Ramsey sparks Arsenal spree to plunge Portsmouth into despair
Portsmouth 1 Arsenal 4
Thursday 31 December 2009
When the Portsmouth fans called for their own captain, Aaron Mokoena, to be sent off in the first half and then cheered when he was substituted after the break, you assumed that the bitter mood of rebellion in the Fratton Park stands could get no worse. But it turned out that was just the start of it.
Long before the end of another humiliating defeat, another day in which their club teetered on the brink of administration, the patience of the home crowd simply snapped and they took their vengeance on those they hold responsible for Portsmouth's desperate state. By the end of the match, the rush to the exit in the directors' box was not just about the South Coast cold.
The home fans' chants began with "Where's our money gone?" and "Sack the board" and they culminated with "You're not fit to run our club", blunt sentiments in reference to the club's Saudi Arabian owner, Ali al-Faraj.
And amid all these recriminations a brilliant young Arsenal team took one step closer to the Premier League leaders Chelsea and they were led by the talent of the sublime Aaron Ramsey, 19, who scored the third Arsenal goal. They are four points behind the leaders Chelsea with a game in hand and their fans were not complaining about financial mismanagement: they were singing about winning the league.
As Portsmouth's season went from bad to worse on the day that the Inland Revenue said it had issued a winding-up petition against their club, so Arsène Wenger's team just seemed to flourish. They have now scored 51 goals in the league, more than any other team. "Everybody tells me to buy strikers, but nobody has scored more goals than us in the league," Wenger said. "With the confidence high, everyone can score goals. But we are still in the market."
Ramsey turned 20 years old only on Boxing Day and yet the Welshman already looks like the Steven Gerrard of the Valleys. He has quick feet, far too quick for the hapless Mokoena, who kept bringing him down, and his goal was a great piece of work. The injured Cesc Fabregas should be back in time for Arsenal's next league game against Everton next month but last night they did not miss him.
Ramsey's speed of thought just added to Mokoena's pain. Towards the end of the first half the lumbering midfielder had clattered into Ramsey yet again and the home fans had seen enough. As the referee Alan Wiley reached for his yellow card they began to chant "Off, off, off". When Mokoena was finally substituted in the second half there were cheers around the stadium and you could see in his face that it hurt him.
Faced with a full-scale insurrection at the club, Avram Grant took the easy option and buried his head in the sand. He claimed not to have noticed the treatment of Mokoena, although it was painfully obvious to everyone else in the main stand. Incredibly, the Portsmouth manager claimed that the fans "are behind us", saying: "I know there are problems off the pitch, but I cannot say anything about this. I have sympathy for the fans. We are trying to do our best for them. The situation is not easy."
It was so easy at times for Arsenal, who scored their first goal when Mokoena was too slow for Ramsey and brought him down on the edge of the Blackburn area. As Eduardo lined up the free-kick, Hermann Hreidarrson back-pedalled to cover the goal-line by the left post. He left the smallest of gaps and, in keeping with Pompey's luck, that was where the ball went in via a deflection off Nadir Belhadj.
The second goal came three minutes before the end of the first half. Alex Song found Eduardo in the box. Time slowed down. So did the Portsmouth defence. From Eduardo to Ramsey and on to Samir Nasri, the home team seemed to watch as the Frenchman picked his spot and scored with a low shot.
For the third goal Ramsey took the ball off Anthony Vanden Borre, bolted past Frédéric Piquionne and struck his shot past Begovic. In response the excellent Nadir Belhadj, Pompey's best player, scored from Hassan Yebda's cut back. Song scored the fourth – he was completely unmarked when Nasri crossed from the right. The home team left to the sound of booing.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Begovic; Finnan, Kaboul, Ben Haim, Hreidarsson; Yebda, Mokoena (Borre, 59), Hughes (Brown, 90), Belhadj; Piquionne, Boateng (Kanu, 71). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Bouba Diop, Utaka, Wilson.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traoré; Ramsey, Song, Diaby; Nasri (Eastmond, 85), Arshavin (Vela, 82), Eduardo (Rosicky, 70). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Rosicky, Vela, Silvestre, Wilshere, Merida, Eastmond.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Portsmouth Mokoena, Hughes.
Man of the match: Ramsey.
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