Over the past week and a half, one late goal, one sprinter, & one God-like human, have caught the fancy of Us Gooners like no one else and like never before. Whilst the former two belong to the ‘Red ‘n White’ half of London, the latter hails from the cryptic land of Cataluña. It goes without saying that the men in question are Niklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott and ‘the’ Lionel Messi. 11G takes time out to dig deep into their individual cases..
I’ll keep things simple & quickly revise the points table for you all; Chelsea lead with 74 points, United trail by 1 (after their draw with Blackburn hours back!), and Arsenal a point further behind; with just 5 more games to go before another edition of Barclays Premier League bids adieu. United now have four more games only. Things would have been very different for the Gunners if one certain Dane had not rescued them, not once, but twice over, with late late winners no less. After a dodgy hat-trick against Porto in the Champion’s League, he gave Arsenal 3 vital points scoring a stoppage-time winner against Hull. Any outside chances of winning the league for the first time since the class of ’04 (read: The Invincibles) would have been quenched right there.
Mathematically the title is still Chelsea’s to lose, but with just 3 points in it, you never know especially given the topsy-turvy nature of the campaign thus far. The Blues await key clashes against Tottenham and Liverpool, both vying for top-4 spots. United on the other hand are yet to face the duo of Tottenham and city rivals ‘City’ (!), again a team very much in the reckoning for the elite Champions league berth for next term.
That said, even we face both Tottenham and City before the season closes, so there are points aplenty to be both, lost and won. If Chelsea slip-up in at least one fixture, and we somehow manage to win them all, the mix will get a hell lot more close than it presently is. I have a funny feeling that the title will be decided on the final day with any of the trio in with a shout.
Hopefully I’ll still be around when that happens, but there’s no doubt about the fact that a huge reason behind Arsenal to be even considered as a possible ‘Champion-to-be’, is the super Dane, Niklas Bendtner. He’s had a stop-start season with injuries a many, but boy has he turned the tide or what!? Not only he gives us a different option with his height, he allows our midfielders to parry in the lay-offs he creates for them. With Arshavin up front, the above was non-existent. The guy still has critics after him with his atrocious first-touch & appalling ball-control, but only a fool will discount his presence in rallying this young and fragile team to glory. Hope he does exactly that come May!
If Bendtner’s forte lies in his vertical reach, Walcott’s fright is his horizontal acceleration. Anyone who can do 100 meters in 10 seconds flat, should be on a sprint-relay team & not trying his luck in football, is a popular notion doing rounds. Many have questioned his ability as a footballer, more precisely his footballing brain. But as we all found out over the two legs against Barca, if you have pace, you don’t need much else to succeed. He was the difference in the 1st leg as Arsenal came from behind to earn a draw against the Catalan giants, sending the Gunners faithful in a state of oblivion. Things were the same at Camp Nou as Wenger started Theo, who in turn repaid faith by feeding in Niklas at the 18th minute mark to give Arsenal a lead, against the run of play.
Be it Maxwell in the first leg or Abidal in the second, the mere sight of Theo sent shivers down their spine. Not only were Barca forced to keep a deep backline, but it also inhibited the marauding full-backs of Barcelona, to retreat further behind than usual. Of course his impact would have been more telling had Arsenal not withered under one certain ‘El Mesias’ in the away leg, but given what we saw of him, he was unquestionably the difference-maker for Arsenal.
If he can keep fit for the remaining games and come up with similar showings, I’m sure collecting 15 points won’t be much trouble.
Like I mentioned a while back, Theo’s sprints were over shadowed by the ‘sprint + skills + supreme abilities’ of Mr. Messi. I had purposely decided to refrain from adding to the already burgeoning praise lavished at the Argentine, by pundits, bloggers, fans across the globe et al, but mind you it takes an inhumane to do that! It is a rather unusual sight to see fellow Arsenal blogs come out in unison and shower praises to a player from the opposition, but such was the aura of little Lionel, that we just had to give in!
He chose a floating role for himself during the first leg, where although influential, he wasn’t directly involved in the state of play. Plaudits were handed to Clichy to have kept him at bay albeit momentarily. Yes, Clichy is showing signs of returning to his former self off late, but no one, and I mean no one could have possibly silenced what was to come from the ‘Messiah’ at Camp Nou during the return leg.
With no Gallas, no Song, no Campbell, and more importantly, ‘with’ Silvestre in the starting line-up, expecting Arsenal to contain an in-form Messi was a far-stretched thought right from the offset. Giving any player that much time on the ball, would mean chances galore for the opposition. If that player happens to be Lionel, expect him to bury those chances. And that’s precisely what happened as Arsenal just lost focus after Bendtner’s opener. Although I admit, Messi was in a different dimension that night, ‘unstoppable’ if I may. A snap-shot, a neat finish, a chip & a shot through Almunia’s legs meant he ended the night with no less than 4 goals. Otherwise as well, he was very influential, as was Xavi; who keeps threading those slide-rule’s match after match.
No point riling about our injury crisis, a lot has already been said on the same. I still maintain, ‘United without Rooney’, ‘Liverpool without Torres’ and ‘Chelsea without Drogba’ won’t be the same force as they are with them. Liverpool lost track of the 4th spot as a result, and United realized yesterday that Berba was an ‘absent’ presence for them.
We have not only been without Robin, but also without Djourou, for some time now. Add long-term injuries to Ramsey and Cesc; 2-month lay-offs for Nasri, Rosicky, Theo, Niklas, Clichy & I’m not even done yet. Even Eduardo, Vela, Diaby and lately Gallas and Arshavin have been troubled by slight niggles. Despite all this, we are still in a shout for the league, which I think is huge and is bare testimony to the mental resolve of our present squad.
A short trip down the ‘Seven Sisters Road‘ is up next as we renew hostilities with our fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur, anything less than a resounding victory is just unacceptable. A chance go to 2nd in the table is up for grabs, and reports suggest Robin will be bench side when we take on the pitch. I can see the omens going for us. C’mon you Arsenal, do us proud, again..
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