Arsenal 3-1 Portsmouth Match Report
Arsenal secured another three points and moved to second on the Premier League table thanks to an outstanding 3-1 victory over a competitive Portsmouth side. The home side got the ball rolling as early as the 8th minute when Emmanuel Adebayor coolly converted a penalty won by strike partner Robin van Persie and led 2-0 at the break thanks to a poacher’s finish by in-form Cesc Fabregas. Portsmouth were then given the chance to get back into the game after the harsh dismissal of Philippe Senderos early in the second but Arsenal actually extended their lead thanks to some quick thinking by Fabregas from a free kick and swerving drive from Tomas Rosicky. Although Portsmouth pulled one back soon through a fluke of a goal from Nwanko Kanu, Arsenal held onto their lead despite the numerical disadvantage to record another thrilling home victory.
There were a couple of surprises in the starting team, not least of all the selection of Mathieu Flamini at right back. Manuel Almunia kept his place in goals and the defensive line was completed by captain for the day Kolo Toure, Philippe Senderos and Gael Clichy – who has not missed a minute of game time this season. Gilberto Silva and Fabregas were paired together in the centre for the first time this season, supported by Rosicky on the left and Alexander Hleb on the right. Up front, Adebayor got the nod ahead of Eduardo da Silva and took his place alongside Robin van Persie to complete a very strong Arsenal unit.
It is no exaggeration to say that this was one of the most enjoyable Arsenal matches I have witnessed in the past couple of years. Portsmouth came to play from the outset with John Utaka and ex-Arsenal man Kanu leading the line but with Arsene Wenger’s side delivering their best performance of the season so far there was only going to be one winner. Arsenal’s curse of falling behind at Emirates Stadium seems to be a thing of the past with the side scoring first for the third consecutive home game.
The standout players were undoubtedly the midfield duo of Rosicky and Fabregas, whose energy ensured that Arsenal continued to maintain posession and play creative football in the second half with only ten men, and Gilberto, who was back to his “Invisible Wall” best in the first half and slotted in effortlessly for Senderos after his red card. The side just appears that bit calmer with Gilberto in the side as he allows the likes of Fabregas, Rosicky and Hleb to wreak havok in the attacking third and that was exactly what happened against Portsmouth.
Another great start
As they did against Sparta Prague midweek, Arsenal were able to snatch an early goal after some excellent pressure from Clichy on the left hand side deflected the ball into van Persie’s path. The Dutchman took the ball in his stride and rounded advancing Portsmouth goalkeeper David James who pulled down van Persie for a definite penalty. With van Persie missing the last penalty against Manchester City it was no surprise to see Adebayor grab the ball and subsequently slot home a very nice penalty. It was later suggested in the Arsenal TV Online post-match show that Adebayor took the kick not because van Persie missed the last one but because the Dutchman was the one who was fouled for the penalty. Thierry Henry used to have this arrangement with Robert Pires so it seems a possibility, but we’ll have to wait and see who takes the next one to be sure.
Arsenal then dominated the game before some marvellous build-up involving Flamini, Hleb, Fabregas, van Persie and Rosicky saw Adebayor win a corner. Rosicky delivered in a fine ball that was flicked on by Gilberto before Fabregas reacted quickly to scramble the ball home. Arsenal should have had a third before the end of the half when Rosicky and Adebayor combined to good effect but the Togolese striker failed to pick out an unmarked van Persie in the Arsenal penalty area and the game remained at 2-0 at the break.
Things changed for Arsenal early in the second half when Senderos was red carded for an apparent last man challenge on Kanu. Without being biased I really don’t think that Senderos deserved to be sent off. There was no doubt he was the last man and there was some contact between the two players but it was unintentional as Senderos attempted to avoid making a challenge. It was a difficult call for the referee to make and you can’t really blame him for getting it wrong but the big loser will be Senderos as he now has to serve a three-match ban.
Sensational with ten men
Portsmouth enjoyed a good spell directly after the sending off but Arsenal survived courtesy of some excellent defending by Gilberto and Toure and a couple of excellent saves from Almunia. With the initial shock of losing a player over, the entire team lifted and played some of the best football they have all season. Rosicky, Fabregas and Hleb were harassing the Portsmouth midfield into mistakes and Adebayor and van Persie’s hard work up front meant that Portsmouth’s extra player never made a difference. Indeed, Arsenal scored a third goal to seal the match after Rosicky fired home cleverly following a quickly taken free kick from Fabregas. It was his second goal in two matches and the eighth goal from an Arsenal midfielder this season, making a mockery of the belief that Arsenal’s current midfield have not scored enough goals.
Although Kanu replied with a flukey equaliser, Arsenal continued to play good football and should have had a fourth when second-half substitute Abou Diaby unforgivably headed wide from six yards out. It was only when both van Persie and Adebayor were withdrawn in the second half that Arsenal began to lose their attacking verve. It is clear that Eduardo does not have the physical presence to play as a lone striker and the overall tiredness within the side meant that Arsenal spent a large part of the final 15 minutes on the back foot. But Almunia and the defence held firm and the club completed its best win of the season so far.
With Chelsea unexpectedly losing to Aston Villa and Manchester United currently off the pace after their slow start it is great to see Arsenal right up the top with Liverpool after four rounds. The side look electric in attack at times and the fact that the three goals the club has conceded this season have been two howlers from Jens Lehmann and Kanu’s fluke shows how well the defence has performed so far. With Almunia coming in and providing even more stability there is a real chance that Arsenal can push on from the good start and continue their unbeaten start against Tottenham in two weeks time. For now though, Arsenal supporters can rest easy knowing that the team is combining good football with excellent results and the problems that have plagued them in the past two seasons; lapses in defence and wasted chances in front of goal, seem to be disappearing as the side continues to build in confidence.
What do you think?
Have your say on Arsenal’s win over Portsmouth by leaving a comment.