Last night was cold.
Arsenal don’t play that well in the cold – and like a ferrari in the winter, we took a while to get going.
Arsene reverted to his strongest possible line-up but with Nasri injured, Rosicky was drafted in to the left of midfield, with Arshavin, having played a lot of football in the recent cup games, starting on the bench. The line up was:
Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy
Wilshere – Song
Walcott – Cesc – Rosicky
With a bench of Almunia, Eboue, Gibbs, Diaby, Arshavin, Bendtner and Chamakh
The first half was a shocking first half for two reasons. Firstly, we were really out of sorts. Our fluidity was lost. Rosicky wasn’t quite Nasri and the cold night made us really a shadow of what we’ve seen from the first team in recent games. And secondly – it was probably had the worst set of refereeing decisions ever known to man – quite how Lee Mason is a Premiership referee, I don’t know. Jack’s yellow card was just stupid and the consistency of refereeing was absent, as many Everton players got away with a lot worse without a card. Djourou was elbowed, Theo flattened when on the break, Rosicky sythed down several times – nothing given. And when Theo was fouled three times but emerged with the ball in front of the last defender, the ref thought it wise to pull back play – the advantage rule??? And to top all these absolutely stupid refereeing decisions, when Louis Saha scored his goal, he was clearly a yard offside. Sky Sports, the BBC, and most media outlets – for once – in agreement on this.
Credit to Everton for their general performance and game plan – as an Arsenal fan, I didn’t like it – but they controlled a lot of the first half – they were sharp, focused and their passing was crisp – which is pretty much the opposite of we played.
But credit to our team’s second half performance – well, second half of the second half… the introduction of Arshavin and Bendtner actually had the desired effect – both playing well and Arshavin stealing the show with some sublime play, much better than previous this season. He equalised when Cesc lifted the ball over the defence and he ran on it to and volleyed past the keeper… and credit to Koscielny for plugging away at the back against a tricky forward line as well as popping up for the winner. It was great header – and a great huddle of a celebration!!
Arsene had a lot to say and talked first about our character:
I’m very happy today because we won against a good Everton side. We had problems in the first half getting started. I feel we had chances but our game lacked a bit of cohesion in the passing and we lost some balls down to good closing-down from Everton and as well to some technical mistakes. And today I would say it was more a victory of a team with fantastic spirit and a never-say-die attitude than our usual game. But that of course is needed in a competition like that.
And then he focused on the offside goal, which as mentioned before was an absolutely ludicrous decision…
For me the first goal was offside. If someone can demonstrate mathematically to me that it was not, I am ready to accept it. But it was offside because the pass was destined to Saha at the start. He was three-yards offside. I think Koscielny touched the ball and they interpreted it as a pass. I interpreted it as a deflection. But clearly the intention was to give the ball to Saha was offside and he took advantage of his offside position. After, he finished fantastically well. But we were 1-0 down and had it all to do in the second half.
As we approach the run into the end of the season – the key thing we need to avoid is injuries to key members of the team – and we’ve suffered a big loss in Samir Nasri – who has been confirmed as out for the month of February – with a small chance of return before the month end. Last night, we lost Alex Song, who is unable to walk and possibly Theo Walcott too – and it’s essential that we don’t lose any more of our first team. One or two reserves / squad players can come in and do a job now and again, but to rely on them week in and week out isn’t what we need!
Until tomorrow, my friends, adios…