William Gallas’ header on 81 minutes gave Arsenal a hard fought win and although not a perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, there were signs that Arsene Wenger is starting to better understand the faults of his team.
Arsene Wenger started Diaby in the centre of midfield for the first time this season while Bendtner partnered Adebayor up front. A traditional 4-4-2 with the two more orthodox front men (the term could be used loosely) got no reward from a highly committed and organised Portsmouth side, playing with a five man midfield.
They gave Arsenal no real space and the Gunners played in front of them without conviction. The lack of natural wide men and the ability to take on the full backs meant Arsenal had one way to play and that was to pass the ball. It suited Portsmouth who if they got the ball try to counter through Nugent and Krancjar and the pace of the full backs, playing the early ball to Crouch. The England striker hit the post underlying his threat.
Arsenal kept the ball well but crosses were needed; Wenger realised that and went more creative. Bendtner to the left and Nasri behind Adebayor so that the Gunners could have more support when passing the ball in the form of more triangles. Diaby showed that the ability to partner Fabregas when the captain returns, at least from his passing ability (65 passes to Denilson’s 63 though the latter was more accurate) and discipline though that may be due in part to tiredness, deciding not to be too adventurous. An interesting statistic was 37% of Arsenal’s play went down the right with their average touch positions shifting toward that side.
Nicklas Bendtner looked more mobile on the left and tried to take on Wilson but overall the Gunners lacked spark, typified in the second half by Adebayor’s miss from a near open goal and general play. The Togolese striker also denied in the first half by a brilliant tackle from Distin in another open goal opportunity.
Carlos Vela was introduced to try and make something happen as he looked to take on rookie full back Wilson on the left and it was from a free kick won by him that got the goal. James came out for a Denilson cross but was beaten to it by Gallas who headed in an empty net. It wasn’t pretty but you could say it was coming after the keeper had made a couple of other mistakes.
Arsenal decided to keep the ball in the corner for the last minutes, learning from their mistakes. So not a very inspiring performance but one where Arsenal could have learned a great deal from.
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Arsenal: Almunia (6), Sagna (7), Gallas (7)*, Silvestre (7), Clichy (7), Eboue (6) [Vela 66 (7)], Denilson (7), Diaby (6) [Ramsey 75 (7)], Nasri (7), Adebayor (6), Bendtner (7)
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Toure, Van Persie, Wilshere, Gibbs.
Portsmouth: James, Wilson, Campbell, Distin, Belhadj, Nugent (Defoe 88), Diop (Pamarot 90), Davis, Hughes (Mvuemba 50), Kranjcar, Crouch.
Subs Not Used: Ashdown, Hreidarsson, Little, Kanu.
Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire)
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