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All Passion Spent: Arsenal Report
By: Tony Butcher
A MILD, still night with the merest hint of a chill in the air. All the seats were wet which meant there were some soggy bottom boys in the Town end. Well, following Town does make us men of constant sorrow.
Arsenal 2 Grimsby Town 0
27 Nov 2001, Worthington Cup 4th Round
Town warmed up in front of the growing mass of Town supporters with the usual organised jogging down the touchline, followed by disorganised passing. Mmmm, come to think of it, thatâ€™s how they play as well. They seemed to have nice new red sweatshirts for the occasion, so no bobbling in the knit there then. Arsenal warmed up at the other end, in front of a wall of empty red seats, with fancy-dan continental stretches and balletic jumps. As they were doing this their team was announced on the two big TV screens, "Number 57 - Juan". I will resist the temptation to make a Heinz joke but 57! And Juan wasnâ€™t a singular sensation, by the way. We feared for Ben Chapman, possibly being swept away by the elephantine ears of Jermaine Pennant. Up front they had Bergkamp and Wiltord. Now thatâ€™s cheating.
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Campbell played on the left of midfield with Butterfield on the right. Hardly an exciting prospect of wizardry on the wings, but potentially "solid". I stress the word potentially.
The kick off was delayed by a few seconds as the tiny matchday mascot had to be dragged off the pitch by a stuffed green dragon.
Arsenal kicked off towards the Town support (which virtually filled the Clock End) in total silence. The Town fans were apprehensive, rather than excited, and the Arsenal fans were mute. You can hardly blame them, Man Utd on Sunday, Juventus next week. Would it be "Just like watching Juve?".
The first couple of minutes were uneventful, with the game being played at first division pace. After three minutes Arsenal had their first attack.
The ball was played into Wiltord, about 25 yards out, just to the left of centre of goal. He quickly turned and passed the ball to Pennant on their right wing, level with the edge of the penalty area. Chapman and Campbell stood off him slightly, leaving a gap for Pennant to clip in a cross, which he duly did. The ball swung to the far post, about 8 or 9 yards out, level with the post. Neilson was under the flight of the ball, but put himself in a position where he was making a standing jump. EDU ran in and firmly headed down just inside Coyneâ€™s right hand post. It was a perfectly placed header, any save would have been excellent, as the ball went into the only space between Coyneâ€™s hand and the post. Deflation, any optimism punctured, the Town crowd were not so much stunned as resigned. I canâ€™t remember hearing the Arsenal supporters cheer. There were some there, I could see them, they got up and went to the toilet at half time, so I know they werenâ€™t a mural or dummies.
Itâ€™d be just a case of keeping the score down now, wouldnâ€™t it? Well, sort of. The game was curious, like no cup-tie Iâ€™ve ever been at. Town didnâ€™t collapse, but Arsenal didnâ€™t go for the throat. The game was like a competitive friendly, pretty patterns weaved, but no passion. Curiously passionless. Willems and Burnett had time and space to show some feints and tricks in midfield, but there was no final product. Why? Little movement and intelligent defending by Arsenal. Allen and Jevons didnâ€™t have enough physical presence to cause Keown and Stepanovs any problems. Town were quite admirable up to the edge of the Arsenal penalty area, but nothing happened inside their box. Youâ€™ll have noticed that I havenâ€™t reported any incidents yet, well there werenâ€™t any really. Very early on (around the time of the goal) Willems wasted a free kick out on the Town right, swinging it way, way too high and into the North Bank. A couple of minutes later, after a neat, intricate passing movement down the Town left, Willems sliced a shot 24 yards wide with his right foot. A few minutes after that Willems totally skied an attempted left foot half volley after a high headed clearance from Keown came out to him about 25 yards out, centrally placed. The shot was so high and wayward it never went out of play (Allen was flagged offside trying to retrieve it). Half way through the half the Arsenal â€˜keeper fluffed a clearance straight to Willems, about 25 yards out on the left. The resulting shot went a yard or two wide of the â€˜keeperâ€™s right hand post.
Arsenal didnâ€™t attack much, and when they did Town defended well, often in numbers. Broomes and Groves were not having much difficulty in keeping Wiltord and Bergkamp away from the penalty area (though Bergkamp doesnâ€™t need much encouragement to flitter around the periphery). After about 20 minutes Bergkamp received the ball near the touchline on the Town right, cut in and hit a weak shot, bouncing once, straight into Coyneâ€™s midriff, from 25 yards. Ermm, let me think, what else did they do. Mmmmm? A free kick straight into the wall. Does that intrigue you? Thought not. A couple of crosses that went within a few yards of someoneâ€™s head? Nope, boring, eh? Bergkamp beat Neilson then stopped, claiming a free kick, but the referee waved play on, with Tin-Tin throwing a minor hissy fit because he didnâ€™t get his way? Hardly worth bothering with.
Town werenâ€™t bad, just not good enough to cause Arsenal any problems. There was some excellent controlled defending by Chapman (who, according to someone on my left, "leapt like a salmon" at least 7 times during the game. That was his phrase du jour), including one moment where he controlled the ball on his chest near the Town goal line, and calmly passed the ball upfield. Similarly, Broomes and Groves had a couple of flashy moments inside the Town penalty area.
Near the end of the half Town had what a charitable person would call "an effort on goal". That charitable person would be woefully misguided. A spell of Town passing and movement down the left resulted in Broomes surging forward and trying a shot from 25 yards. The ball rebounded off one of several Arsenal defenders who flung themselves towards the surging centre back and squirmed sideways. The ball was then played to the unmarked Butterfield. The totally, and utterly, unmarked Butterfield, who, from about 15 yards from the bye-line, 5 yards outside the penalty area, clipped in a cross which went a few inches over the near post. "Ooooh" we said out loud. "Rubbish cross" we said to ourselves. One in a series of crosses from the boy Butterfield which sailed majestically into the North Bank.
With a couple of minutes left Arsenal should have scored again. Meandering play outside the Town penalty area, with Arsenal players knocking the ball around in front of the Town defence, ended with a diagonal cross from their right, into the middle of the area, about 8 yards out. Wiltord glided between Groves and Broomes (who was keeping him onside) and tried to back head the ball past Coyne. The ball floated gently a few inches wide of Coyneâ€™s right hand post. We can see the difference between international strikers like Wiltord and Bradley Allen now. Wiltord misses by less. Well worth Â£13 million.
A minute or so later Bergkamp, again after drifting out wide on the Town right, dribbled into the penalty area, falling under a challenge from two Town players. No penalty, of course. If he hadnâ€™t rather too obviously searched out a leg over which to fall he may have got it. He still hadnâ€™t found what he was looking for. This gave rise to probably the most pathetic heckle heard for many a year. "Have you been on a submarine Bergkamp, â€˜cos that was dive was rubbish".
Half time: Arsenal 1 Grimsby Town 0
And that ladies and gentlemen, was the first half. Not embarrassing, not exciting. There were moments when Town looked like they may break through, fleeting visions up the other end, but each time an Arsenal defender was simply stronger or faster than an attacker. Allen and Jevons linked well two or three times, but there was only ever one or two people moving for Town. The wide players were atrocious, with Campbell barely touching the ball. Many wished Butterfield had barely touched it as he was a liability. Any interesting Town play was destroyed the moment it went near Jogging Danny B. He hugged the touchline, but never moved, and his "partnership" with Neilson was more like a sham marriage. Down the centre Broomes/Groves and Willems/Burnett were fine. Apart from Willemsâ€™ shooting which was sub-Poutonian, a concept many believed was merely a theoretical possibility. Sir, I have empirical evidence and 4,000 witnesses.
However the overriding memory of the first half was the reverential silence and the passionless fruit on offer by both sides. Both seemed intent on "putting on a show". All rings and things to make them look good. No-one got "stuck in". Arsenal looked ripe for a Pouton/Coldicott mugging, even Willems was avoiding clogging.
At least Barnsley were losing.
Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"Thereâ€™s no passion out there, weâ€™d need Shaun Cunnington".
The report continues in the second half.
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