After two successive defeats in the league, yesterday’s game was a very important game – in terms of points and in terms of confidence. When I arrived at the Stadium, there was a different attitude with the fans, and the ones that I regularly sit with – we were all more alert, more focused and aware that this game was one we could win, if we applied ourselves properly. And naturally, when the game kicked off, the fans were more vocal than any other game this season. What it showed is that we, as fans, do take these games for granted too – we as fans, can be complacent too.
The Line Up
With a full compliment of nine players out (Almunia, Sagna, Nordtveit, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Ramsey, Frimpong, Cesc and Van Persie), of which, you could say at least 5 or 6 were first team regulars. The good news is that Walcott and Bendtner returned to the squad for the first time in quite a while.
The starting XI were:
Eboue – Squillaci – Djourou – Clichy
Wilshere – Song
Nasri – Diaby – Arshavin
With a bench of Szcznesy, Gibbs, Denilson, Rosicky, Vela, Walcott and Bendtner…
And without so many players for so long, suddenly our bench looked much stronger than it had all season.
It was a slightly weird game… the players didn’t look they’re normally self. Defensively we we okay, in midfield we were okay, but upfront we seems a little toothless. Maroune Chamakh was deployed in his usual lone man striker position and did a good job in holding up the ball – he had the trio of Nasri, Diaby and Arshavin behind – which looked effective on paper, but in reality it was a different story on the pitch.
Arshavin was abysmal, and really, Arsene should start dropping him – he is obviously playing below par – but yesterday, he was simply out of form – I couldn’t count how many misplaced passes he did, how many flicks onto no-one. We don’t need that type of play from Arshavin – we need him and Nasri to play off Chamakh and create and shoot and Arshavin was nowhere near that mark. With Nasri dropping deeper and playing in a more withdrawn role and Diaby better, but still not good enough – we weren’t potent in attack. There was simply too much sidesways and not enough penetration.
The performance itself was very nervy – and gone are the days of the 6-0 wins at home – at the moment, it’s all very nervy and perhaps that comes from 2 back to back defeats. With Cesc, Vermaelen and Van Persie out of the squad the moment, the character of the team is being testing – those three players bring a lot of verve and tenacity to the team.
Arsene spoke on the nerves:
It was imperative and I believe we played with nerves. It was nervy for us because you could see our fluency was a bit affected by the fact that we had not won for two games. We played a little bit with the handbrake in the final third, especially when we were 2-1 up, and it was never comfortable today. You could see that and feel that in the way we played.
The first goal came from a cross into the giant that is Nicola Zigic and you feel he was brought into the team for his height. He literally wins everything in the air that is thrown his way. He did well to score his goal – but we could have easily have stopped the cross coming in, but for our marking in the right back area. So, 1-0 down at home after 2 losses. And that is where our character came through – we were a little bit more galvanised and we went forward in search of the equaliser.
It wasn’t long before it came, but it came front the spot, when Chamakh was fouled – albeit he did go down easily (to the oppositions dislike) – Nasri stepped up and finished with amplomb – 1-1. We barely deserved it on the first half showing but at the same time, I’d take it any day of the week.
Arsene must have said something to kick start the players as they came out with a bit more fire in their bellies and within minutes, a sublime move involving a overhead back heel from Song to Wilshere and then to Maroune, who finished very well. There wasn’t too much more to the game than that – Hleb was pretty much anonymous and the game was pretty much nervy until the final whistle.
Arsene continued to talk about the game:
For us we were backs to the wall considering the championship [situation] and as well in a position where we had absolutely to win and we were 1-0 down. So it was even more difficult. But I cannot fault anybody too much on the goal we conceded because it was a wonderful header like we used to see in England 30 or 40 years ago. There’s not a lot you can do about it. But I must say overall that Fabianski had a good game.
Fair enough, their goal was very decent, and we did well to come back – the talking point from the game is the red card that our little Jack Wilshere received.
Jack’s Sending Off
As soon as it happened, I thought red. Personally, I have been bombarded with messages from friends regarding how dirty it was – but more over this reaction is down to the previous history with the many Arsenal players being injured over the years. For me, it was a mistimed challenge – end of story – but be prepared to hear a lot of press on this one…
Arsene summarised everything about the red card in one statement as he said:
He mistimed his tackle and he got the red card he deserved. But it was his first tackle in the game and you have to acknowledge that he got a red card and he deserved it but he didn’t spend the whole game kicking people. He played football and was one of the best players on the football pitch. Unfortunately it happened to him but I think it was more frustration. He didn’t want to harm the player – he mistimed his tackle. We do not complain about his red card but you cannot say he had a dirty game.
And that’s the end of the matter as far as I am concerned!
After weeks without football, it’s coming thick and fast… no time to waste, we’ll be back in action against Shaktar on Tuesday… Kieran’s in tomorrow for his Monday digest… over and out for now…