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Thursday 13 January 2011

Give Me Strength!

Having been stuck in the Coliseum in St. Martin's Lane for both of our last two midweek matches, I don't feel best qualified to comment. But I'm not going to let that stop me :-) From what I've seen of the TV coverage, against Man City we started right from the KO, playing at a very high tempo, carving out several opportunities in a thrilling opening period.

Against Ipswich it took at least half an hour for the Gunners to conjure up their first effort on goal and for my money, this is the most telling factor in our (embarrassing!) defeat at Portman Road, as it speaks volumes as to the laidback, complacent attitude of virtually the entire Arsenal team, who seemed to think they only had to turn up to guarantee a highly-prized appearance in a Wembley final.

It once again leaves me wondering about the absence of big personalities, both on the bench and in the squad, of the sort who could've geed the team up in the dressing room, to come out and steam into the opposition, with the same verve and pace that they produced on the big stage, in a more glamorous game against Man City.

On the commentary on Sky Sports, they spoke in the opening minutes about the fact that the game was being played in the Ipswich half and whether this was indicative of what could expect for the remainder of the match. However as far as I'm concerned, within five minutes we saw Denilson shoulder charged off the ball and Arshavin carelessly conceding possession with a sloppy header from the resulting (erroneous?) free-kick and to my mind this was far more indicative of the contrasting motivation of the two teams.

Ipswich played like a side with something to prove, after their FA Cup humbling at the Bridge and sadly the Gunners performed as if they had some sort of divine right to reach the final. While Jack Wilshere was his customary busy self, getting around the park, apart from Theo Walcott, it's hard to recall a single other Arsenal player running at the Ipswich defence with the ball, instead of constantly laying the ball off, incessantly passing on responsibility in typically infuriating fashion, with intricate passing patterns which never ended up getting anywhere.

Cesc Fabregas tried his best to pull the strings and should really have found the back of the net. But surely we should've been able to create a myriad of goal scoring opportunities against the Tractor Boys and what I found most frustrating was the flat-footed way in which the Gunners plodded about the pitch, rarely ever gambling on putting in a burst of pace, to give the opposition defence something more to think about and to try and make our hosts life more difficult.

Standing like statues at set-pieces, I never once felt we were likely to threaten from any of the numerous opportunities we had to throw the ball into the mixer from a free-kick around the area or from any of our corners.

Watching on the box, I'm at the disadvantage of not being aware of the amount of running players did off the ball, but I tend to believe that the number of times the camera caught Shava standing on the spot, making like a teapot with his hands on his hips, wasn't merely a coincidence. Whether it's because Shava is low on confidence, or that the diminutive Ruski is just a lazy little bugger, but where we'd have expected him to be enthralling us against the lowly league side, he's recently become far too fond of the Arsenal's penchant for playing one-touch football, preferring to pass the ball on to his nearest team mate, rather than running with it.

It seems to me that Arsène got it all wrong with his team selection, as this wasn't a night for the indolent likes of Arshavin, Denilson and Bendtner, but the more industrious likes of Song, Chamakh and Nasri. I've done my best to remain patient with Denilson but I'm afraid I've had it with the Brazilian. It's not so much the fact that he seems to get bypassed so often in midfield, as he wafts a limp leg out in the direction of the oncoming attacker, but what I find absolutely unacceptable is his apparent total lack of commitment when he's beaten in middle of the park. It makes my blood boil every time I see Denilson trundling back towards our goal, showing not the least bit intent to try and catch up with the play, as if it's entirely down to the defence to deal with the problem, once they've breached our Maginot line in midfield.

I'm not putting Scott Parker up on any sort of pedestal, as a player capable of playing in the Arsenal midfield. But when you watch Parker absolutely busting a gut to get back and help out, as if his very life depended on keeping out the opposition, it positively puts Denilson's work rate to shame.

Talking of Arsène's ricket with the starting line-up, what on earth was le Gaffer thinking by bringing on Vela when our backs were up against the wall, after going a goal down with ten to play. A player who's currently being touted around half the clubs in Europe and who might well not be playing for the Arsenal, by the time the Carling Cup Final comes along? Like Carlos is really going to play his heart & soul out, putting his body on the line to get the Gunners that little bit closer to some silverware that he's unlikely to get to lift?

As with Saturday's wet blanket of a display against Leeds, just about the only bright spark was Kieran Gibb's getting another 90 minutes under his belt. Hopefully both he and Gael Clichy will benefit as a result. Gibbs looks capable of offering the sort of energy up the left flank that's been sorely missed from Clichy's game and will perhaps avoid the lapses in concentration at the back that have proved so costly of late. And with a bit of luck Clichy will also rediscover his mojo as he contemplates his loss of form from the sidelines.

As we've discovered in the past, when you play (in Wenger's words) "with the handbrake on", it's very hard to drop down a gear or two, when you suddenly find yourself staring defeat in the face and I invariably get the distinct feeling that le Prof is partially culpable when he rotates the squad. It seems to me that by making the decision that he doesn't need his best players to beat the opposition, he's sending out all the wrong signals to those he does select, by tacitly telling them that "we've more than enough in the tank" to beat this lot.

I've always believed in playing our best XI and sending them out there to tear into the opposition and putting them straight under the cosh. In this way we could've perhaps scored a couple of goals and then given players a breather. Instead of which we find ourselves facing a home leg, with a goal disadvantage, where Ipswich will come and "park the bus" and defend for their very lives to reach a Wembley final and Arsène will be forced to pick all those players who might well have been able to have spent the night with their feet up, watching from the stands. Which of these two options would've proved far less strenuous on the squad's reserves of energy?

Not to mention knocking all the wind out of the Gunners sails in advance of a trip to Upton Park on Saturday, where having been buoyed by their midweek semi-final win, Avram Grant will attempt to inspire the Hammers to play for his very future at the club. Please, please Arsène, let's focus first on getting some winning momentum going at the club as the single only priority, then you can begin to focus on conserving your resources. Otherwise we're going to end up with a fresh and fit squad come the spring, but with once again absolutely nothing to play for!


Anonymous said...

Long may the French man rule at the arse :)