Monday, 21 February 2011
Attitude lets Gunners down yet again
Arsene Wenger claimed after yesterday's debacle that the players had played with the right attitude. I can only assume that he was referring to the five minutes after Leyton Orient had equalised. I talked about the magic of the FA Cup in the last post and Orient certainly got their share of it yesterday. I also said how a much changed team had brought Arsenal fans down to earth at Wigan, following the home win over Chelsea at Christmas. Yesterday saw a group of players, roughly the same as those at Wigan, produce a similarly insipid and uninspired performance. All of my fears in Arsenal's approach to the game were realised once again. We all know how good the team is when at full-strength, but when the side is subject to mass change it becomes apparent that the squad players are not good enough as a collective unit. We can handle playing someone like Denilson or Eboue or Bendtner when there are eight or nine "first-choice" players on the pitch. What we can't do is win matches when there are eight or nine squad players on the pitch.
We've now seen this (pretty much) same group of players fail miserably at Wigan, Ipswich and Orient, and at home to Leeds and Huddersfield. Each of those team's should have been put to the sword by any Arsenal line-up, if only the approach of those on the pitch was the right one. With a Cup Final at the end of this week every player (with the exception of Miquel) out there yesterday had the chance to secure their place in the eighteen and, should an injury occur, force their way in to the starting eleven. The only player to have shown any ambition yesterday was Andrey Arshavin - and that is probably quite a surprise to most of us.
There can be no doubt that too many of these second-string players live in the comfort zone. Chief among them are Denilson and Bendtner. Denilson has gone backwards in the past two seasons and has surely now reached the end of the road. Either Aaron Ramsey or Henri Lansbury should be recalled (I think Ramsey is due back shortly in any case) from loan and immediately put in ahead of the Brazillian. Then there is Bendtner. I am among the staunchest supporters of the Dane, but his performance yesterday was a disgrace. Every time Bendtner got the ball yesterday he tried to dribble through (not around) the opposition. It was like watching a Rugby League player simply running at the nearest opposition player and taking the tackle. The attitude seemed to this observer one of arrogance, a belief that he was far too skillful for these third division oiks.
Marouane Chamakh probably played his worse game in an Arsenal shirt yesterday. He missed the best two chances we had in the first-half, but seems to freeze as soon as he gets a sight of the goal. His "shot" yesterday when the ball was laid back to him was an embarrassment for a top-flight centre-forward. Then there is Tomas Rosicky. Yes, he got Arsenal's goal and it proved to be very important. But that must have been the only time he played the ball forward in the entire match.
Arsenal were content at 1-0 to try and play out time in possession of the football. Why? What makes an Arsenal team, or Arsene Wenger, believe they have the ability to see out a 1-0 win? They are always one set-piece away from disaster. When the goal came it was a typically poor piece of weak defending. Tehoue is undoubtedly a big, powerful guy but how the hell did Miquel and Gibbs let him through? Manuel Almunia knows he should probably have saved it, but he was left hopelessly exposed by the incompetent defenders supposed to protect him. I have seen some really awful stuff directed at Almunia on a certain forum today because of the goal - simply because he is the easy target. The clowns that choose to blame Almunia should look at what happened throughout the game, all across the pitch, if they really want to find people to blame - the entire team apart from Andrey being those responsible. A debatable goalkeeping error should have been irrelevant to an Arsenal team playing against a side from the lower reaches of the Football League.
I had to listen to the final twenty minutes on Radio 5 and was disgusted, once again, by the commentary. When the ball hit Squillaci in the face the commentator (I'm afraid I don't know who it was) was literally screaming for a penalty, imploring the referee to give it. When the replay showed it wasn't handball there was no apology to the listening public who had their eardrums assaulted by this outrageous bias. The less said about the celebration by the commentator when the equaliser went in the better.
Arsenal are lucky to have another opportunity to get to the quarter-final. The press keep saying that a replay is "the last thing" Arsenal would have wanted. Utter nonsense - a replay means we are still in the Cup, which is far better than being knocked out. If we do win the replay (the idea of losing it doesn't bear thinking about) we will be away to Manchester United. Remember what happened in 2008 when Wenger fielded the sort of team that played yesterday against a full-strength United? A 4-0 hammering (which would have been far worse without Jens Lehmann) marked the beginning of the end for our season. If Wenger makes the mistake of putting out the players that took the field yesterday if we go to Old Trafford, then there could be another ritual humiliation on the cards. First, though, we will have to overcome Orient.