Monday 19 February 2018

Arter finally gets Georgia out of his mind

Tenacious midfielder exorcises some demons with Ireland's backs against the wall, writes Colin Young

Jeff Hendrick skips by Wales’ Ben Davies during last night’s World Cup qualifier at Cardiff City Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Jeff Hendrick skips by Wales’ Ben Davies during last night’s World Cup qualifier at Cardiff City Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

For nearly an hour, Harry Arter had done his job. It didn't matter but the game had passed him by and the ball spent most of its time high above his head. That's the trouble with defenders defending and looking for a big man centre forward sometimes.

When he finally made his decisive contribution, he didn't even touch the ball. Arter's instinctive near post dummy to Jeff Hendrick's cross was enough to bamboozle the Welsh defence. James McClean did the rest. Ireland are in the play-offs.

The Bournemouth man (pictured) had resolved to put the horror of Georgia behind him and make a telling contribution to the Irish World Cup campaign in Cardiff and provide a performance in his country's midfield which would back his Premier League credentials.


Ireland's Harry Arter sidefoots the ball past Joe Allen of Wales. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Harry Arter sidefoots the ball past Joe Allen of Wales. Photo: Sportsfile

Arter was not the only man who struggled in Tbilisi but he was one of those who felt the frustrations of that costly goalless draw more than most. Singled out for criticism, in and out of the camp, not least from himself, Arter had taken that night personally.

"I take complete responsibility for not playing as well as I could have. Collectively we were poor on the night," he said.

"You have those games in your career and unfortunately for us it was that night. You put pressure on yourself to be the best player on the pitch in every game. In some games I don't feel I have done that.

"You come away and then there is a long build-up to your next game so those games stick in your head a little bit. The Georgia game was in my head. I'm in the squad at the minute and every opportunity I get, I just have to take it with both hands."

Arter revealed he had spoken at length with Martin O'Neill this week. The conversation, he said, was open and honest. No doubt expletives were used to describe it. Both had agreed it was best to put Georgia behind them.

If Arter had Georgia on his mind last night, it didn't show. The 27-year-old, who may be usually more of an attacking and creative presence with his club, had enough on his hands to stem the Welsh tides on his position to the left of centre in Ireland's midfield.

He is always tenacious. That he hobbled away from proceedings in the 77th minute, cramp restricting his right calf, was testament to his contribution to Ireland's cause. He ran and ran and ran and snarled when he needed to. He just didn't see much of the ball.

By his own admission, Arter is not Wes Hoolahan but when the Norwich playmaker is absent, of course questions are asked by those who play in his stead.

With Shane Long laid low by his hip injury, and Hoolahan exempt from starting after O'Neill had decided his legs were best used for 76 minutes against Moldova, of course the Ireland manager decided to flood the midfield.

And with David Meyler controlling operations as the captain from the centre, Arter remained disciplined and controlled. He just didn't see very much of the ball.

When he did make a rare forward pass, to start an even rarer forward forage from James McClean on half-an-hour, Arter stood back, admired the pass and left the left winger to it. The cross was wasted anyway.

No doubt that was the command from O'Neill, and certainly from the outstanding Meyler. There were eyebrows raised when the Cork man took the captain's armband against Moldova but he has been outstanding, arguably man of the match, in the last three games.

The Hull City iron man will be sorely missed for the first leg of the play-offs after his late and unnecessary booking.

Arter's contribution is more difficult to gauge.

As one of the few Premier League players available to Martin O'Neill, he comes under more scrutiny. Ireland supporters may be right to ask for more from a player who took longer than most to make his competitive debut.

But a win in Wales, against a side who have not lost at home for four years and had not been behind since the European Championship Finals semi-final, takes more than the odd clever pass and neat assist. It needs graft, hard work and commitment. The sleeves have to be rolled up.

And that is where Harry Arter excelled last night. That Wales had more than 70 per cent of possession in the first-half will not have concerned O'Neill or his players. They were geared up for a night on the back foot.

His biggest contribution in the first-half was a sly but important tackle on Joe Allen which halted yet another Wales attack. And when the influential Stoke midfielder disappeared before the break, Arter and Ireland did enjoy more of the ball.

There was still work to be done of course when Jonny Williams took Allen's place. The Crystal Palace midfielder was eager to impress and fleet of foot. But he was considerably easier to mark.

But Allen's disappearance meant Arter had other responsibilities. So when Hendrick disturbed the Welsh defence and then tore down the right flank, Arter watched it and anticipated the ball into the penalty area.

Then, with deliberate deceit in his mind, he stuck his right leg in the air to avoid the ball. James McClean did the rest. Ireland are in the play-offs.

Irish Independent

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