a good piece on ANR about how we might struggle to break Liverpool down – and he could well be right.

So patience might be the key. And if we can beat them then we are all but guaranteed second place thanks to West Brom getting a point at Old Trafford. Speaking of which, did anyone else see Kanu firstly, running and secondly, defending?

...

04 MAY 2005 19:40 BST

Liverpool v Chelsea: A Gooner's perspective

Laugh? I nearly cried.

Forgive me while I don't shed tears over Chelsea's inability to dump England's fifth best team out of Europe.

Finally, the notion that Jose Mourinho had master minded some kind of European miracle at Stamford Bridge this season can be thrown out the door. Against Barca they blagged their way through thanks to Carvallho fouling the keeper. In Munich they benefited from a horrifically deflected Frank Lampard goal before being outplayed comprehensively. In both ties, neither opposition looked like they had spent five minutes thinking about how to defend against Chelsea.

How we as Arsenal fans would have loved to have come up against the Bayern defence that went to Stamford Bridge intent on conceding cheap goal after cheap goal. Instead we got one of scroungiest outfits I have ever seen at Highbury and only won on the night through an undefendable Henry goal. And all the while Chelsea were being hailed as European experts, a sharp contrast with the alleged chokers of N5.

But in 180 minutes against Liverpool they failed to score once, a feat they have now achieved ten times this season (compared to just four for Arsenal). In the second leg they only ever came close from a classic Liverpool goal-keeping howler in the last minute and a vicious Lampard free-kick that owed everything to Carvallho illegally charging the Liverpool wall out the way.

And then they had the cheek to complain about a goal which had it not stood would have resulted in a red card and a penalty. Indeed Liverpool deserved the goal for no other reason than Baros had knocked the ball past Cech and would have scored had he not been fouled.

Had Chelsea won this year's Champions League they would have acquired a form of footballing immortality and a deity not in keeping with their true performance this season. As I have acknowledged before, they undoubtedly deserved to win the title this season. But they have not so far shown themselves to be an outfit worthy of what is wrongly seen as the ultimate accolade.

The fact is the Champions League is often not a scientific measure of who is Europe's best team. But most years the winners are good enough that they can lay claim to that title without widespread ridicule.

If Liverpool do do it it will count as an extraordinary achievement and it is one that I will be shouting them on towards. But hell, Liverpool are not the best team on Merseyside, let alone Europe and very few will mistake them for it. We know they are not the best, their players know it and the very wise Rafa Benitez knows it.

But had Mourinho fumbled his way to a third European title in as many years the end of it would never have been heard. He is a man with undoubted talents but is equally one until last night had looped every loop on the rollercoaster of European fortune without falling off.

Now, if Liverpool would kindly revert to league form on Sunday...

...

02 MAY 2005 07:30 BST

Very late West Brom v Arsenal report + playa ratings

A gratifying if slightly strange 2-0 win at the Hawthorns last night courtesy of goals from Robin Van Persie and then Edu in the last minute of stoppage time.

We seemed to adopt a very deliberate policy of letting our hosts expand all their energy early on while we waited our turn and then pounced later in the game. It meant that we played at a slightly lower gear than usual. And as I feel is normally happens when we play things a bit slower, we became complacent and tend to be less coherent.

Indeed, with the exception of a ten minute spell before half time, we were not really very good at all for the first hour or so of the game. Even if West Brom were to tire, I thought we looked like we had very little chance of fashioning a goal.

And then the inevitable happened. Out of nothing Reyes turned smartly, fed Van Persie and he fired in beautifully from 20 yards. The suddenness and beauty of it all was so Arsenal and I had once again been reminded how we just seem to have this amazing goal scoring knack.

From then on, things went pretty much according to plan. They tired, we had the odd chance to seal it and then we finally did deep in stoppage time when Bergkamp sent his fellow sub Edu away and he finished cooly off the keeper.

So the moan I was planning about us not wanting it enough has been shot down in flames. That said, I still feel we are at our best (specifically against lower teams) when we go full throttle on the attack.

A word about West Brom. They may have been relatively unattacking in formation but they worked incredibly hard and tried to play some decent football at times. We were constantly being pressed and never had a second on the ball. But their approach was an honest, fair one. They didn't need to resort to deliberate fouling to make thigns difficult for us. Take note Blackburn and Bolton.

Playa ratings to the right.


02 MAY 2005 07:30 BST

Revealed: Arsenal and Chelsea ARE affected by each other’s performances + West Brom preview

Goodplaya can reveal that we have been officially screwed by fixture scheduling this season.

Well, maybe we have only partially been screwed, but Chelsea have had it very easy in one sense.

Bored in part by us not having played, I realised that the same thing happens every weekend. Chelsea play first, win, and never have to play catch-up on us, like we always seem to with them. My theory was that playing first allows teams to perform without the pressure of worrying either what the opponents are up to or what they will get up to.

Well this is what the figures show: by the end of the season, Chelsea would have played before us 19 times, us before them 11 times and 8 times we would have played at the same point. So, I was right to think we are more often than not playing catch-up.

How Arsenal have performed in these games does not tell us very much (except that we do crap when we play at the same time as the Blues), but Chelsea’s stats are very interesting.

They have an extraordinary record when they have played first – 16 wins and 1 draw from the 17 games – an average of 2.88 points a game. But in their other 18 games they have suffered a defeat and 6 draws and accrued just 2.2 points a game. That would translate to them having just 76 points now (2 more than us) and having played a game more.

I know statistics can prove anything but it seems Chelsea clearly favour playing first and they have been lucky enough to have a very kind fixture list in that regard. That said, as I’ve said a few times before, they have been the best team and clearly deserve to be Champions.

Now onto the point of how both sides perform when playing at the same time. From the 14 games played concurrently (7 each), between them the two sides have managed just 24 points from 42 – which would be 65 over the season and a 4th or 5th placed finish. Of course a larger study would need to be undertaken, but it suggests that even at the highest level teams can be put off by worrying about the performance of opponents.

Tonight

As far as the West Brom game goes, I expect Campbell to get some action before long so that he is ready if called upon for the cup final. But maybe it won’t be tonight. With Freddy still injured and Edu fit, will Cesc stay on the right or will the Brazilian come in and go left with Pires in Cesc’s spot? And up front will we stay with Reyes and Van Persie or will Dennis (or even Aliadiere) get a start? I suspect Reyes and Van Persie.

One final note. Did you see Lampard and Terry singing Roman Abramovich’s name in front of their fans on Saturday? Not that I have anything against two very, very good players, but that simply said it all. Sheer class. Not.


30 APRIL 2005 21.25 BST

So, another season without retaining the league

Call me a pedant, but winning the title at Anfield, Old Trafford or White Hart Lane just seems that little bit classier. After all, singing: “We won the league, at the Reebok, against Fat Sam” does not work in any way.

That said, there can be few complaints about the Chelsea team that have won the league. They may have lacked the swagger of our title wins, but they have been amazingly consistent and if you were to draw up a team of the season drawn from the Arsenal and Chelsea squad, the truth is it would be dominated by the Blues.

So once again we have failed to retain our title. But rather than wallowing in disappointment I think we should reflect on just what an extraordinary achievement is was to win the title unbeaten against an already filthy rich Chelsea and a good United side, whilst hardly spending anything ourselves.

It may be Chelsea’s first title in 50 years but what we did last season was a far greater achievement. Where as Chelsea’s victory should not come as any great surprise, our feat was never expected. And talking of going unbeaten, thanks should go to Manchester City for making sure that achievement remains solely ours.

West Brom preview Sunday night/ Monday morning. Probably.


26 APRIL 2005 20.40 BST

Henryless Arsenal still thrill. Report + playa ratings

This was an infinitely better game than the 5-4 earlier in the season. Spurs were a far more coherent and disciplined unit that has improved all over the pitch under Martin Jol. And we, on the whole, had sorted out our defence.

The last two games have shown us that even without Thierry Henry we are very dangerous up front. The passing of earlier in the season appears to have returned and the likes of Van Persie, Reyes and the magnificent as ever Fabregas revelled in it last night. Vieira and Gilberto offer their own contribution going forward, though they appeared a little less sound defensively than against Chelsea.

A word on Jose Reyes: out of sorts as he has been in recent weeks, I’ve never subscribed to the view that his problem is down to any lack of effort. When he has made mistakes they have not been for any lack of ability; just a lack of confidence and not being in the right frame of mind.

Watching him last night we saw one of those errors when he fluffed the first minute chance. But after that we saw a brilliantly taken goal. And in the second half the way he pulled one long ball down and took it on at the most incredible pace past two defenders was mesmerising.

My point is that Arsenal really need to try to keep the player and to try to get the best out of him on a regular basis. Players with his ability and eye catching flair are far easier to lose than to replace.

On the two big penalty decisions I thought Mike Riley got it just about right. Senderos just poked the ball away from Kanoute and it would have been very harsh to have given handball against Cole late on. It was accidental and was well away from the goal. Other than that, Spurs were probably a little hard done by with a couple of the more minor decisions. Incidentally, a penalty can only be given when the ball is in play, hence Lehman not being punished for pushing over Defoe.

I hate it when our players dive and Vieira will rightly get a fair bit for his poor effort to win a spot kick in the first half. It was ridiculous and only fuels the fires of those looking for any excuse to bait Arsenal.

The news tonight is that Lauren is poised to escape FA action after his apparent elbow on Erik Edman in the game. Whilst I don’t think Lauren intended to hit his man, his elbow was up pretty high and I’m pleasantly surprised the FA are leaving it. Of course, their decision has nothing to do with their balls-up over Andy Todd last week.

Playa ratings to the right.


25 APRIL 2005 07.30 BST

Spurs preview and that Rooney goal

There seems to be a little excitement about the possibility of us giving up the title against Spurs of all sides tonight. I don’t really get it because:
a) This is hardly a title decider – it is already well and truly sewn up.
b) It’s going to Chelsea. And last time I checked Spurs hated Chelsea.

As for team news, it looks like Sol may have to wait a little longer for his place back in the team with big Phil and Kolo Toure in form. In midfield, I noticed Edu was on the bench for the Chelsea game. And that is where I suspect he will stay with Vieira and Gilberto linking up so well recently.

Ljungberg and Henry are still out – so Cesc should keep his place on the right wing. But who leads the line remains to be seen. After indifferent performances of late, either Reyes or Bergkamp (or less likely both) could be dropped in favour of Van Persie and Aliadiere.

Other than that there is not a lot else to say. Ashley Cole aside, things seem pretty quiet at the moment, with hardly a story of any substance to be found in the Sunday papers. And tonight speaks for itself really. We just need to continue our impressive recent form and get a win. Not to keep the title race alive but to stay ahead of Man United.

Just a word on the Rooney goal yesterday. It was very special. But it was not one of the great goals. Firstly, because it only involved one touch, secondly because that touch could have gone into row z, thirdly because the ball didn’t have to go into that specific spot to go in (a la Di Canio) and fourthly because there are other players who might have scored from there (Henry, Scholes, Lampard), though few with such aplomb. Finally, we’ve all heard about how the new balls move like mad in the air.

Don’t get me wrong though, it was special.


21 APRIL 2005

Super Pires, Lauren + Cesc earn deserved point at Chelsea. Report + playa ratings.

Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0

If you are disappointed that last night’s draw means we won’t win the league then get over it – it was never going to happen.

But that non existent disappointment aside, I was proud to be an Arsenal fan last night. After half an hour Chelsea hadn’t conceded a single free kick – because they couldn’t get near us.

Lauren silenced Duff and probably had his best game for the club. Fabregas was simply magnificent – the worth of having three central midfielders in there couldn’t have been clearer. And Robert Pires was absolutely superb. Unlucky not to score at least one, his touch, turn and efficiency with the ball were a joy to behold and, for me, a reminder of just why we love football. He even tackled a couple of times and brace yourself for this – actually cleared off the line at one point!

The rest were excellent too – and let it be said that Ashley Cole was part of that. For all the wealth bounding around the Kings’ Road, you still can’t buy the panache, delicacy and beauty of an Arsenal side in their stride.

With Steve Clarke’s words ringing in our ears we very aptly demonstrated that actually we do play the best football in the league. Indeed for a while we were playing circles round them and had Robert Pires’ volley not cannoned off the bar we might be talking about three points rather than one.

After our initial chances the home side probably had the better of the opportunities but at no time were there any “oh shit, now we’re fucked” moments. We didn’t create too much but seeing as we were without Henry and had an out of form Reyes and a poor Bergkamp up front it was hardly a surprise that we gave Chelsea just their second clean sheet in 11 games.

It was also good to see Wenger have a little laugh at Mourinho’s expense. A couple of minutes after Mourinho had made a defensive move by bringing off Cole for Tiago, Wenger thought he’d show him the Arsenal way – taking off midfielder Cesc and bringing on striker Jeremie Aliadiere for his first Premiership appearance in 11 months. For me, this was not a last desperate throw of the Championship dice. Had it been, Van Persie would have replaced Cesc and not Bergkamp minutes earlier. Instead it was a pointed reminder that long balls and defensive subs just aren’t how Arsene’s Arsenal do things.

For the record, it was our eighth clean sheet in nine games, it’s now a decade (20 premiership matches) since we lost to Chelsea, 34 games without defeat in a London derby and our first 0-0 draw in almost a year.

We’ve had a season full of injuries, spent almost no money on new players and been competing against a side with endless pots of money. Yet without two of our most influential players (Campbell and Henry) we went to Stamford Bridge and for significant parts outplayed a team with all the confidence of Champions elect on their own patch.

Playa ratings available by clicking on ‘Chelsea’ to the right of the screen.

PS:
1) Having seen last night’s Blackburn highlights, something simply must be done about Robbie Savage’s tackling. It’s a disgrace.
2) Manchester United have now accrued seven Premiership red cards in 35 games, Our record reads something like one in 60 Premiership games.


20 APRIL 2005

Chelsea preview and no Savage charge

Just to clear things up, Robert Pires’ dive against Portsmouth last season was the reason for Blackburn’s dirtiness on Saturday. The irony of finishing the article with the words “fair’s fair” appears lost on the piece’s inevitable author.

As a footnote, Andy Todd was charged last night with violent conduct by the F.A. for the Van Persie incident. Quite why they’ve pressed charges on that nigh on impossible to prove incident and chosen to ignore Savage’s disgraceful assault on Cesc is beyond me.

Tonight

It’s fair to say we didn’t anticipate playing the role of virtual support act at Chelsea’s pre pre Championship party when the fixture list came out. That said, we’ve had our fair share of actual title wins at the homes of fierce rivals so we shouldn’t complain.

With Henry out, Freddie struggling and Van Persie pushing for a starting line-up the question is whether Arsene will opt for double Dutch up front with Reyes on the left wing and Pires on the right wing.

Please, please don’t. Unless we want to be overrun like we were when we played the same pair of wingers in Munich. I’m no fan of the trend to play 4-5-1 as opposed to 4-4-2. But playing four virtual strikers is surely no better.

Hopefully the right hand side will be occupied by Freddie (if fit) or Cesc, both of whom can offer far greater protection to Lauren who will be up against Damien Duff and perhaps Arjen Robben too later in the game.

Other than that, we need to block Frank Lampard’s shots. By blocking I mean throwing one’s body in front of the ball so that as much of the body’s surface area is available to block. Jumping side on to the ball while not even looking at it and then looking aghast when it flies off a stray boot into the net does not count as blocking. I also think we should make sure that one of our taller players mark John Terry at corners, ie not Cesc or Reyes.

And whatever happens we should act with dignity. Hopefully that shouldn’t be a problem. In a season where football has lurched from one unsavoury incident to another, the return game at Highbury in December was excellent and was largely played in a very good spirit.


19 APRIL 2005

Arsenal can take it up ‘em + Blackburn only copied Lancashire cousins

You’d have thought Blackburn were the first ever team to try to kick Arsenal off the park judging by the press reports of the last few days. It’s absurd to see their bully-boy tactics condemned by the same people who have indulged the exact same approach from the likes of Sam Allardyce and Alex Ferguson.

We’ve become a nation obsessed by diving and the cardinal sin of waving an imaginary card at the referee, yet we consider co-ordinated assaults of ‘anti-football’ all part of the man’s game.

It could even be the case that the constant fouling is actually prompting greater diving. Are players exaggerating fouls to get the protection they deserve from referees? Certainly there are lots of players who dive regardless, but we can hardly react with horror when a player being kicked to bits resorts to going down a little easily.

Arsenal can’t handle it up ‘em

This is another of the great myths. Our Frenchies, with their quizzical looks and their gallic shrugs, may not like it up them. But they, more than anyone can handle it.

Saturday was the perfect case in point. Blackburn huffed, puffed and hacked but made little mark except on our shins. And then we came through and exerted control – just as we did at Bolton in the quarter final.

That only United, Bolton and Sheffield United have kept a clean sheet against us in 44 games this season shows that while teams may have learnt to exploit our defence, they’re yet to actually figure out a way to thwart our forwards.

Chelsea tomorrow night and Ashley Cole

Our injury list looks enormous for tomorrow night’s game at Chelsea – besides the widely touted absences of Campbell, Henry and probably Ljungberg we are also going to be missing Clichy, Hoyte, Flamini and Edu.

In advance of the match, Ashley Cole has followed up comments that indicated he might well leave Highbury in the summer with comments which somewhat more positive noises towards the club.

He said: “I totally understand that the fans want to know more about my situation but, with a Premier League inquiry underway, it is hard for me to talk as freely as I would like right now. The main thing I want to convey is that I have two years left on my contract here and it goes without saying that I am fully focused and fully committed to this football club.”

I think it’s probably time to let this thing play itself out and then draw conclusions because at the moment everything we’re reading is all speculation. As far as I’m concerned, if he keeps fighting for Arsenal and gives 100% effort then I’ll continue to support him.

Match preview tomorrow.


17 APRIL 2005

Vieira leads us to another cup final

I thought us excellent yesterday. We knew exactly what we had to do and did it.

We knew Blackburn would play a tight, pressing game early on that would give us no space. We also seemed to know that particularly without Henry we would struggle to dominate them in the early stages. Instead we let them play their game, get their tackles in, use up their their energy and not create any real scoring chances.

Then we took our chance as we're always prone to do. And in the second half the game became more stretched as we knew it would. Were it not for Brad Friedel the game would have been sewn up well before Van Persie's absolutely superb late double.

Time is pressing, but briefly: Jens looked very solid, Kolo defended well and set up the goal brilliantly, Lauren was Lauren, Senderos was very strong again and Cole was frankly pretty crap. I can't help thinking his kicking the ball away and getting booked told its story about his performance.

Freddie was pretty anonymous, Pires industrious and again there to score the goal, Gilberto kept things very solid and allowed Vieira to push forward and have a really good game in my opinion.

Reyes battled but didn't get much luck and Dennis kept going without doing anything spectacular. Cesc was excellent coming in from the right during the second half, Van Persie's performance doesn't need much effort and Aliadiere seemed to do fine in the two minutes he had on the pitch.

Marvellous.



15 APRIL 2005 08:00BST

Jermaine Pennant: I'm not buying it

So Jermaine Pennant thinks he was hard done by at Highbury. Let’s just look at his complaints one by one:

"I don't know whether it's because I'm English but Wenger brought in a lot of foreign players and they're playing and I got brought in and never played.”

This is a pretty simple one: Pennant can only play right midfield. So the main foreign player who kept him out was the ultra professional and thoroughly excellent Freddie Ljungberg. And occasionally the European Championship winning Sylvian Wiltord took his place. And sometimes that other ultra professional Ray Parlour. So basically Pennant can’t employ the legitimate Upson-Stepanovs argument.

He continues: "Arsene's never sat me down and said this is what I want, this is what I want to sort out, so I've been more or less left to wonder if I've got a future here." As far as I recall, the boss said at the beginning of the season that Pennant had to get his head down and earn a new contract. So lampposts to that.

"I relate more to Steve Bruce - he talks to his players more and he's gone through certain things and made mistakes in his career so I can relate to him. He knows what it's like, especially when you're young and you're going to make mistakes. There's always a chance for a second chance.” I could have sworn the second chance passed a little while ago.

And then: "At 17 or 18 I didn't expect to play but then I went out on loan last season [Leeds] and the season before that [Watford] and I've done very well and I haven't put a foot wrong, then you have to wonder 'why I am not playing?'.”

Firstly, you did put a foot wrong. Unless it was a different Jermaine Pennant who got done for drink driving in March 2004 whilst on loan to Leeds from Arsenal. Secondly, you hardly set the world on fire at Watford. And thirdly, you did alright at Leeds, scoring one good goal against Chelsea. That’s all.

In six years, Pennant has made more money than most of the people who paid for his fast cars will earn in a lifetime. He’s been done for drink driving – a reckless, indulgent crime. Then he got done for it again. Since then we haven’t heard a single word of apology. All we’ve heard is about Jermaine Pennant and how he’s a changed man. And we’ve had him given a standing ovation by Birmingham fans following his release about a third of the way through his jail term.

I was going to say I’ve got nothing against Pennant but that wouldn’t really be true. That said, though he never set the world on fire in red and white, it is true that he’s good enough to play for a team like Arsenal. The problem is that his old fashioned style of wing play is not really suited to the Wenger approach to football. When Pennant has played he has found himself putting in great crosses to forwards who refuse to attack a ball in the box. He’s a good player and before long he should play for England.

But in the meantime he should get his head down, stop doing interviews talking about Jermaine Pennant and show why he deserves to earn a fraction of the money he does.



12 APRIL 2005 07:30BST

Interesting Cole quotes and FA Cup Semi Finals.

Some interesting quotes from Ashley Cole this morning. He says: “You never know what’s going to happen in football — but I’d love to be captain.” He also talks about how we’ve suffered through underinvestment this season but can hopefully still win the FA Cup.

The actual interview is one given to the New Nation magazine and is reported in both the Guardian and the Sun, but interestingly the Guardian fails to report the quotes about being captain. I guess we’ll have to see the interview before finding out if that line is a new or old quote.

Other than that, all eyes now turn to Cardiff and Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Blackburn.

It’s becoming almost an annual ritual now – our fifth semi appearance in a row and our seventh in eight years. But a brief scan over the previous six shows that we’ve never really turned in a great performance in any of the games.

The best was undoubtedly against Spurs in 2001, where we dominated and won 2-1 at Old Trafford. But even here we had to come from a goal down. In the initial 0-0 draw against United in 1999 we were by all accounts poor and despite missing a last minute spot kick in the replay, we never appeared truly in charge of the tie.

Last year we were perhaps a little unfortunate having created the better chances against United. But again, we never really hit our stride like we know we can. And against Wolves in 1998, Boro in 2002 and Sheffield United the year later we were laboured and saw evidently inferior opposition nearly snatch unlikely equalisers. All produced 1-0 victories.

So what of Saturday? Well contrary to what Arsene has been saying about wanting the season extended, I’m not convinced we’re playing that well at the moment. So I’m not expecting a football feast early on Saturday. But on the plus side we’re looking far more controlled (touch wood) and less leaky at the back.

And finally, via a complex method of shutting one’s eyes and pointing randomly at a screen, congratulations go to Michael Bell and Sean Donnellan, each winners of a print from Arsenal Images in the first ever goodplaya competition. Congrats to them.



11 APRIL 2005 07:30BST

Goodplaya at Boro v Arsenal: report, analysis and playa ratings.

Make no mistake: this wasn’t vintage Arsenal. But equally this wasn’t lucky Arsenal.

One shot on target may have been all we mustered, but Steve McLaren should know by now that irrespective of how lacklustre we appear in attack, we have an amazing tendency to fashion a goal from somewhere. It always happens.

And despite Robert Pires’ last league goal being on Boxing Day, it should come as no surprise that he was the one that snaffled up the chance that did come. If you’ve only read reports that said the ball broke kindly to offer him a simple chance, then you’ve been misled. Sure it broke kindly, but it came at pace and he trapped it instantly and fired home clinically. That’s why only three players have scored more premiership goals this season.

The game

Senderos came back in to partner Toure, whilst Gilberto and Vieira paired up for the first time in yonks, Cesc was on the right, Pires the left and Reyes and Henry up front. I’m not sure how fit Dennis was, but I’d like to think that even were he 100%, Wenger would have resisted the temptation to go for him and Henry up front with Reyes left and Pires right. I’ve said for a while that the extra midfielder that you get with Ljungberg or Cesc on the right is a real help away from home.

We looked somewhat sluggish from the start – Lauren was booked for a ridiculous challenge after just a minute. Then Doriva hit the angle of post and bar (though it never looked like going in) and Hasselbaink fired a decent opportunity wide of Jens’ post.

At the other end we were trying to score the perfect goal and not coming very close to it. Contrary to some other reports I’ve read in the papers, I actually thought Jose Reyes was having a good game. It’s true he was making more mistakes than other players but that was down to him being the only one playing with any real abandon. He made good runs, had some success getting past people and generally ran his socks off.

In the second half we took a real grip on the game but were frustrated by what I thought were a very decent Boro side. They were solid and hard to break down, but they could also move the ball at pace and cause problems. In the end the goal followed a couple of deflections after good work by Cesc – but isn’t it about time we scored a less than perfect goal?

Boro had one notable chance when Hasselbaink chipped lamely at Lehman after Senderos’ sole error. Pires had been about to come off for Van Persie when he scored. He, and all the other attackers stayed on to battle it out. Perhaps this was part of Wenger’s plan to make the team tough out the whole 90 minutes (see Bolton and Blackburn).

But more likely I suspect that with Campbell, Clichy, Hoyte, Flamini, Edu and Ljungberg all on the treatment table, the remaining vaguely defensive replacements of Cygan and the untried Eboue were hardly the most appetising. A metaphor for our season I suspect – a lack of strength in depth coupled with rotten luck with injuries.

Playa ratings, with a more in depth look at individuals, are to the right. Just click on ‘Boro’ to bring them up. Competition winners will be announced tomorrow.



07 APRIL 2005 07:35BST

Arsenal actually better off scoring one goal rather than two

I’m sorry, but Bayern Munich were absolute crap last night. Their defending for both Lampard’s (brilliantly taken) goals and the first by Cole was far worse than anything they ever showed against us.

Sure, Chelsea offered a little more than us and played with the confidence and occasional swagger of champions elect, but where as we had the bad luck of Kolo Toure making his worst mistake in three years after just four minutes of our Bayern game, Chelsea found themselves gifted an absolute fluke on the very same minute.

I’ve previously acknowledged our obvious failings in Europe, but with seeing the Cole goal and seeing Louis Garcia hitting the shot of his life for Liverpool last night, I’m sick to the teeth of seeing us get sod all luck in Europe.

Where it’s gone wrong domestically

Anyway, the last few days of non existent Arsenal news has given me the chance to think a little about our season. And here is the first of my observations, beginning with some stats:

In the 12 league games this season where we’ve scored one goal or less, we’ve accumulated a fair return of 19 points – winning 5 of the games. But in the five games where we’ve scored twice we have accrued just one win and 6 points in total, which makes very little sense.

What makes it particularly strange is that last season, two was our magic number. We hit it on 15 occasions and won an incredible 14 of those games – 43 points from 15 games. And when we scored one or none we won just two out of 14 – far worse than this season.

So what does all this tell us? Well, the attackers are hitting one or no goals about as often as last season. But last season we scored three or more goals on nine occasions whereas this season we’ve done it 14 times already and are one goal behind last year’s total with seven games still to play.

Despite our well documented defence frailties, we actually appear more likely to do well this season when called on to win the game with just one goal. Of those 12 games mentioned earlier we’ve won five 1-0. But at the same time, we’re far more erratic and prone to concede not just twice but also three times (against Middlesbrough) and on four occasions (against Man United and at Spurs).

Even last season, our defence was never great. More often than not we conceded – in 23 out of 38 games to be precise. But somehow we were able to control better how many we conceded.

So...

My conclusion is that too often we’ve been too attacking. Injury misfortune has forced us to field less sturdy, less experienced central midfields. But rather than compensate by offering steadying reinforcements on the wings, too often we’ve played two virtual out and out forwards – typically Pires and Reyes.

It’s produced some fantastic football – such as Villa at home but equally in trickier away games it’s had an unsettling effect on those inside of them and a knock on effect on those at the back.

Sure, we’ve thrashed teams 4-1 this season. But for each of those victories our attacking flamboyance has come at the expense of defence fragility and a subsequent 2-2 draw. Last year, the 4-1 and the 2-2 would both have read 2-1. Fewer goals but more points. And that for me is the difference.

Monday’s competition is still open. Check it out below.



04 APRIL 2005 07:35BST

Henry hits 181, I live in Newcastle and competition time

So Thierry Henry moves within four goals of equalling Ian Wright’s Arsenal scoring record. No doubt there will be full and well deserved plaudits when he does take the record, but I’d just like to say what a genuine privilege it’s been to watch him for the past six years.

He’s achieved the rare feat of combining true world class brilliance with unflinching consistency. And though he may be prone to the odd Gallic pout and seems to have a strange relationship with Jose Reyes, his attitude both on and off the pitch has been impeccable.

The analysis of greatness in football is often shrouded in hyperbole and rose tinted laments for the past. But we truly are watching one of the great footballers at his peak. The boss said after Saturday’s game that normally 67 points from 31 games would be a serious platform for a tilt at the title. And in normal circumstances Thierry Henry would be a shoe in for the Footballer of the Year awards for the third year running.

Frank Lampard, or more likely John Terry, will deservedly scoop the gongs, but Henry – as leader of an Arsenal side that has drawn a blank just 8 times in 146 league games - has proved for beyond any doubt that he is by far and away the best attacker in the British game.

Incidentally, Henry’s back to back Highbury hat-tricks were only in the second time it has happened since 1951. The first was Henry against Liverpool and Leeds last season. Tribute finished.

Talking of on field examples, It’s fair to say the Geordie nation up here in Newcastle aren’t the best pleased this Monday morning. Personally, I thought the Bowyer-Dyer fight very, very funny.

Really it summed up Newcastle. On Friday, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle donated their back page, the first inside sports page, the second inside sports page and the third inside sports page to Alan Shearer’s decision to stay on for another year. They also devoted part of page six, pages four and five, pages three and two and of course the front page, to the very same story.

At most other clubs a home game against a poor side the following day would have been the perfect excuse for celebrating the good news. But not at Newcastle. Three players sent-off and two for fighting each other. Truly magnificent.

In Sunday’s News of the World there was an interesting piece (not available online) in which Jermaine Pennant ‘opened his heart’ about going to jail. He spoke honestly and sounded full of contrition and determination not to go back to jail. But he still had nothing to say about the wrongness of drink driving itself.

And finally, for the first ever time on Goodplaya it’s competition time. There are two delightful prints to be claimed courtesy of Dick Gilhespy’s Arsenal images. The first features the Dutch master Dennis Bergkamp and the second a nostalgic scene from an evening kick-off at Highbury. To be in with a chance of winning simply drop an email to the address at the top of the screen. Winners will be picked at random and announced at the end of the week.



02 APRIL 2005 11:10

Gilberto and some guy called Thierry Henry return

With Vieira probably out and Edu injured we’re highly likely to see the long awaited return of Gilberto this afternoon against Norwich. Few playas can have been so unremarked on when fit and so debated about when injured.

As the boss said yesterday: “"The positive thing is when he didn't play, people realised how important he is and he became a more highly-rated player.”

Incidentally, some guy called Thierry Henry should also play his first match in about a month for us.

The lack of an April fools joke yesterday was due a) to me not actually getting time to post at all and b) the release of Jermaine Pennant from prison just a month into his three month jail term for drink driving.

I’m loathe to get into politics and what not on here and neither do I bear Pennant any ill will nor normally support particularly tough prison sentences but I can’t help feeling that drink driving (which is something that completely transgresses social boundaries) is one area where serious sentences really will make people think long and hard before getting in a car drunk.

And whilst I realise Birmingham’s number one concern must be to resurrect Pennant’s career, a little more contrition from club and player wouldn’t have gone amiss. Rant over. Enjoy the Norwich game.



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Archives: March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004 and the embryonic goodplaya.

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Slightly less out of date playa ratings:

v Liverpool (3-1)

Lehman: Two really good saves – the first from Riise and the second from Gerard’s piledriver. Flapped at one cross but all it served to do was to remind us how much he has improved. 7.5

Lauren: Did very well, almost scoring from Pires’ cross in the first half and setting up the third goal with some nice play. Is doing well at the moment, perhaps spurred on by Wenger not mentioning right back when saying which areas he doesn’t need to strengthen over the summer! 7.5

Cole: A mixed game. Good going forward and times and obviously an excellent second half block from Garcia. But also occasionally sloppy, messing up things we know him well capable of doing. 6.5

Senderos: A big presence at the heart of the defence he had one of his sternest tests in an Arsenal shirt when Liverpool got at us in the second half. Did pretty well on the whole though, especially as protection from midfield was not always forthcoming. 7

Kolo: A good solid outing and the same goes for him as for Senderos. 7

Vieira: Did some stuff really well and was very influential in our first half attacking play. But I felt he allowed the midfield to be too easily swamped after the break and was not always applying the pressure to Liverpool that he might have done. 7

Gilberto: It goes without saying that evaluating a Gilberto performance is very, very difficult. That said, I felt that like Vieira he could have offered a bit more bite in midfield to help out the defence in the second half. 6.5

Pires: Really was at the heart of some of our best stuff in the first half. Crossed brilliantly for Lauren to almost score, shot just wide and then scored with a magnificent free-kick. Faded later on. 7.5

Cesc: Absolutely outstanding. He set the move in motion for Reyes’ offside goal, fired just wide from 20 yards, scored his own offside goal and then added a very neat third for us in stoppage time. In between this he ran the game, tackling, running with the ball, passing brilliantly and generally looking the best player on the park. Outstanding. 9

Reyes: Not perfect, but he notched up another well taken goal, scored an offside one and ran his heart out for the cause in the second half. 7.5

Van Persie: Not as involved as he has been but got involved and put over one excellent early cross for Robert Pires. Generally looking a much better player than previously. 7

Subs:

Edu (for Pires 70 odd): Came on and did ok. 6.5

Bergkamp (for Van Persie 70 odd): Set up Fabregas for the third with a fantastic flick but was otherwise pretty poor. When he did try and press Liverpool he gave away a few free-kicks and the rest of the time he just didn’t seem to chase them at a time when we really needed players to get stuck in. I know he is still capable of the odd piece of magic but we probably have enough to our attacking armoury that magic alone should not prompt a new contract. We have shown we are capable of winning without Dennis and should probably now look to the future. 6

Aliadiere (for Reyes 85): As ever he came on and got stuck in, chasing everything and hassling the Liverpool defenders. Has a really good attitude and probably deserves more than five minutes at some point. 6.5

v West Brom (2-0)

Lehman: The defence clearly trusts him again and he is reciprocating that with improved handling, kicking and decision making. 7

Lauren: Worked reasonably hard and got forward on a few occasions. 7

Cole: Looked a little lethargic at times but kept going and finished the game strongly, setting us on a number of attacks. 6.5

Senderos: A couple of passes went astray but took a no nonsence defence to defending. Far be it for me to argue with his current record of not conceding a goal for absolutely yonks. 7.5

Gilberto: Covered well at set pieces, but with Arsenal in 2nd gear he seemed only to happy to make sure Gilberto was in 2nd gear too. Not much drive. 6.5

Vieira: Committed silly fouls early on and was not finding his passes. Got better as the game went on and provided more drive. Symbolic of our night. 7

Pires: Did ok initially but like the rest of them lacked the necessary drive. Got better with the team. 7

Cesc: Probably not his best game. Came looking for the ball a lot and should be credited for it but looked a little fatigued when challenged. 6.5

Van Persie: Did ok initially but was not really receiving a lot of support from the midfield. Took his goal magnificently. 7

Reyes: Ran hard but once again looked incredibly left footed. But gave an excellent assist for the opening goal and kept on trying right til the end, providing useful relief for the defence. 7

Subs:

Dennis (for Van Persie 75ish): Did little except provide a measured set-up for Edu's clincher. 6.5

Edu (for Cesc 75ish): Got involved a bit and finished well to clinch it. 7

v Spurs (1-0)

Lehman: Is playing very well and his handling looks as assured as ever, his throws good and his kicking far better than earlier in the season. I think it no great secret that he needs to control his temper. 7

Lauren: Has looked solid in recent weeks and looked more lively going forward. Alan Curbishley put him in his team of the season on the basis that few wingers get much change out of him. And he is probably right. Really does need to watch stray elbows though, intentional or not. 7

Toure: Was given a little trouble by Defoe but it was less trouble than Adi Akenbai gave him in the FA Cup in January. And Defoe is clearly a far better player than the Stoke man. Will soon score a very, very memorable free-kick I sense. 7

Senderos: It is hard to argue with his defensive record since he came into the side. We have simply stopped conceding goals. That said, what are the odds that back when we were conceding at will, Robbie Keane would have buried that chance. Could have got first goal for club with header. 7

Cole: Linked up well as ever with Pires down our left hand side and seemed really up for the fight. Had the slightly awkward penalty shout against him at the end but otherwise did well. 7

Vieira: With the ball he was excellent on the whole, spreading play at pace and helping support those ahead of him. Looks much more comfortable with Gilberto next to him. Though that said they both looked half a step off the pace at times against a Spurs side full of running. 7

Gilberto: Did what Gilberto does well. Though probably not as much of a shield as against Chelsea. 7

Cesc: Tired a little in the second half but was his usual youthful magnificence until then. Spread the ball with ease, got stuck in, helped out the attack and set up our goal. Nice. 7.5

Pires: Not the force he was against Chelsea but is playing well at the moment, linking up well with Cole down the left and generally providing an experienced head in an otherwise youthful attack. 7

Van Persie: Set Reyes up for the first minute chance, fired a decent effort wide and generally played quite a mature game without hitting great heights. 7

Reyes: Did very well to come back after the first minute miss. Goal was excellent and attitude looked good. Seemed to find an extra gear for second half run that set up Dennis. 7.5

Subs:

Dennis (for Van Persie 70 odd): Curled one wide and generally looked quite good against a tiring Spurs defence. There was the odd occasion when I felt he let the player pass him to quickly but that was probably just my last minute nerves. 7

Edu (for Cesc 70 odd): Hit the post with a curling effort and slotted in very, very neatly on the left. Will be a great shame to lose him if he does eventually go. 7

Aliadiere (for Van Persie 87 odd): Only had a few minutes but looked really keen to impress. Had a couple of good touches, got stuck in and made tired Spurs legs panic, buying us valuable time. 7

v Chelsea (0-0)

Lehman: Has looked much better recently and besides the odd dodgy kick, looked very solid against Chelsea and made one excellent save early on from Drogba. His positioning seemed good on through balls. 7

Lauren: He really didn’t put a foot wrong and kept Damien Duff and probably had his best game for the club against a very, very tricky opponent. Was ferocious and fair in the tackle. 8

Cole: After a slightly tentative start he threw himself at everything Chelsea chucked at us. Whatever people’s feelings about his current situation, there can be no complaints about his performance. 7

Senderos: Excellent as usual. This guy likes clean sheets. 7

Toure: Really did well in what could have been a tricky night. Got weight on his clearances and never panicked. 7

Vieira: It really doesn’t take a genius to figure out how much he seems to be enjoying having Gilberto back in the side. Really led the side again with fine interventions and set us on the path to attack – such as when Pires hit the bar. 7.5

Gilberto: Suffered a couple of inevitable nosebleeds when he got into decent positions going forward but otherwise did a fine job of snaffling out what Chelsea threw at us and generally making the team a slick unit. Showed one or two fine turns as well. 7

Cesc: This kid really does defy logic. At a time when his brittle bones should be feeling the effects of a long, hard season he is looking stronger than ever. Magnificently composed on the ball, he worked furiously in defence, midfield and attack. 8

Pires: His early volley that hit the bar reminded me of when I stood in the Holte End last year for Villa v Arsenal and he hit an even better effort that was turned just over. Even the anti-French bigots around me were shut well and truly up.

There is a wonderful magnificence about watching Robert Pires on song. He caresses the ball delightfully and when it’s time to move it on he does it with the utmost precision. A joy to watch and unlucky not to score twice. 9

Reyes: The story of his last 6 months – no problem with effort but he just lacks the confidence to make things really happen. The annoying thing is that he’s making errors on things that a confident Reyes could do with his eyes shut. Let’s hope his effort is rewarded soon. 6

Bergkamp: Like Reyes he worked hard and did his bit to keep Chelsea at bay. But also like Reyes he found himself struggling up front. The curtain appears to be falling on his magnificent career. Hopefully an announcement will be made soon and both we and Dennis can enjoy his final games. 6

Subs:

Van Persie (for Dennis 80 odd): Struggled to get into the game but had a few decent chances and ran hard for the side.

Aliadiere (for Cesc 85 odd): Did alright but by the time he came on it didn’t look like either side were really going to score.

v Boro (1-0)

Lehman: Flapped at one cross in the first half and then came ridiculously far out of his goal before eventually winning the ball. Yes, he’s kept a fair few clean sheets recently and yes, it’s even true we could win the league again with him in goal, but no, we won’t win in Europe with Jens and no, he’s not the answer. 6

Lauren: His early challenge, whilst not worthy of a red card as suggested on Match of the Day, was sheer stupidity. He did alright and he’s plodding along but not really getting any better. 6

Cole: Attacked decently at times but wasn’t helped by a very, very ineffectual Robert Pires. 6.5

Senderos: Now looks like he should be partnering Sol Campbell when the two are fit. Authoritative, big and commanding, his presence has coincided with a string of clean sheets. Still has rough edges, but these are being shaved all the time. 7

Kolo: Did reasonably well and made a couple of important blocks, but I’m not convinced his future lies in the heart of the defence. Together, he and Lauren sometimes seem to bring out the worst in each other and we just don’t look solid, clean sheets or no clean sheets. Would like to see him at right back. 6.5

Gilberto: I looked out especially for incidences of him filling gaps and yes, I can confirm it happens and he does his job well. Still looks very nervous in attacking positions, but his presence is welcome. 6

Vieira: I thought he did reasonably well, though like the rest of the players he seemed to have trouble bringing any great coherency to our play. 6

Cesc: I plumped for Cesc on the right a while ago and I like seeing him there. He got well forward and was always involved. Looks tired, but it’s been a long old season and he’s still, only 17. 6.5

Pires: I thought him absolute rubbish up until he scored really. His inability to tackle has been documented many times before, but on Saturday he seemed to be playing the whole game at walking pace. But then who better is there at converting the one chance he gets to secure a 1-0 lead. 6

Reyes: Things still aren’t all coming off for him but I sense things are getting better and his work rate and willingness to track back really can’t be faulted. We know for a fact that the boy has the talent to succeed, so while he may not be showing what he’s really capable of right now, we should applaud his recent application. Had a couple of really mazy runs and set up Henry excellently for a shot he scuffed. 7

Henry: Had one of those games where he seemed to stand almost still on the edge of the box, conserving his energy and waiting to pounce. It didn’t really work, though he did have a glorious chip fly just wide and certainly scared the Boro fans every time he got the ball. He was also up against an obdurate Boro. 6.5

Subs:

Dennis (Reyes 46): Did alright without really changing the game at all. It seems the curtain may be falling on his illustrious career and reluctantly, I think it right. We know he can still play brilliantly in patches but the truth is that it’s becoming less often and it’s hampering us in European away games. We need someone to step forward and become Henry’s partner. Sometimes the bullet needs to be bitten. And now is that time. 6

v Palace (5-1)

Jens: It’s tempting to say that the early back pass cock-up could just as easily have happened to Petr Cech but in truth that would be a lie. He’s simply too cocky and over confident with his kicking – it’s why so many balls get sliced wildly and why we almost conceded a shambolic own goal tonight. Otherwise, he actually did quite well. 6.5

Lauren: Is definitely becoming a better player going forward but was as culpable as anyone for our defensive malaise. 6

Cygan: Didn’t have an awful game but on too many occasions simple long balls forward by Palace became much more serious than they needed to be. 6

Kolo: Got skinned more often than he would have liked and was caught out at times from crosses. But still, we only conceded one. 6.5

Clichy: Did well getting forward, causing a constant menace. Defending was largely competent but seemed to be infected by the general defensive tendency to give the ball away. 6.5

Vieira: Another tricky game to rate from the captain. At times he was sluggish and easily caught in possession. At others, he took a grip on the game and drove the team forward impressively. Got well forward for his goal. 7

Edu: Didn’t have the sudden impact he enjoyed at Villa last week but did well enough and certainly gave us a fair bit of solidity. Good ball to Reyes for the opener. 7

Pires: Seemed to be rewriting the dictionary definition of anonymous for the first 20 or so minutes. Then got more into the game without coming close to hitting top gear. Was unlucky to hit the post in the 2nd half after good work from Reyes. 7

Reyes: His best game in yonks. He looked fearless again, running constantly at the Palace defence and causing a lot of trouble. Good assist for the first, great finish for the second, an assist for the third and a fantastic pass to Dennis to set up the fifth. Great to see him back again. 8.5

Dennis: As ever, he oiled, moulded and sculpted our performance. He also took his goal very well, like he did against Newcastle and United too. And set up Henry for the fifth. 7.5

Henry: Really played very, very well and channelled any frustration about constant offside decisions in exactly the right way. Had seemingly boundless energy to chase back lost causes and put us back on the attack. 8.5

Subs:

Flamini (for Edu 60odd): Solid and composed as ever. 7

Van Persie (for Dennis 80odd): Linked up reasonably well as the game entered its final stages. 7

Fabregas (for Pires 80odd): Settled in comfortably on the right. 7

v Wolves (2-0)

Jens: Whilst a clean sheet is a clean sheet, he had very little to do and looked no more reassuring than previously with his kicking. To be fair, he was also played a high number of over hit back passes today and was not at fault for the one from Flamini that took a wicked bobble off the Highbury surface (which appeared unusually cut-up).6.5

Eboue: Got forward well, hit the bar with a deflected shot and could have had a penalty. Nice work. 8

Clichy: Decent game without being exceptional.7

Sol: Not a lot to do. 7

Cygan: Better than usual. 8

Paddy: Mediocre for much of it truth be told. Got better later on and scored the penalty but for too long his mind didn’t seem in the right place. Sure, Wolves made it difficult by crowding midfield but too often he seemed semi asleep at throw ins and the like. Still, he kept going. 6.5

Flamini: Didn’t show the deftness of touch of the Newcastle game but retained all his normal solidity. And great as Ray Parlour was, watching Boro at the moment suggests that we’ve got an as good, if not better, replacement. 7

Reyes: A couple of good runs, some moments of anonymity and denied a stonewall penalty. Still getting back to form but it definitely seems better than a few weeks ago. 6.5

Freddie: Usual energetic performance without any stand out moments, save his well taken goal. That’s ten for the season now and we’re still in January. Good work Sir. 7

Van Persie: Not his most inspiring game and clearly doesn’t yet have the positional ability of Dennis (who does?) but is improving. 6.5

Henry: Gallic. Went into one of his moods after Riley ruled out his cheeky first half effort. Strutted around for a while, went in for a couple of silly tackles and became frankly self indulgently petulant when a foul was given against him. It’s alright for us to loathe Riley endlessly but our top striker shouldn’t let him affect his game. And the fact is he did. But recovered his composure, was unlucky not to score and set up Freddie in superb fashion. 8

Subs:

Cesc (for Van Persie): Settled in comfortably on the right. 7

Pires (for Reyes): Nice work for the clinching goal. 7

Quincy (for Fred): No time to make an impression.

v Charlton (3-1)

Alumnia: No chance with the goal and didn’t do too much wrong besides one poor fumble from a cross. Still not convinced by his catching techniques. No difficult saves to make6.5

Hoyte: Made the odd error but did well to make sure his old youth team buddy Jerome Thomas had his quietest game in weeks. Managed to get forward a bit more in the second half.7.5

Cole: Still not looking at his best and on a couple of occasions was embarrassed by Rommedahl. But in fairness he wasn’t as sloppy as recently and did get forward well later on. 6.5

Sol: With the exception of one wildly sliced clearance in the first half that Almunia had to save he looked pretty solid and kept Charlton’s clear chances to a minimum. Let’s hope his ankle isn’t too bad. 7

Kolo: Given a bit of grief by Bartlett in the air but stuck to his task well and like Campbell, restricted the number of clear cut chances. 7

Vieira: Watching the game live, I was unconvinced by his first half performance. But having just seen the highlights it seems he got through a lot of work and did what he had to do neatly and efficiently. Set up Fred well for the goal and kept up a good level of performance all the way through.7

Cesc: Lost the odd ball but was generally very sound. Passing was clean and crisp as ever and his touch for the second goal was exquisite by any standards.7.5

Freddie: Took his two goals brilliantly, worked hard and always looked a threat. In good form. 8

Clichy: Seemed to lose the ball cheaply a bit too often but worked hard down the left helping Cole out with nullifying the threat of Rohmedahl and getting forward well. Has tremendous energy which comes in handy at the end of games when opposition players tire.6.5

Henry: Not at his best today but more worrying than the actual performance was the fact that his normal fitness wasn’t there. Had a lovely free-kick cleared off the line.6.5

Van Persie: Still has a tendency to twist and turn once too often. But also holds the ball up brilliantly, moves it well and finished superbly for the third. Should probably be given a real run up front next to Henry. Took his goal like a striker, which is disconcerting coming from an Arsenal player.7.5

Subs:
Pires (for Van Persie 72ish): With the game won he wisely didn’t over exert himself ahead of Man City on Tuesday night. 6.5

Senderos (for Campbell 82ish): Slotted in well on his Premiership debut.7

Pennant (for Fred 86): Didn’t have time to get into the game. 7

v Newcastle (1-0)

Almunia: Our star man tonight. A smart early save from Ameobi (even if it was probably going wide) and excellent handling all night gave us one less worry. Four clean sheets in five and he also kicks a fair bit better than Jens.7

Lauren: Though Lauren Robert didn’t reach anything like his best, I’m not sure whether too much credit should go to Lauren. His positioning often seemed weak, his passing and tackling little better and he offered almost nothing in attack. Mr Average was distinctly poor. 5.5

Cole: Whilst there’s no shame in being given a tough time of things by Craig Bellamy, Cole’s performance was noticeably worse than just a torrid time. He made stupid, unnecessary fouls, got caught out when he should normally have had enough pace and looked very, very shaky. He may have been pushed a touch for the penalty incident, but a defender with his mind fully on the job wouldn’t have allowed the ball to hit him as blatantly as it did. In mitigation he did improve and unlike Lauren provided some attacking threat. 5.5

Kolo: Did alright but like the others his decision making didn’t always seem to be the best informed. That said, it’s a little harsh to chastise a central defender who has kept four clean sheets in five. 6.5

Sol: Urgh. After some very sound recent performances he seemed far too troubled by what looked like some relatively simple long balls. One such error allowed Ameobi in for his early chance and his lack of authority always made the long ball route look like a wise one for Newcastle to take. 6

Flamini: Not his best game for Arsenal but he still got through a lot of work, kept things simple and had a hand in setting up Vieira for the goal. 6.5

Vieira: Named man of the match by SKY and praised in a couple of papers, but I’m going to be honest and say that up until he scored I thought he was pretty useless, being caught in possession too often. That said in the second half he got through a fair bit of work as we ground out victory. 6.5

Fred: Beavered away, had some good moments and kept on trying. Was going to commend him for his work on a couple of occasions in particular but can’t now remember what they were. 7

Pires: Even by his standards, his tackling was poor today. Truth be told, I can’t fathom how he’s allowed to defend with his body constantly side on to the play. As a left winger he has defensive responsibilities and simply has to make a better fist of it. On the attacking front he was probably our most creative player, moving the ball smartly and at pace. 6

Van Persie: Still very, very raw. Unlucky not to score in the opening minutes and had a couple more decent efforts but all too frequently ran into trouble and lost the ball on what was admittedly an awful surface completely unsuited to his quick twists and turns. Corners weren’t bad. Needs time. 6.5

Henry: His touch was not quite at its magical best, but again this was probably due to the state of the pitch. Had a couple of good runs that resulted in decent shots on Shay Given’s goal. 6.5

Subs:

Clichy (for Van Persie 80 mins approx): Seemed as happy as anyone in the post match huddle but for the second game in succession he seemed a little out of sorts when called upon. 6

v Fulham (2-0)

Almunia: Looks better by the game and made a crucial save when he rushed out at speed to palm away a Fulham chance at 1-0. Made no notable mistakes. 7

Clichy: Had a good first half – getting forward well as usual and strong on the defensive stuff. Then in the second half he seemed to lose his confidence went, either as a result of or because of Fulham consistently probing down our left. Like any small full-back, aerial strength is a weakness.6

Lauren: Average as usual. Looked solid against a Fulham attack lacking any real penetration. 6.5

Sol: At times we were troubled in the air – but Sol is leading a defence that is no longer allowing attackers completely free headers at corners. Looks fit and healthy and, along with the rest of the defence, now has three clean sheets in four league games. 7

Freddie: A fine game on his return from migraine troubles. Played in Henry for the first and set-up Pires for the second. 7.5

Cesc: Gets caught on the ball occasionally but is still doing the vast majority of things with real fluency. Gives us real creativity in the middle. 7

Vieira: Showed a few soft shoe shuffles to bamboozle defenders in a way we haven’t really seen this season. Also got stuck into his tackles and generally seemed to be on the ball. 7

Pires: There was this surreal moment in the first half. He got the ball on the left wing and took a heavy touch. As if that wasn’t enough he then went flying into the tackle with the Fulham defender and actually won the ball. And it wasn’t the only time – I saw him snuff out a few Fulham attacks and even win a header.

Of course, the attacking side of his play was superb as well – he would have scored from a Dennis chest down but for a good save by Van De Saar. He linked up well, particularly with Henry, and inevitably took his goal with typical aplomb. Now has 19 in 2004, which is good. 7.5

Dennis: A fair few poor touches and bad decision making in general play. In mitigation, he dummied the ball well for the second goal and put Pires in with an excellent chest down. 6.5

Henry: Sure, the flicks didn’t always come off but at times he led Fulham a merry dance like he has almost every other defence this season. His goal was a trade mark finish and he was desperately unlucky when his side footer from the edge of the box crashed back off a post. 7

Subs:

Flamini (for Freddie 74ish): Some might say Arsene was making a point by not replacing Freddie with Pennant. Others will call it a sensible way of seeing out the game. 6.5

Van Persie (for Dennis 78ish): Provided his usual array of tricks but didn’t get a real chance to score. 6.5

v Portsmouth (1-0)

Almunia: Had a really good game. Caught when he needed to catch, punched when he wasn't sure and kicked immaculately. Also made a couple of really good saves. His run of impressive performances may only stretch to two but for now there seems no reason to bring back Jens. 8

Lauren: Did nothing too wrong but didn't offer as much in attack as he might have and at times appeared troubled by Pomey's pace. I think he's ok, but I'm becoming less and less convinced he should be our right back at all - more on that tomorrow. 6.5

Cole: A tough one to call. For a while looked rattled by Pompey's pace and agression down the left. Misplaced a couple of balls and though his tackles were mostly coming off they had a slightly concerning aggressiveness about them which made me think he was letting his own frustration get the better of him a little. But stuck to the task well and in the end kept a dangerous Pompey out. 7

Kolo: Got sucked in a couple of times, but on the whole he was part of a defence that looked pretty solid and much improved at set pieces. 7

Sol: Looked fitter than recently I thought - turning smoothly on a couple of occasions when faced with danger. He also made countless important headers at corners and won us the game with the kind of head down sheer determinism many fans would like to see a little more often. 8

Flamini: Ran hard, tackled hard and never gave up. Doesn't offer as much going forward as Fabregas, but doesn't claim to either. Unlucky with a header from Henry's free-kick. 7

Vieira: Industrious, but was also sloppy on occasion, getting caught in posession and losing the ball. Still doesn't seem 100% back to his best and didn't make the most of a couple of shooting opportunities. 6.5

Clichy: Fought well and offered Cole valuable protection down the left hand side. Showed initial attacking promise early on but faded as Pompey grew in stature. Nonetheless, was full of running at the end and nearly capitalised on tired Pompey legs. 7

Pires: His every touch was met with a chorus of boos as Bob faced Pompey for the first time since 'that dive' last season. There was even one moment when he slipped and the ball rolled out of play. Which probably made a certain journalist very, very warm inside. Otherwise, was neat enough but pretty ineffectual, seemingly afraid of injury in the rough house atmosphere. Had a couple of lovely runs late on and set Dennis up for a chance he really should have taken. 6.5

Henry: Worked hard and created much of our best work, but often found himself crowded out by the hoardes of Pompey defenders. Nearly scored after a flowing first half move and set up Dennis' other chance late on, which again he really should have taken. 7

Van Persie: Started really well, showing fantastic feet and trickery and generally leading Pompey a merry dance. He swivels at such speed he'll probably need a hip replacement aged 30. Faded somewhat after his impressive start, finding himself crowded out by the packed defence. Could pass a little earlier at times but nonetheless a decent first start in a difficult game and he staked a fair claim for inclusion against Fulham on Boxing Day. 6.5

Subs:

Bergkamp (for Van Persie 68ish): Should have scored late on following good set up play. His performance did little to silence the voices calling for this year to be his last. I'm undecided on that, but what I am sure about is that I won't miss the needless little kicks and elbows aimed at his opponents when frustration sets in. Simply put: the sly digs are ugly and Van Nistelrooy like and do nothing for us. 6

v Chelsea (2-2)

Almunia: Faultless for both their goals, he made good stops from Lampard and Gudjohnsen in the first half. And made a vital save when Robben wriggled his way through after the break. But nobody noticed it. Caught when a catch was a good idea, punched when a punch was wiser and set us on the attack with some good throws. 7.5

Lauren: Didn't see much of him, but when you're up against Duff and Robben, this can only be to a defender's credit. Thought he did really well to keep them in check, and the one time Robben did really threaten in the second half, the danger came down the other side. 7.5

Cole: The one player who I thought struggled today. As has been the case of late, he lacked confidence in his touch and stuggled defensively. Perhaps should have come out to Robben before the winger got into the box for his 2nd half chance, and was easily beaten in the air by Drogba for Cheslea's 2nd equaliser. 6

Kolo: Looked solid overall and helped limit Chelsea to only a few chances asides from set pieces. 7

Sol: A mixed bag. Made some really important defensive headers and looked in command at times at the back. But was a little caught out for their opening goal and sometimes seemed a little gung ho in his marking. Made important late tackle on Drogba.7

Reyes: Was quiet, but this was a tough game. Nodded down to Henry for the opener, worked hard and went on a few mazy runs without much success. Still, I thought he gave them something to worry about.6.5

Fabregas: Another excellent performance. He and Flamini were overwhelmed initially when up against Tiago, Lampard and Makalele but never gave up and fought their way back into the game admirably. Nice goal to set up Henry for the opener, he was instrumental in setting up the Frenchman's near winner and also set up RVP for his chance. Uses the ball so intelligently and showed that despite his size, he's not afraid to get stuck in. Was up against the very best in the business today and succeeded in limiting Lampard to a largely peripheral role.8

Flamini: £1 million? First league start? A snip if you ask me. He run's tirelessly, he harries, he puts his foot in and he uses the ball simply when he wins it. A real water carrier but absolutely essential today and worked tirelessly. Well done Sir. 8

Pires: We wanted a big performance and boy did we get one. Seemed almost impossible to shake off the ball, tackled back, linked up well with Lauren, Flamini, Cesc and Henry and drove the team forward in his own idiosyncratic waddle. When in his pomp, he is still a wonderful, wonderful footballer to watch. Set up Henry for the near winner, realised his responsibility as the senior partner in midfield, and shouldered the responsibility admirably.7.5

Dennis: Didn't get involved in too much of note, but I can't help feeling he just gives us a cetain sophistication and shape when he's in the side. Gordon Strachan pointed out on Match of the Day how hard he'd worked to stop Makalele getting the ball and in hindsight I think it probably a fair call.6.5

Henry: Forget the late miss - it can happen to anyone. Otherwise he was outstanding, scoring a brilliant first (which included winning a high ball!), netting an impudent second and generally running the show. Scared Chelsea shitless every time he picked it up and was responsible for a hell of a lot of good work. Also destroyed the concept he doesn't turn it on in big games. That's 15 in 17 league games now by the way.9

Subs:

Clichy (for Reyes 82): Ran around like mad for 10 minutes and forced mistakes out of tired legs. Really good footballer and good enough to start for probably every Premiership side and perhaps should be more often for us. 7.5

RVP: Is maturing very nicely indeed. Nearly netted a silky winner when he latched onto Cesc's pass and gave the Chelsea players a lot to think about. Would be really interesting to see him start. 7

v Rosenberg (5-1)

Almunia: Made a really, really good low save early on and kicked largely well. But looked dodgy more than once on crosses and for the second time in a week cost us a goal, which is a real worry. Eventually realised there's nothing wrong with giving a ball a good double handed punch. 6

Hoyte: Was up against a poor opposition but defended diligently and rarely looked rushed. Used the ball well, linked up well with his team mates and should be well pleased with his first European start. 7

Cole: Looked solid, with a couple of important defensive headers, but still not yet back to his marauding best I sense. Shouldn't have let the ball drop over his head for Harald Brattbakk to fire at Alumnia after 17 minutes. Withdrawn with quarter of an hour left. 6.5

Sol: Ditto for above, though did once later on look somewhat sluggish again on the turn. Perhaps I'm just paranoid about the impending arrival of Duff and Robben at Highbury.6.5

Kolo: A very easy night for the big man and he even found time for a classic Kolo dance into the opposition penalty area towards the end. 7

Flamini: Very, very good full debut. Set up the second goal, ran tirelessly, got tackles in and seemed to work well with Cesc in midfield. Looks comfortable tracking back and going forward and also seems to have a strange affinity for joining in attacks right around the right edge of the penalty area and particularly when we attack the North Bank. A young, thinking man's Gilles Grimandi, he ain't at all bad for a fifth choice midfielder. 7.5

Cesc: Absolute star. Has already played 20 games this season (twice as many as Edu, Gilberto and Vieira), yet still had the strength to turn in one of his best performances for the club. Fantastically alert, his use of the ball was excellent. He also scored a very impressive, very difficult goal and was involved in the build up for the fifth. Not just our most frequent performer in midfield this season, but also our best. 8

Jose: Took his goal really well and gave us a flying start. Had another deflected shot well saved and looked much more like the sun kid of the beginning of the season. Had a delightful late chip that bamboozled three very stupid looking Rosenberg players before landing on the roof of the net. 7

Pires: Looked much, much better and was even spotted making a tackle late in the second half. Kept going and linked up well late on with Jose and RVP before being withdrawn for Quincy with two minutes left. His penalty was so brilliantly placed it went into the side netting. Again I marvel at his ability to put a football exactly where he wants it to go. 7

Bergkamp: A nice return for the Ice Man who got involved well in the game, set up the opener and had a couple of openings himself. Might have done better when in front of goal, but eased himself back into the side well. 7

Henry: I actually thought that poor as the defending was for his goal, it was still a pretty decent finish. Worked hard all night, linked up well with the kids around him and seemed to be feeling particularly tolerant. 7

Subs:
Clichy (for Dennis 72ish): Spent a few mins in midfield before dropping back to left back when RVP replaced Ashley. As ever looked sound in the defending and assured going forward. 7

RVP (for Cole 75): Resuscitated the game with some silky skills, wayward finishing and then eventually a very well taken goal. Rawer than an uncooked vegetable, but with massive potential. 7.5

Quincy (for Bob 88): Should have had longer. Don't think he got a touch.

v Birmingham (3-0)

Alumnia: Looks like Lehman, kicks slightly better than Lehman, fumbles the odd ball like Lehman and jumps a couple of inches less high in the air than Lehman. Did ok, but would have been ill advised to let Morrison’s second half effort creep under him and over the line.6.5

Lauren: Seemed really quiet yesterday. Means he was doing his defensive job well which at the moment is the priority. Better? Seeing as we kept a clean sheet, probably a tad. 6.5

Cole: It's not been picked up much by the press, but I’ve thought Ash to be one of the players whose form has most obviously dipped in the recent spell. He’s still looked a top left back, but the subtlety of touch that allowed him and Bob to link so well still seems to be absent. Better? Not noticeably, but again should take credit for a clean sheet. 7

Sol: I’m of the opinion he’s still carrying a little bit of weight. Played well enough, but on a couple of occasions he looked sluggish and immobile on the turn, which is obviously a concern with Duff and Robben coming to town next week. Better? Probably not. 6.5

Kolo: Probably fair to say he’s not been our worst performer in the recent period, but I think on occasion he has allowed our recent jitters to affect his decision making a little. Kept Heskey quiet, but also seemed to time his jumps wrongly on a couple of occasions. Better? Ditto above. 7

Vieira: Did some good stuff but on other occasions his decision making and concentration again seemed lacking a little. He’s a hard one to judge at the moment. Better? Probably a bit.7

Cesc: I’m glad to see he escaped censure for his recent performances because I think a lot of the recent mutterings about how he’s no Gilberto have been unfair. Admittedly, the Brazilian’s best work is done off the ball, SKY’s stats show how we tend to win with him in the side, but I still think the young Spaniard is doing pretty well. He’s a young boy whose probably played too many games in a struggling team in a big league. But he’s still there, still getting stuck in and still doing his stuff. Tired in the latter stages yesterday and was replaced by Flamini, which was a wise, common sense, decision. Better? No, but only because he was doing well in the first place. 7

Freddie: Scavenged, burrowed, furrowed, ducked and dived. Fred’s doing them all at the moment and its working as the perfect complement to the continued attempts at perfection that come from the rest of the team. Is also being very productive. Should have had a penalty yesterday, set up the third goal and generally ran the show. Better? No, but only because he’s been great. 7.5

Pires: Mark my words. One of these days the opposition are going to get a free kick on the edge of our area. Their player will hit it, the ball will fly off Robert Pires and zip past Lehman. And we’ll all put it down as a fluke, like we did for Graveson’s effort that flew off Pennant in the Carling Cup game against Everton. Except it won’t be a fluke because Pires, like Pennant, will have jumped with his back to the ball, meaning that when it hits him he’ll have no way of giving it any direction. My point is that Pires simply has to go into tackles. Maybe he’s worried about getting hurt, but he’s ducking out of the most basic challenges and its meaning we’re losing the battle in midfield at places like Old Trafford and Anfield. Obviously, as I was making a note of this, Bob went and scored a classic Bob goal. Basically a really, really good one. He is a fantastic playa, probably the purest footballer we have in our team and quite possibly the best finisher. Yesterday was his 50th goal for the club and almost without exception (Bolton at home this season) they’ve been aesthetically perfect and a joy to watch. But he must pull his weight for the team, which funnily enough I’ve seen him do really well on a number of occasions. Better? A little bit later on in the second half. 6.5

Reyes: You have to feel for him - seemingly everything he tries seems to go askew these days. Inches away from a Henry cross in the first half, he got into the game a bit more going towards half time, but then tired before being withdrawn. As I said above, he could do with a 25 minute run against tired defences to get his confidence back. Better? Not really, but not for want of effort. 6.5

Henry: Whether it be through injury or lack of confidence, he spent much of the game getting into decent positions but then making the wrong decision. Then ten minutes from time he took off past Melchiot, through the Birmingham defence and then a cool low finish hit whilst he was running at incredible speed. Six minutes later, he bought a ticket for Freddie Ljungberg’s cross and got lucky. May not be at his best. But the level of criticism he of all people has taken is ridiculous. Has scored 13 league goals this season (four more than anyone else and 9 more than Ruud), scoring in 11 of the 16 games. And it’s not even like he’s bound to get the goals because nobody else does. He hasn’t even scored a third of our goals, and with the exception of Old Trafford (when nobody scored) and Selhurst Park, at least one other Arsenal player has scored in all of our other games. Better? Yes. Despite earlier failures, his determination to keep going for the all important second goal was admirable. 7.5

Subs:
Clichy (for Jose): I love this guy. He’s like Wenger’s little foot soldier and seems capable of doing everything. Slotted in expertly in left midfield. He covers, chases back, tackles, retains the ball, gets forward, dribbles and causes havoc in the opposition defence. He may be more defensive than Reyes, but sometimes being slightly more defensive can give you the shape to attack more. May not be suited to central midfield, but should be considered a serious option for a place in left midfield on tough away games. 7.5

Flamini: Seems to do everything neatly enough without being spectacular. Will be interesting to see how he works with Cesc over the next two games.7

v Man United (0-1)

Alumnia: Crap on their goal, barely put a foot wrong otherwise. Plays and looks like a slightly smaller Jens, but can kick. 6

Hoyte: OK and defended well on occasion, but I’d still like to see him get forward more. That said, I think he’s a player who would look much better surrounded by seasoned pros. 6.5

Clichy: Really, really good as usual. Slipped on their excuse of a pitch for the early goal, but didn’t let it affect him and worked tirelessly defending and attacking all game. 7.5

Senderos: The lumbering giant of Everton had been replaced by a very, very accomplished looking centre half. One dodgy back header that fell short but otherwise cut out everything that was asked of him and looked a real first team option. 8

Djorou: Took eye off ball and then slipped for the goal which wasn’t good. Never quite looked the same player as against Everton, but worked his way back into the game. 6.5

Flamini: Looks like we can breathe a little more easily in the midfield department after watching a very assured display. Would like to see him trialled as a sub for Freddie in games where we’ve got a dodgy one goal lead. 7

Larsson: Some like him but I’m not so sure. What he did was decent enough but I thought he struggled to have an effect on the game. 6.5

Quincy: Maybe it was the pitch, maybe it was United doubling up on him. Either way the hero of the last round never really got into last night’s affair. 6

Pennant: Worked hard, tried to take the initiative and overall did quite well. Still not sure if he’ll quite make it at Highbury though. 7

Lupoli: Is a striker and when strikers get no service they don’t look much kop. 6.5

Van Persie: Battled hard all night and willingly came deep to win possession. But probably came a bit too deep and battled a bit too hard. Yes, he could have been sent off for the incident with Richardson. Reminds me a bit of a young Freddie, not in playing style but in the way that the potential is clearly there but the skills are still very, very raw. 6.5

Subs:
Smith (for Lupoli): Did OK but still looks wary of going in for challenges and taking men on following his long term injury.

Cregg: Alright

Karbassiyoon: Alright