Calm Down, Calm Down - Arsenal Are In Town!

by JAMES CURTIS – How interesting it was to read heading into Arsenal’s tie away at Anfield today, that the club have now gone their longest run without seeing a player sent off since Arsene Wenger took over in 1996. Visions of Patrick Vieira spitting at Razor Ruddock and Dennis Bergkamp elbowing Steve Lomas in the face begin swirling around your mind, and you start thinking, is this record a good or bad thing?
Jens Lehmann seeing red in the Champions League final – bad thing. Patrick Vieira, willing to have a broken leg on his conscience if it means stopping his opponent and Arsenal winning – certainly a good thing. Having discipline is often seen in a positive light. But does it also mean that your team lacks some fight and combativeness?
Where did all the red cards go?
Arsenal fans might argue yes. Vieira may have picked up too many cards during his career at Arsenal – a record eight reds –  but the football fan loves a player like Vieira who is willing to risk his own reputation for the cause.
It is not to say Arsenal should go into the Liverpool game today looking for a red card, the task is hard enough with even teams. But a sending off here and there in the season usually reflects a team intent on putting in tough tackles, pulling shirts, upending rivals and having players who will bellow dissent at the referee.
Together it intimidates the opposition and coerces the match officials. Arsenal lack it and are more than likely to concede a goal because of not being cynical enough, than taking a red card to stop the other team scoring at all costs.
Diaby to stick out a neck
When heading to Anfield a player must be fully committed to spend a day locked in battle. Also the Kop End is a menacing twelfth man whose job is to hound the referee into making decisions favourable to the home team. For Arsenal, the day will be about overcoming these hurdles.
One player who might help jump them is Abou Diaby, who rejoins the team today after recovering from a calf injury. At times, there doesn’t look to be a hint of meanness in the gangly young Frenchman. Maybe his passing can be sloppy and his languid persona and tendency to dwindle get him into trouble, yet Diaby is a threat unlike any other in the Premiership.
With an out-stretched Vieira-like leg Diaby can leave two defenders trailing. His stride is a long as a giraffe and can bound him towards goal before anybody has time to react. Finishing isn’t a problem either as Diaby had proven.
When Liverpool met Arsenal in the Champions League back in 2008, Arsenal exploded on Anfield with the best 30 minutes of football seen from any of Wenger’s recent teams. Diaby was at the heart of it, slipping away from man-markers, holding onto possession like no other since Vieira and scoring to give Arsenal a commanding lead.
Wenger spoke about the team having grown is recent months and Liverpool away is a real chance to prove it. Diaby has a match-winners mentally and the structure to make an impression on the likes of Steven Gerrard.
Not to be disappointed with a draw
But is Liverpool a must win game for Arsenal, or has that changed since yesterday when Manchester United lost and Chelsea drew? Well, the season is long and it’s important Arsenal keep up with the league leaders rather than trying desperately hard to outshine them every week. Not losing is the first priority today.
When Wenger spoke about ‘our moment’ before the Chelsea game last month and Arsenal lost, many hastily wrote them out of the title race. In hindsight a draw would have been a fantastic result for Arsenal against the blues – let’s not forget what a well oiled team Ancelotti has.
So it would be foolish to start thinking Arsenal’s moment has come a second time. Winning the league isn’t about beating your closet rivals in one off games and if Arsenal are going to gain anything from this season it will be by gradual development. Unlike Chelsea, Arsenal are still in the process of experimenting with new players due to injury.
Taking advantage when others lose is ideal. Hopefully though Wenger has learnt from the Chelsea defeat going into the tie at Anfield. The fear is that Arsenal come unstuck again by treating this as another must win game. Treat it with a balanced and cautious approach and Arsenal might get a more positive result. An away draw wouldn’t be such a bad result however.
Arsenal (from) : Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore Silvestre, Eboue, Song, Ramsey, Diaby, Fabregas, Denilson, Nasri, Walcott, Vela, Arshavin, Eduardo, Fabianski.
The usual suspects
Wenger was appointed Arsenal manager on September 28, 1996. His first red card was Steve Bould less than a month later on November 26, against guess who? Liverpool! Vieira walks down the red carpet first, leading with eight red cards. Other repeat offers are Martin Keown (5) and Giles Grimandi, Emmanuel Petit and Ray Parlour (all 4).

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