Arsenal 5 Derby 0
“We want the same things from football that we want from life: love, money, success, respect,” said a Chelsea fan in The Guardian, bemoaning that Mourinho only brought the middle two.
At The Emirates yesterday, you could argue that all four were in evidence.
An increasingly rare 3 o’ clock kick off, harking back to Northern roots where the workers knocked off at 1, with Saturday sunshine to boot. The crowd was in fine voice, aided and abetted by the very vocal Derby support.
Can remember when Derby beat Arsenal at Highbury and it is good to have traditional clubs like this back in the Premiership, not because they may appear easy meat, but as a counterbalance to the increasingly soulless commercialism sweeping the game.
And fair do’s to Billy Davis, who lined up 4-4-2, where many a team would have gone with five in midfield and one up front. Maybe he was buoyed by the 1-0 win over Newcastle on Monday.
Arsenal lined up in a 4-3-3 – soon switching to a 4-2-4 with, at times Diaby, Eduardo, Adebayor and Walcott making up the front four.
This was an educational exercise for Arsenal management and players: how would Eduardo fare? How would he link up with Walcott and Adebayor, for that matter; has Walcott come on since last year? How would Diaby fare instead of Rosicky on the left.
Much of the potential angst of these challenges and questions were answered within ten minutes, when Sagna won the ball crisply and decisively in midfield, working its way to Diaby who turned inside beating two players and unleashing a rising 27 yard shot with his right foot which grazed the post on its way to the top corner.
Diaby, shrugged off a couple of Arsenal players and ran straight to his track-suited mate Lassana Diarra on the touchline. Diaby and Diarra used to live in the same building as teenagers.
Minutes later Derby backed off and allowed Diaby space on his right to fire another dangerous low shot which Bywater parried.
Adebayor who had missed an early chance, opening his foot too wide from a Walcott cross knocked a Fabregas through ball too far as Bywater collected.
But, learning from that one, and bending his run, like Henry used to, chested the dropping ball into space, beat the diving Bywater, and slotted home.
Eduardo ran into the box more times than not when Arsenal attacked. Arsenal finally have an instinctive box player. When Adebayor took the ball out left, in earlier games, there was no-one in the box.
He reminds of a seventies player – a cross between Eddie Kelly and Malcolm Macdonald. He’s not yet totally integrated with his team-mates, but he’s a great trier – and that will come.
He’ll be disappointed not to get on the score-sheet – but he had cameo run near half-time, with a shot cleared by the excellent Pearson. And then a downward goal-bound header was saved by Bywater.
Walcott played his part including a fast one-two with Fabregas and hard shot at Bywater. But his final ball just isn’t there. His decision making has to improve.
Arsenal showed versatility, with Adebayor at one point sprinting down the left as a winger, aided by Eduardo, the next performing classic centre forward duties. And it was from such an attack that Eduardo won a penalty, having his shirt grabbed as he was about to shoot. Adebayor obliged.
Fabregas kept popping up on the right, with Diaby covering the middle, and it was from the inside right position, where he took a ball from Eduardo, took a touch and let fly – into the top left corner of the net. A standing ovation beckoned as he made way for Denilson (who is negotiating a new long term contract).
Diarra and Song came on for Walcott and Flamini. Diarra looks to be able to steel up the midfield, with tough tackles and sharp and times creative distribution.
Talking of the seventies, Arsenal now use the diagonal cross a lot more, a la Armstrong to Radford. And on 80, Denilson crossed, Adebayor chested, beating Leacock, controlling, and then sidefooting, a la Henry to Bywater’s left.
Henry was quoted yesterday as saying Arsenal now play better as a team. It would be good to look back at the papers two months ago.
Arsenal:Manuel Almunia, Kolo Toure, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Cesc Fabregas, (Denilson 71) Mathieu Flamini, (Alexandre Song 78), Abou Diaby Theo Walcott (Lassana Diarra 71) Eduardo, Emmanuel Adebayor
Subs not used: Lukasz Fabianski, Robin Van Persie
Derby County: Stephen Bywater, Andy Griffin, Tyrone Mears, Dean Leacock, Claude Davis, Matt Oakley,(Benny Feilhaber 55) Stephen Pearson, Gary Teale, Eddie Lewis, Kenny Miller, (James McEveley 86) Steve Howard (Giles Barnes 76)
Subs not used: Lewis Price, Robert Earnshaw
Referee: Martin Atkinson