Arsenal 4 (Diaby 18, Diaby 22, Gallas 51, Ramsey 69)
Portsmouth 1 (Kaboul 69)
The Arsenal boys made it two from two in the Premier League with an extremely comfortable 4-1 win over out-of-sorts Portsmouth in the first home game of the new season. Abou Diaby’s two early goals got things going and although Younes Kaboul pulled one back with a powerful header, William Gallas and Aaron Ramsey scored second-half goals to round off the scoring in what turned out to be a straightforward win.
Just as I had hoped he would, Arsene Wenger made significant changes to the squad with stand-out performer Diaby joined by Eduardo, Emmanuel Eboue and Kieran Gibbs in the starting team. Nicklas Bendtner, Alex Song, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy were all rested as Denilson shifted to the holding role in midfield and Andrey Arshavin switched wings to accommodate for Eduardo on the left.
Our players looked ready and raring to go from the first whistle in the London sunshine. Diaby threatened consistently in the opening half-hour and was rewarded with two excellent goals. The first was provided by Eduardo who burned the Pompey right-back with what is becoming a trademark bit of skill before sliding into the Frenchman’s path for Diaby to smash home.
Minutes later it was 2-0 as Diaby won a defensive header from a Portsmouth free-kick before running the length of the pitch to finish smartly after good work from Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas and Eboue. The critics will say that our strikers are struggling to find the back of the net but when you have players like Diaby and Denilson sprinting forward to help out a rampaging Eboue I don’t think it matters one bit.
It was delightful stuff by Arsenal and given the woeful performance of Pompey up until that point, I really felt another rout was on the cards. But it wasn’t quite to be as Kaboul caught Manuel Almunia out to score a remarkable headed goal. The Spaniard has to take the blame for the goal but the more I look at it on the replay the less I have been able to figure out a way that Almunia could have prevented it. Indeed, Kaboul jumped so high and so early that it virtually made it impossible for Almunia to do anything about the goal.
At half-time at 2-1 the game was seemingly up for grabs yet at no stage did I think the result would be anything but an Arsenal win, even with captain Fabregas being forced to make way for Aaron Ramsey with a hamstring problem.
There was a tense moment shortly after the break when the speedy John Utaka got goal-side of Gallas and tumbled over. But with a foul and a red card seeming like the only option from the referee he waved play-on and replays have backed up the decision, revealing that the Portsmouth striker simply tripped over his own feet. Ironically it was Gallas who got the goal, inadvertently scoring after kicking the ball into his own head an in after Arshavin’s clever free-kick and a couple of touches from van Persie and Vermaelen. Another flukey goal for the defender, his third in the opening three games, but you’ve got to love those celebrations.
The game was essentially over at that point but our team got a fourth with 20 minutes to go when subsitute Ramsey scored his first Premiership goal for the club. Van Persie was the provider as he slid a very Cescy pass through to the Welshman and he finished comfortably.
Ramsey’s goal allowed Wenger to make a couple of substitutions shortly after as Arshavin and Eduardo made way for Bendtner and Fran Merida. In the short time he was on the pitch I thought Merida was particularly impressive, combining incisive passing with some nifty footwork as he and his more experienced teammates played out the rest of the game without much fuss.
4-1 it ended and despite a couple of tricky moments it was another comfortable, impressive performance and result by the boys.
I know it was only one performance but how good was Diaby? Given a free-role by the manager the Frenchman impressed as much with his work-rate and quickness of movement as he did with his two goals. Diaby’s second was as Patrick Vieira-like as anything he has ever done at Arsenal, clearing the ball with a header on the penalty spot before running the length of the field to slot home Eboue’s pass. Last season he was often criticised by fans for a lack of effort and desire but if he continues to put in performances like this then that will surely be forgotten.
It has to be said that our defence looked a little shakier than in the opening two weeks – but I do wonder how much of that was down to the three defensive changes that were made. While Eboue was one of our best players, Gibbs had a difficult time of it marking the very nippy Frederic Piquionne and Denilson – despite playing reasonably well – was less physical in the centre of the park than Song had been in the previous two games. The changes seemed to give Portsmouth more freedom in the attacking third than either of Celtic or Everton were afforded and that may be something of a concern for the manager.
We may have scored 12 goals in our opening three games but it seems a lot of the focus seems to be on the fact that our strikers have only contributed one to that tally. Personally I don’t understand the problem; if we’re scoring goals then it means the system is working. It doesn’t matter who puts the ball in the back of the net, all that matters is that we’re getting it there in the first place.
I said before the game that “rotation and 3 points should be the target” against Portsmouth – and that’s exactly what we got at the Emirates. With Manchester United looming large and a job still to do against Celtic it was imperative that a few of our players were rested against Pompey and I’m delighted that Wenger took the opportunity. I believe there will be more rotations against Celtic and – barring the injury to Fabregas – the squad should be in excellent condition for the travel to Old Trafford.
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