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Arsenal 3 Rovers 0


Alan75
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Match Report by Anti Euro Smiths Fan

Highbury - redolent of marble halls, the bronze bust of Herbert Chapman, the oak panelled boardroom, the Grade 2 listed Art Deco facade of the East Stand, and the famous clock in the South Stand, where I was situated with the Rovers supporters yesterday.

On a day when football paid its respects to George Best, I travelled to North London to say a final goodbye to the famous old stadium before two of the stands are knocked down to be replaced with blocks of flats. The new stadium, about half a mile away, is a huge construction, with a roof similar in design to the Stade De France in Paris. Bloody French....

It's not just football that has been seen on the Highbury pitch over the years. Henry Cooper came up against Muhammed Ali in a World Heavyweight title rematch at Highbury in the 1960's - a fight which some of our older messageboard readers might recall. Many years ago, there was also a black and white film called "The Arsenal Stadium Mystery" - where the star player for the opposition is deliberately poisoned.

The mystery for me at Arsenal yesterday was how the hell Shefki Kuqi has become a Premiership striker. He looks like a pub player who is totally out of his depth at this level. Yes, he provides the odd decent flick on, and he shows a willingness to run about - but it's not enough at this level.

He's frankly an embarrassment in the blue and white shirt - typified by a "shot" he had in the first half yesterday from a decent position which ended up nearly hitting the corner flag. The sooner this dysfunctional Kosovan is replaced with a more competent striker the better....

Kuqi wasn't the only one at fault though. At least he tried. I thought Andy Todd was to blame for both of Arsenal's first two goals.

den

I thought rovers were superb.

I wouldn't use the word "superb" myself Den. I think it was a broadly acceptable performance for the most part, undermined by a lack of clinical finishing and a couple of lapses in concentration for the goals Arsenal scored.

I agree that the 3-0 scoreline was harsh. It flattered Arsenal and wasn't a true reflection of the game. Last season, in one of Souness's last games with Rovers, we also lost 3-0 at Highbury. But this was a better performance in terms of going forward and creating chances. Last season at Highbury we had a demoralised team, lacking in confidence and tactically poor.

Improvement has been made under Hughes, but we nevertheless still lost the game 3-0 yesterday and we have to look at the reasons why.

We got off to a wretched start - caught cold after just a few minutes. From the initial move, Bergkamp was allowed to go past Steven Reid too easily and it was poor defending from Todd on the edge of our box - gifting the ball to Fabregas. Friedel perhaps should have done better with the shot. Three years ago, I think he would have saved it - but it was the lumbering Andy Todd who was mainly to blame for the defensive error.

It could have been 2-0 to Arsenal within ten minutes, but Friedel did well to save Henry's free-kick. On our last trip to London a few weeks ago, we also got off to a wretched start in the opening ten minutes against Chelsea. Away from home we need to be better prepared and concentrate harder at the start of the match.

Later on in the first half, for a period of about 20 minutes, we passed the ball around nicely and created a couple of decent scoring opportunities. Our pub striker Mr Kuqi actually did well to chest the ball down in the box for Pedersen, who should have done better with his shot - which was blocked by an Arsenal defender.

Friedel made a decent save from a shot from Pires, who was allowed to run down the whole length of Arsenal's right hand side far too easily. Pedersen had a mixed game. His corners were erratic and he didn't fully get a grip on the match. However, he did provide a couple of good crosses in the game. His midfield counterpart Emerton was back to his usual frustrating self - doing very little of any note.

Savage - not my favourite player - chased and harried the Arsenal midfield well. Putting to one side his ridiculous playacting, which will do nothing to improve his or Rovers' image, I thought he generally had a good game, breaking up Arsenal's attacking play. Robbie has his limitations. He'll never be a creative player in a million years and he'll never be able to provide the type of incisive defence-splitting passes that Tugay and Berkovic did in their pomp. However, he did do a good job yesterday of putting his foot in at the right moments.

As I said, we passed the ball around nicely for periods in the first half, but it was some rather old-fashioned route one football from Lucas Neill which carved out a couple of chances for the tattooed Welsh chav Bellamy. A long punt from Lucas in his own half found Bellamy in space behind his Arsenal marker. Craig struck a firm shot, but Herr Lehman made a good save. From the rebound, Bellamy's shot hit Toure's head and went out for a corner.

Another long punt from Neill shortly afterwards found Bellamy in the box, but he couldn't manage to control the ball properly. We deserved to go in at the half-time break no worse than being a goal down - but with two minutes to go in the first half, there was some more poor defending.

A fine pass from Pires found Henry on the left-hand edge of the penalty box. But I felt that Andy Todd should have been quicker to spot the danger and intercept the ball. Todd is a carthorse compared with the thoroughbred Henry, and he was too slow to see the danger.

In the second half, we again carved out a couple of decent scoring opportunities. From a Pedersen cross on the left-hand side, Bellamy's diving header grazed the outside of the post. David Thompson replaced the ineffective Emerton for the final half hour, and although Thommo looks a few pounds overweight, he was nevertheless lively - seeing a firm shot saved by Herr Lehman. Later, Thommo had a fairly weak header in the box saved by the in-form German keeper.

With a couple of minutes to go, Van Persie, on the right-hand of the pitch, then went past Michael Gray too easily and struck a fine goal. I saw a few Rovers fans near me clapping Van Persie's strike. It was a fine goal, but it was also poor defending from Gray. At the end of the match, the young Dutchman embraced his old foe Todd.

The difference in the match was the quality of Arsenal's finishing and the lapses in concentration from Todd and Gray. I would feel more comfortable with a defensive partnership of Zurab and Nelsen.

I left the Highbury stadium for the last time on a grey and miserable November afternoon. The weather was crap, the food was crap and the toilets were crap. Maybe the move to Ashburton Grove isn't such a bad thing after all....

Arsenal: Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cygan, Pires (Flamini 77), Fabregas, Silva, Reyes (Ljungberg 72), Bergkamp (Van Persie 82), Henry.

Subs Not Used: Senderos, Almunia.

Booked: Fabregas

Goals: Fabregas 4, Henry 45, Van Persie 90.

Rovers: Friedel, Neill, Nelsen, Todd, Gray, Emerton (Thompson 61), Reid, Savage, Pedersen, Kuqi (Dickov 79), Bellamy.

Subs Not Used: Khizanishvili, Enckelman, Mokoena.

Booked: Reid, Neill.

Att: 38,192

Ref: C Foy

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