Arsenal 1 Portsmouth 0
Tony Adams got the biggest cheers – several times. “There’s only one Tony Adams” rang out loudly at the beginning and end.
It was like the heart of Arsenal past.
But things move on. Both teams have their current problems. Arsenal relatively unbalanced and beset with injuries. Portsmouth with a giant financial cloud hanging over them. And proceedings – fairly sombre and flat refelected that.
Both teams came off the back of negative finishes in previous games.
Some Portsmouth players are on their way or want away, and that showed, most notably with Defoe on the bench.
Arsenal lacked creativity. The creative heart has been severely diminished anyway, when Fabregas limped off last week.
Parts of this game were dire, needing a character like Adams on the pitch to galvanise proceedings. The freezing crowd deserved better.
Wenger picked two big strikers, leaving Van Persie on the bench to protect him. But too many times the play and posititioning was too static leading to a lot of possession, but square and backward passes.
Adebayor had a stinker – the only majorly positive thing was taking the ball into the corner in injury time to waste a bit of time.
His touch was far too heavy. Maybe he was worried about being booked again. On one occasion, Clichy rescued him in energetic style and played the ball back, but he just stood there, watching a Portsmouth player regain posession.
Nick Bendtner, although booed by the home crowd on one occasion, showed some good touches, in patches. And the partnership between the Dane and Samir Nasri was Arsenal’s most productive. But why put Bentdner on the left? He was more comfortable when switched to the right.
Portsmouth have what many Arsenal fans want – a tall, physical spine to the team – James, Distin, Diop and Crouch. And at times physicality won the day, particularly in midfield [Diop v Denilson] and up front [Crouch v Gallas]. But Portsmouth, like Arsenal haven’t replaced their midfield [particularly Mendes and Muntari] effectively enough, despite spending nearly £100m on the team.
Sagna had the first Arsenal attempt on target midway through the first half – a sort of tame cross which didn’t bother James.
At the other end, a Crouch header from a deep cross grazed the post which set the crowd into frenzied urgency.
Diaby set Adebayor free with a through ball from the right and although beating Campbell working a position to beat James, he was off the pace and it was cleared by Distin.
Nasri who was Arsenal’s main creative force drifted inside, linked up with Bendtner and his deflected shot went wide.
Arsenal increasingly pumped balls into the box which were causing Portsmouth increasing consternation,largely due to James’ jittery goalkeeping.
Bendtner headed a bouncing ball which caused a six yard scamble.
Another cross found Adebayor free on the left, but he chose a right foot and into the side netting instead of a left foot shot across the goal.
When Vela came on for Eboue, things changed. Arsenal had a natural left footer on the left, and the Mexican, linking with Clichy, and Bendtner, jinked in with some dangerous crosses and won a couple of corners.
His quicksilver feet certainly galvanised proceedings and his influence spread across the team.
Ramsey replaced Diaby, who had another nondescript game.
From a foul won by the increasingly influential Vela on the left, Denilson took an inswinger. James came out. Gallas got there first and headed home. Simple. But it made a whole world of difference.
With several minutes remaining, Arsenal appeared to have learnt the lesson of the Spurs game, by keeping the ball.
In injury time, the increasingly influential Nasri cut in from the right and fired a dangerous shot into the side netting.
And so ends Arsenal’s 2008. An annus horribilis, in many ways.
Let’s hope Wenger does get his cheque book out and plump for some of the targets mooted in the Sundays.
Arsenal: Manuel Almunia, Abou Diaby (74) Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Emmanuel Eboue (66), Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor. Substitutes Kolo Toure, Robin Van Persie, Carlos Vela, (66), Aaron Ramsey, (74), Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Kieran Gibbs
Portsmouth: David James, Nadir Belhadj, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, Marc Wilson, Papa Bouba Diop, (90) Niko Kranjcar, Sean Davis, Richard Hughes, (50) David Nugent,(88) Peter Crouch. Substitutes: Hermann Hreidarsson, Jermain Defoe (88), Noe Pamarot (90), Arnold Mvuemba (50), Jamie Ashdown, Glen Little, Nwankwo Kanu