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Friday, May 05, 2006

Still Fighting

The Potato Pundit watched as Arsenal refused to give up on automatic qualification for the Champions League.

Manchester City 1-3 Arsenal

Contrary to what some might think, Arsenal have not pinned all their hopes on Champions League qualification by way of winning the final on May 17. Having rested Thierry Henry for recent crunch games with Manchester United and Tottenham, there was a growing feeling that Wenger has put all his eggs in one basket.

The win at the City of Manchester stadium was far from convincing, but Wenger's reaction at the final whistle shows just how important overtaking their rivals Spurs is for his side.

City started brightly enough with plenty of possesion but they had a look of a side that was still burdened from 7 defeats in their last 8 games. A season that had started so brightly for them with Pearce winning plaudits for his side's good performances has finished rather worryingly. They will finish 15th this season and it should be noted how Pearce has slipped out of contention for the England job in the process.

Arsenal themselves were subdued in their start to the match, surprisingly lacking in urgency for a team with still very much to play for. But in Thierry Henry, they have a matchwinner of the highest quality.

Henry, all poise and panache, shrugged off the attentions of the City defence and played in Freddie Ljungberg with a lovely reverse pass. The Swede, without a league goal all season, reminded us of his goal-getting ability with a finish to match the pass. The goal was not dissimilar to Giuly's against Milan with Henry's vision and execution Ronaldinho-like.

The goal should have signalled the start of a comfortable win but just 8 minutes later, City were level. Arsenal failed to deal with a City corner and David Sommeil capitalised on indecision in the 6 yard box to score an unlikely equaliser. The goal did make a mockery of Arsenal's record-breaking defence in Europe and Barcelona would have noted how the Gunners were shaky in defending corners all night.

Right on half time Henry and van Persie linked up superbly in the area but had Henry finished the move off it would have been hard on City who had shown enough spirit and fight in the half.

Arsenal though stepped it up in the 2nd half with van Persie and Ljungberg going close. They were going for it now with Wenger bringing on Fabregas, Pires and Reyes.

Just when it seemed that Arsenal would drop crucial points again, Reyes profited from another surging run by Eboue down the right to slot home on 78 minutes. Six minutes later, the win was safe when Henry's running at the City defence offered Reyes the chance to double their lead. He obliged with a classy finish into the top corner.

So Arsenal keep up the pressure on Spurs while City fans would be truely worried with their side's steady decline.

Man of the Match: Theirry Henry - Henry was up for it and looked dangerous everytime he had the ball. Created 2 of his side's 3 goals

World Cup report: Sol Campbell looked his old self again - confident and decisive

Potato Verdict: Arsenal finishing 4th would allow them to play Barcelona without the added pressure of Champions League qualification weighing them down

Potato Poser: What will become of Arsenal if Henry were to leave? He is the one person who makes them tick

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