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COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY

From my seat: Arsenal (H)

By Ken Buckley :  29/01/2009 :  Comments (0) :
On a swirling misty night down Goodison way we saw an enthralling game between two quite good sides who provided decent football up to a point — that point seemed to be each others 18-yard box as, in the whole 94 mins, I counted just three shots that actually were within the frame of the goal, two for us — one goal and one that hit the keepers chest and one for them that brought a goal.

Arsenal started the quicker and looked for an early breakthrough but, apart from a couple of wayward or high shots, we were not troubled until Pienaar gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position and Van Persie, always capable from this range, stepped up but his shot cannoned away off the wall.

The Blues then had a very good 25-minute spell with Baines prominent making good runs down the left and getting in a few crosses, the most dangerous of which was a low one to the near post that the long leg of Fellaini looked favourite for until Gallas slid in and the best we got was a corner. Arsenal had another little flurry just before the break but nothing we couldn't see off and just one minute of added time brought the half to a close.

We must have done OK first half as most of the chat centred on the price of tickets and the cost of following the Blues in particular...

Second half was much the same as the first but with the Blues showing the more urgency; however, they had to be watchful of the Gunners' threat on the counter and, from one of these, Denilson fired high over. This came just after we had managed a goalmouth scramble that gave both Cahill and Fellaini a sniff but the Arsenal defence cleared.

At this point I was musing that we really should be pulling all the stops out to get a striker in as Cahill was being asked to do all the lone frontman job, which he did with relish but Fellaini in the support role just didn't look comfortable with it and at times looked a little unsure of his role. Cahill just behind a striker certainly looks a better bet but needs must. Cahill then coming from a little deeper latched onto the ball, burst forward in the box but — to our Ooohs — just found the side netting.

We didn't have to wait much longer for the talisman to get his 100th club goal in England. Some smart interpassing down the left between Pienaar and the excellent Baines saw the latter put in a peach of a cross that left Cahill with only the diminutive Clichy marking him; Cahill rose majestically above him, headed in text-book fashion the ball back where it had come from and the only job the flatfooted keeper had to do was pick the ball out of the corner of the net. The crowd roared and then gave the travelling fans a rendition of we really do only sing when we are winning.

Moments later, Ossie tried a fierce left-footed curler that beat both keeper and far post and drifted away into the mist. We were still having a good go rather than try to shut up shop and Cahill once again had a shooting chance that he hit with venom but it bounced off the keepers chest with an audible thud... a yard either side and game over.

Then came what I thought was a turning point when Cahill went down and had to be helped off, limping badly. This saw the introduction of Big Vic with just 5 mins left. For some reason, on Cahill's departure, we seemed more jittery, less sure of our passes... whereas previously we had outpassed the pass-masters.

3 mins went up on the board and we saw two of these out until a passage of play saw Pienaar put clear in acres down the left, everyone thought he would head for the corner flag and see out the seconds but for some reason he tried a killer pass to Big Vic which was easily cut out and sent Arsenal on the attack. Ossie held it up briefly but wasn't strong enough to withstand Diaby's tackle and then Diaby either put in the ball of the night or it was a lucky punt that Van Persie chested down expertly leaving Jags flatfooted and in one movement smashed a shot passed Howard.

Oh the disappointment... the exits were full to overflowing, it was just like Villa except we did get one point. My man of the match just had to be Baines who I thought had his best game to date.

Overall, I thought it was a good game to watch and our passing movements were better than of late, which may also have been due to the way Arsenal play. On tonight's evidence, I am sure both managers will be rueing having players out as both clubs have matchwinners on the treatment table. I thought over the piece we just edged it but many a neutral would have seen it as a fair result.

Man Utd next and you have to hope Cahill will make it and his limp off was merely a knock, but it did look reminiscent of the broken foot-bone limp-off... Still we will go with what we have got and another point off a 'big four' side would be acceptable... three would be utopia.

UP THE BLUES

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