Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hamburg 1 - 2 Arsenal

A match-up of last year’s runners-up and the 1983 European champions saw a struggling Arsenal meet an injury-riddled Hamburger SV that was knocked out of the German Cup only days ago by a third division team.

Arsenal were without their skipper Thierry Henry, so Emanuel Adebayor started up front with Van Persie. William Gallas started at left-back in place of the injured Gael Clichy and will probably feature there in the next six or seven weeks.

For Hamburg, their defensive new-boy Juan Pablo Sorin, and full-back Timothee Atouba were not available, as well as Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart.

Arsenal’s PR in their first group stage match began with Wenger choosing to give his press conference in German instead of the UEFA-versal English. Apparently (according to Setanta pundits) it’s a slap in the face to the British press for serializing Ashley Cole’s new autobiography during the same week as the first match day.

Gilberto Silva led the Gunners out, wearing the captain’s armband in Thierry Henry’s absence, and the noise in the AOL Arena was deafening, the fans excited with the club’s return to European football after six years.

Hamburg begin well, but Arsenal are first to score in the 11th minute. A dubious penalty kick was given when what appeared to be a take-down of Robin Van Persie by goalkeeper Sascha Kirschstein. Video replay shows very little contact, but intent, with the keeper’s hand outstretched. Gilberto Silva took the penalty kick and the Kirschstein’s replacement, Stefan Wachter guessed right, but the power of the shot was too much and Arsenal found themselves one up against a 10 man Hamburg.

The German side battled back though, threatening the Arsenal goal with their strong-on-the-ball forward, Boubacar Sanogo, who gave Arsenal’s back line plenty of trouble throughout the game. Lehmann was tested time to time, and the North London side never really controlled the pace and tempo of the game. The first half was the same kind of frustratingly pretty but ineffective ball movement when Van Persie wasn’t taking a crack at goal, perhaps the only one to go for goal after his first or second touch.

Kolo Toure came out with a thigh injury in the first half, and Justin Hoyte came in to play left-back, with Gallas moving into Toure’s spot. At times the pairing of those two looked comical in the Arsenal box, allowing Hamburg strikers Sanogo and Danijel Ljujoba to get around them in front of goal. Possession was in Arsenal’s advantage, but not entirely one-sided (55% vs. 44%).

Tomas Rosicky scored in the 52nd minute, with a carbon copy of his first goal in the World Cup, a wicked right-footed strike from about 30 yards out that curled into the left top corner. A nice, bending ball with plenty of power and accuracy.

Arsenal were able to hold off the ten-man Hamburg, and Lehmann got lucky a few times, as Hamburg refused to give up. A nice strike from about 25 yards from Trochowski hit Lehmann’s crossbar, fell to Mahdavikia, who side-footed to an offside Sanogo, and his goal was called back.

Hamburg’s much-deserved goal came in the 91st minute, when Jarolim beat Lehmann to the ball in front of goal, and was able to pass back to Sanogo for the strike.

A lucky win for a team in dire need of a morale boost, but Arsenal’s performance, particularly the lack of putting away clear opportunities (is it anything else?) should have Wenger going nuts. Attractive, attacking football is great, but goals are what it’s about in so many ways. It sound incredibly simple, but it is so vital.

I get a sense that this is very similar to the Arsenal team we saw last year after the departure of Patrick Vieira. Diffidence and tentativeness manifest themselves whenever the Gunners pick up the ball in the opponents half, and you have to wonder if there’s a killer instinct that’s lacking. I can’t count the loss of Phillipe Senderos to injury, Robert Pires to Villareal and Dennis Bergkamp to retirement, as reasons for this; even TH14 at times seems to flow hot and cold.

The dodgy Arsenal of last year were able to score against mediocre teams early and shut it down for ninety minutes. Hamburger SV may be a mediocre team, given their recent run of form, but tonight, they definitely weren’t sub-par, not for a squad short a man against last year’s runners-up. Arsenal, on the other hand, again, failed to convince.


Hamburg 1-2 Arsenal [BBC Sport]
Arsenal go on the, uh, attack
[Times Online]

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