Dec 312009

Portsmouth 1 (Belhadj 74) Arsenal 4 (Eduardo 28, Nasri 42, Ramsey 69, Song 81)

I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Portsmouth. Whether it is the proximity to where I live (south coast), the fact they seem to be punching above their weight, or a memory of the day they generously applauded our team off the field after we’d destroyed them in the FA Cup, I don’t know. All I know is, there are at least ten Premiership clubs I’d like to see suffer before they do.

But they are in huge trouble. Served with a winding up order on the day of the match, they haven’t had stable ownership in a long time – Redknapp spent all their money and then new owners failed to deliver on promises of more. Throughout it all, their fans have remained loyal and passionate (some of ours could take heed, frankly), and are still amongst the noisiest in the Premiership, both home and away. It is rare I feel sorry for beaten opposition, but I’m full of sympathy today.

As it happens, even a strong Portsmouth side would have struggled to cope with us yesterday. The first goal might have been lucky, Eduardo’s free kick taking a huge deflection off Kaboul, but the four we eventually racked up were no more than we deserved.

Eduardo was also involved in the second, afforded a remarkable amount of time in the box, before laying to ball to Ramsey. The Welshman found Nasri, and he delivered the sort of finish we are becoming accustomed to.

So 2-0 at the break, and the only danger was the sort of complacency that allowed West Ham back from an identical position some weeks ago. But from the opening exchanges of the second half it was apparent that we had no intention of resting on our laurels, and the game was put beyond doubt by Ramsey, who turned inside and out before cracking the ball in with his weaker left foot. It was some strike from someone who could be one of the stars of 2010.

Sloppy defending cost us a clean sheet, before Song signed off his Premiership campaign in style, as he now jets off to Angola for the African Nations Cup. He may still play in the FA Cup at the weekend, but we will miss his energy, intelligent positioning, and responsibility in the centre of the park. 2009 has been his year.

Diaby was good again, as were Nasri and the back four, particularly the ever impressive Traore, who is showing just how much depth we have at left back. Arshavin struggled up front, but it isn’t his position so some of the criticism that has come his way is a little unjust.

We’ve scored more goals than anyone in 2009, and have lost fewer matches than our rivals too. Halfway through the league season, we have a tally of 51 goals to our name, not bad when you consider that a new striker could add even more potency. It is clear that the more expansive style, while risking more in defence, has helped us dispatch the ‘smaller’ sides more ruthlessly. We may not need to beat Chelsea or United if we continue to steamroller everyone else.

I’ll be back later with some final end of year thoughts, but wherever you are, enjoy the New Year.

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