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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Better than last week, King Koscielny back for Wembley?

Arsenal's driving force celebrates his goal

I’ve always said I can forgive a lot if the players put in the effort. Yesterday was one of those such occasions. Let’s get this straight: Manchester City are a far stronger side than Arsenal (especially an Arsenal missing Koscielny, Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott and Ozil). If you want an illustration of the respective strengths of the squads on show yesterday then look no further than the late subs – they brought on Alvaro Negredo, we brought on an unknown French kid who is yet to score a goal. For that Arsenal team to put up such a display, especially off the back of the previous week and the publicity they’ve had, showed a lot of resolve and respect for the shirt and the fans. I haven’t written about the Swansea game and perhaps it’s just as well – the opposite of what I’ve written above would have been appropriate content.
If there is a frustration for me today it is that we had to go through the humiliation of the Chelsea game and the lack of effort in the Swansea game to get here. If the same players (and there was only one starting change yesterday from Tuesday) had played with the same desire against Swansea we would have been two points better off this evening and still in the mix (albeit mathematically). What I witnessed on Tuesday was as far removed from yesterday evening as it’s possible to be. Swansea City should have been swatted aside and the only reason they weren’t was a lack of proper motivation in our players after the hammering at Chelsea.
Yesterday they looked like a different group of players. There were nerves early on as City clearly came to play but I thought the defence weathered any early storm and Arsenal were then largely the team on top for most of the rest of the game. That didn’t translate to shots on goal unfortunately but we were mostly unthreatened. City’s goal came from us yet again dithering in midfield, though our lack of a decent run of the ball was there again when they scored. Szczesny made a very decent save to push Dzeko’s shot on to the post. For the ball to rebound and basically hit Silva and go in the net summed up a team short on fortune at the moment. As I write this I’ve yet to see the highlights so I don’t know if we should have had a penalty when Rosicky appeared to be fouled by Zabaleta, but the lack of a yellow card for a dive summed up a return to form for Mike Dean I suspect.
Mr Dean was certainly pretty abysmal for most of the rest of the game. But not as bad, maybe, as the linesman at my end of the ground. You might recall I referred to this official as a “busy little f****r” after the game at Spurs a fortnight ago. He certainly was yesterday, as long as you were “infringing” in a red shirt, at least. Again, I’ve not seen the replays but I’m told Flamini was offside when scoring in the first-half – just about the only thing the linesman got right in the whole game. James Milner was certainly offside when he nearly laid on a second goal for City shortly after coming on. Incidentally I’ve read the match report on the BBC website by some cretin called Phil McNulty who claims that Arsenal were being dominated down our left, with Podolski basically labelled a waste of space. That will be why Navas, on City’s right wing, was taken off then Phil. In general I don’t get this media impression of Podolski (that idiot Paul Merson said on Sky last week that he “doesn’t know what Podolski does” – well he doesn’t waste his talent with drink and drugs does he you bitter little t**t?) It might have been Podolski who was eventually robbed of possession that ended with City’s goal, but it was Arteta’s dithering and negative passing (which is getting more and more annoying) that saw us get closed down in the first place.
Arsenal’s biggest problem was, as ever in the absence of Theo Walcott, that we had nobody trying to run beyond the City defence. My brother pointed out that Zabaleta, from right-back for City, made more moves in behind than any Arsenal attacker did. I actually thought that Cazorla and Rosicky (especially Rosicky) had very good games, but nobody was really supporting Giroud who was winning more than his share in the air against Kompany and Demechelis. Rosicky was the man who was willing to take someone on with the ball at his feet and get between the lines. More than once it looked like it would drive us on, but there was nobody making that run that would see us get City’s defenders turning towards their own goal. We know how weak Clichy is but we didn’t really test him.
The Arsenal goal was thoroughly deserved and was again created by Podolski (absolute waste of space that bloke). His ball to Flamini was superb and it was a very decent finish. Flamini got forward a lot during the game which worried me at times, but his engine is good enough for him to get up and down all day long. Vermaelen’s more disciplined approach to defensive positioning today also made that possible. When the ball fell to Podolski a little while later, one on one with Hart, I felt sure he’d bury it. Again, with a bit of fortune it might have squeezed the right side of the post for us, but it wasn’t to be and Podolski really shouldn’t have given the Head and Shoulders boy a chance to make the save.
The season will, no doubt, end with some regrets for us. Yesterday’s performance won’t be one of them, I feel. The fact that we went in to such a game without the necessary strength in the squad will certainly be one, but that’s a discussion for another day. In concentrating on what was available on the day I thought it was a fine effort, ultimately not quite getting what might have been the deserved reward of three points. If nothing else it stops the rot and restores some confidence ahead of a tough trip to Everton next week. That game is, at the very least, a must not lose.

One final note for optimism. I met Laurent Koscielny in the car-park after the game yesterday and he said that he will be fit in “two weeks”. Assuming that it’s a real two weeks and not a Wenger two weeks he should be back for Wembley and Wigan Athletic. Fingers crossed.

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