I do hope that ‘Arry’s comments to his players behind closed doors differ quite significantly to those offered to the gentlemen of the press. After the draw with Stevenage he piped up that he knew they would play that way – rather begging the question why he, as manager, did not therefore do something to pre-empt it – and now after games against Man Utd and Everton he has professed himself clueless as to how we failed to do any better. All of which strikes me as an easy way to earn a few million pounds per year.
In fairness, one appreciates his point on the basis of a second half as one-sided as a midfield sans Aaron Lennon, during which we had one effort after another, a string of corners and quite possibly became the first team ever to record possession of over 100%.
The first half however was not the prettiest sight. At one point the commentators on the deplorable ESPN (honestly, I switched on to watch the football, not random camera shots of some idiot in a wig and blue clown’s nose. What the deuces? Just show the football, you cretins) noted that ‘Arry was exhorting the troops not to sit so deep. Well, quite. Pick both Parker and Sandro in the centre and the chances are they will indeed err on the defensive side of things. Meanwhile confusion made its masterpiece in midfield, in the absence of any semblance of shape or fluidity. Bale resorted to delivering crosses on the right wing with the outside of his left foot, and Modders forlornly wasted his talents out on the left wing, while my eyes sat me down for a long and honest chat about the legitimacy of forcing them to watch such a shapeless mess.
Kaboul Learns From Last Week’s Mistake. Well, Not Really
The eagle-eyed may have noted that the goal itself came about when Kaboul charged in and sold himself with all the over-eagerness of a first-time lady-of-the-night – a decision presumably prompted by the criticism he received for backing off for United’s second goal last week. Heartening though it is to see Kaboul living by the mantra of the T-800 (“The more I interact with humans, the more I learn”) he is still a few correct decisions away from being the pinnacle of defensive magnificence. But progressing nicely, and on a day of general grumpiness ‘twas mildly cockle-warming to see his reaction to Saha hitting the post (check out a replay if you can), and to see him lying flat out and distraught on the turf at the final whistle. Good to see he cares.
Defoe’s Big Chance
Elsewhere, Jermain Defoe finally got the chance to stray offside for a full 90 minutes. To this amateur observer he did as good a job as anyone else, constantly giving the Everton defenders food for thought, and generally working the goalkeeper whenever the faintest whiff of a chance wafted his way – nobody else in lilywhite offers that. That said, his next tattoo really ought to be Law 11 of Assocation Football, preferably etched backwards across his forehead, so that every time he looks in a mirror he reads precisely what it is to be offside. Heaven help us.
The Aaron Lennon Factor
Ultimately, this latest minor catastrophe appeared to revolve around the lamentably absent Aaron Lennon. Admittedly, yours truly would probably be among the first to chide the young man should he misplace but one cross or choose the wrong final-third option when he returns to the team, but, as is commonly the case, his value increases in his absence. Without him the whole midfield was reshuffled, to ill effect, and we struggled to string three passes together in the first half. ‘Tis a problem that ‘Arry must solve tout de suite, and the issue of right-wing back-up (along with reserve left-back) probably ought to be addressed in the summer.
More generally, there is cause for concern at our heroes’ recent inability to slip back into the groove of lightning quick one- and two-touch passing, accompanied by busy off-the-ball movement. Bale and Modders look a tad jaded, no longer possessed of so many sudden bursts of pace and ingenuity, which may be a consequence of the lack squad rotation earlier in the season. A few consecutive wins would soothe the nerves and dispel the fears, but at present AANP has officially adjusted the state of its brow to “Furrowed”.