This was an entertaining open game played like a Cup tie at a fast pace, probably one of the paciest type of games that Arsenal played this year.
The reason was Portsmouth’s positive approach by playing two strikers up front, Arsenal old boy, Kanu and Mwaruwari and pushing their midfielders forward at every opportunity. They were not interested in playing 10 men behind the ball and defending for a nil nil.
Their positive approach was of course dictated by their need to get the three points and give themselves a chance to qualify for Europe. So it suited Arsenal very well. They were allowed to play their passing game, counter attack at pace and use their skill and accuracy in passing to cut through Portsmouth and create a handful of chances. And miss them all! Again.
Mostly by the ever so wasteful Baptista whose only real positive attribute is his ability to position himself for goal scoring opportunities. The biggest opportunity of course was the penalty which was blasted to the right of James but not wide enough, allowing the keeper to push it away for a corner.
Baptista missed a string of other good chances to score notably two clear headers on goal and two shots from very promising positions; both saved by James who also saved from the impressive Clichy with Traore clearing the ball as it was about to cross the line.
Hleb also missed the other big chance of the match when on a one to one with James contrived to shoot wide of the near rather than aim for the far post; as any shooting manual will have advised!
Strangely he was much more alert and busy for this game like his old self of last season. Someone should have told him this was the last game of the season not the first!
Portsmouth are still smarting from one piece of indecisiveness shown by Graham Poll who was officiating the last game of his refereeing career. He first gave a goal for Portsmouth and then after persistent protests by the Arsenal players and consultation with his assistant proceeded to disallow it.
Kranjcar was indeed in an offside position when the original shot was made thus we suppose was deemed to be interfering with play. Although the ball eventually came to him off an Arsenal player!
A shot was spilled by Poom and then again from the oncoming player. The ball then rebounded back to Kranjcar, who had remained behind the defence, off Senderos and that was why Portsmouth claimed that it was not offside.
Arsenal’s penalty was won by Eboue who, interestingly enough, was selected by Wenger to start at the right midfield position with Hoyte at right back.
We say “interestingly” because we have been advocating on this site the merits of this arrangement prior to the home game against Chelsea. Eboue proved a very useful midfielder utilising both his attacking and defencive capabilities.
Another pet topic that usual visitors to this site will know about is our love of the 4 5 1 or 4 3 3 formation for Arsenal.
And Wenger showed us a taste of things to come adopting the 4 3 3 formation with Baptista in front, Hleb and Eboue in the wide midfield positions and the three central midfielders of Fabregas Diaby and Djourou. The latter proving his versatility with flying colours.
There is a lot of strength in depth in this Arsenal squad!