By Randy Osae
It was not emphatic, but Arsenal – through vital Gallas – managed to nip out an essential win over stubborn Portsmouth, return to fourth place ahead of Aston Villa (on goals scored) before Tuesday at least and perhaps contemplate their mild title push.
These days, Arsenal triumphs are crucial ‘one nil’s and it was partially a congested day for Wenger’s men, but considering their afflictions in recent times, it would not be anything but.
Silvestre kept his place among the starters at centre-back, with Clichy returning. That left Toure on the bench along with Van Persie who was rested for Bendtner. Adebayor was recalled after suspension and Song’s void at centre-midfield was provisionally taken by Diaby.
From the start, both teams made impressions of their low esteem as few questions in attack were posed. As Arsenal searched reason to urge some confidence, Portsmouth kept their cool and could have went ahead had Peter Crouch’s unexpected header not struck the post.
That was the first breakthrough from either side in a dull affair but Arsenal made their response of coming close too. A penetrative pass from Diaby found Adebayor who rounded off David James but couldn’t find his feet to tap home with Campbell and Distin making vital sandwiched tackles to deny the Togolese.
Arsene Wenger’s dressing room triggers at the break was to hopefully inject some spark into the dull Gunners, but frankly, they were still lacking. Portsmouth’s Papa Bouba Diop stood well as Tony Adams’ mid wall against Arsenal’s advances as the visitors looked solid enough to cause another day of the Gunners dropping meaningful points.
Six minutes after the hour mark, Carlos Vela was introduced to invent some urgency as the Emirates Stadium grew frustrated. Mind you, the last time Vela was sent on with Arsenal engaging in a 0-0 score line, – not long ago at home to Villa – the opponents stormed a shock lead and went on to win. It might have been a similar scenario today and on some occasions, Portsmouth did look to deliver that wicked sucker-punch.
David James made blunders when responding to set pieces as chances fell to Silvestre and notably Adebayor who miserably hit the side-netting with a better part of the goal at stake.
Eventually, Arsenal’s winner would be gifted by one of James’ errors. With nine minutes of normal time left, Denilson curled in a free-kick and William Gallas of all people, met the goalkeeper to nod the ball home.
Regrets from Villa Park saw a much cautious Arsenal when in possession afterward. Even so, Portsmouth retorted with a dangerous low cross into the box that demanded a last ditch clearance from Clichy for safety.
Nasri, who had helped keep the ball at visitors’ corner flag for time wasting tried to add some icing on the cake late on, but his effort after a burst into Portmouth’s area swept the side of the net. This time though, there was no repeat of Friday night as Arsenal took the points.
It had been scrappy, and a typical ‘smash and grab’ but a really obliged result.