Youngsters come of age

Published : Aug 29, 2009 00:00 IST

The most encouraging thing about Arsenal’s immaculate start is the variety of scoring options in the team. They have scored 12 goals so far from eight different sources, and remarkably, only one of them came from a recognised striker, writes Amy Lawrence.

The temptation for Arsene Wenger to crow must be huge. But au contraire, as Del Boy used to say. There is a time to talk up a team’s chances of success, and three games into a new season is not it. “Shut up, win your games and let everyone else talk,” he assessed afterwards with a gentle smile.

But what a three games. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Arsenal’s immaculate start is the variety of scoring options in the team. They have scored 12 goals so far from eight different sources, and remarkably, only one of them came from a recognised striker.

Watching Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey embellish this performance with some classy finishing is one of the reasons that Wenger is quietly confident his young team is coming of age, that the necessary maturity has arrived.

Another shot in the arm for Arsenal turned into another slug in the guts for Portsmouth. David James, who limped off 15 minutes from the end, watched the remainder with the expression of a man visiting a good friend who is very poorly. Everybody is worried about the shambles behind the scenes. “The players are interested in their football club and they ask questions,” said Paul Hart, a decent man in a depressing situation. “We can dwell on bad things or dust ourselves down and get on with it.”

They had their frustrations on the pitch, too, and Hart bemoaned a key decision early in the second-half that could have given Portsmouth an equaliser and a man advantage. William Gallas manhandled John Utaka, who was clean through, but referee Steve Bennett waved play on.

“An amazing decision,” rued Hart. “It was a clear foul and although I don’t want to see people sent off the rules of the game are there. Then Gallas scored their third goal. I think that’s cruel.”

It is symptomatic of the way life is kicking Portsmouth while they are down, and the fact that Gallas appears to have swallowed a tub of lucky pills. He found himself in the right place to plunder a goal he knew little about for the second time in five days, after Thomas Vermaelen’s volley struck him, bounced up against his face, and ricocheted into the net.

Yet, it is difficult to escape the suspicion that whatever the decisions, there was just too much of a gulf in quality to really believe Portsmouth could take any points back from this assignment.

Wenger was able to rack up a comprehensive win while giving several major players a breather in between Champions League play-off legs against Celtic.

Arsenal steamed ahead early with two beautifully worked goals in three minutes. The first was inspired by Eduardo. The Croat scorched past Marc Wilson with an inventive flick before cutting back for Abou Diaby to finish with panache. Then it was all too easy as Arsenal combined down the right flank, from Andrey Arshavin via Fabregas to Emmanuel Eboue, and Diaby was unmarked to tap in his second.

It is little wonder that Wenger often bemoans his injury list. Here was ample evidence of what some of those who have spent large tranches of their Arsenal careers in the treatment room are capable of. Diaby is a case in point. On his day he has, as Wenger described it, “all you dream to have in the Premier League”.

As Arsenal stroked the ball around in the sunshine, and James was kept busy in a personal duel against Robin van Persie, Portsmouth must have feared a lashing. But against all probability, they got a goal back before half-time. Niko Kranjcar’s deep corner was hoisted back in and Manuel Almunia floundered under the challenge of Younes Kaboul. The bell-ringing visitors were elated.

Frederic Piquionne was dangerous but goals were always likelier at the other end. After Gallas’s moment, Ramsey calmly added Arsenal’s fourth, cantering on to Van Persie’s perfect pass to clip past James.

So how good can Arsenal be? It won’t take long to find out. Once Celtic are out of the way, their next two assignments are away at Manchester United and Manchester City. “It looks to me exciting and interesting,” Wenger mused. Just a bit.


August 23: Burnley 1 (Elliott 34) bt Everton 0. Half-time: 1-0; Fulham 0 lost to Chelsea 2 (Drogba 39, Anelka 76). Half-time: 0-1; West Ham 1 (Cole 49) lost to Tottenham 2 (Defoe 54, Lennon 79). Half-time: 0-0.

August 22: Arsenal 4 (Diaby 18 & 21, Gallas 51, Ramsey 68) bt Portsmouth 1 (Kaboul 37). Half-time: 2-1; Birmingham 0 drew with Stoke 0; Hull 1 (Ghilas 61) bt Bolton 0. Half-time: 0-0; Manchester City 1 (Adebayor 17) bt Wolverhampton 0. Half-time: 1-0; Sunderland 2 (Jones 32 & 53) bt Blackburn 1 (Givet 21). Half-time: 1-1; Wigan 0 lost to Manchester United 5 (Rooney 56 & 65, Berbatov 58, Owen 85, Nani 90+2). Half-time: 0-0.

August 19: Birmingham 1 (McFadden pen-90+2) bt Portsmouth 0. Half-time: 0-0; Burnley 1 (Blake 19) bt Manchester United 0. Half-time: 1-0; Hull 1 (Hunt 25) lost to Tottenham 5 (Defoe 10, 45 & 90+4, Palacios 14, Keane 78). Half-time: 1-3; Liverpool 4 (Torres 4, Johnson 45, Kuyt 78, Ngog 90+4) bt Stoke 0. Half-time: 2-0.

August 18: Sunderland 1 (Bent 18) lost to Chelsea 3 (Ballack 52, Lampard pen-61, Deco 70). Half-time: 1-3; Wigan 0 lost to Wolverhampton 1 (Keogh 6). Half-time: 0-1.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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