Thursday, 1 December 2011

Winter Weigh-In

So it's been a while since I last posted and, get this; I've actually managed to watch two games in a row, in their entirety as well! I managed to get home from work on Saturday just in time for the Fulham game and even got Tuesday evening free to see the Carling Cup quarter final against Man City. Typical for me, Arsenal couldn't deliver the goods in either game but it wasn't for a lack of trying. In fact I'm feeling rather proud of the club of late and both games were thrilling right until the end.

Let's weigh-in on the Fulham game first then: I felt the Cottagers set themselves up to defend and tried to get us on the counter which, credit to them, worked. I don't hold a grudge against Fulham for using those tactics because unlike some teams (cough, Stoke) they didn't settle for parking the bus but instead actively looked to break out of their own area and try and attack. It worked for most of the game, as wave after wave of Arsenal attacks came unstuck in the final third, which enabled Fulham to break with pace and get the ball to the impressive Bobby Zamora, who was unlucky not to leave the game with a goal which he probably deserved. Despite dominating possession as usual we looked a bit tired, no doubt due to the earlier game last week against Dortmund. Aaron Ramsey was running his socks off in midfield and you could see how much effort he was putting in, grimacing in frustration as each and every move came to nothing. Even van Persie was having no luck on Saturday, as he had a certain goal cleared off the line by Fulham's Chris Baird. 

As the minutes ticked by you just knew the game could go either way; we'd either finally break the deadlock and rout them or let in a stupid goal and fall behind. Unfortunately it was the latter that occurred, with Thomas Vermaelen accidentally slotting the ball past Szczesny's outstretched hand to make it 1-0 to the visitors. There were still 25 minutes left but when Fulham scored I felt like the chance at 3 points had gone and we just needed to claw ourselves back into the game. Luckily we managed to do that when Vermaelen popped up in the box in the box with 10 minutes left  to head home from Walcott's cross. 1-1 and game on but that was effectively all she wrote because you could see the team pretty much had nothing left to give. So all in all it wasn't a disaster, hell we could have lost it, but we did drop precious points at home and missed a great chance to keep pace with the rest of chasing pack.

The squad didn't have much of a rest as only two days later Manchester City came to town for the Carling Cup quarter final. Everyone knows Wenger uses this tournament to play the kids and this idea has been implemented by a lot of other clubs now (which didn't pay off for United last night), but we all knew City wouldn't do that; they'd still play their "reserves" but their reserve team is practically good enough to compete for a top four place in the league. So Mancini had Dzeko, Kolo Toure, De Jong, Adam Johnson and pantomime villain Samir Nasri all starting, guys who would command a first team place at most of the top European clubs but instead get turned out against a bunch of Arsene's kids and bench-warmers in the Carling Cup. Up against the City playboys were guys like Frimpong, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Miquel. So this had a Manchester City win written all over it right? Surely the clear favourites would overwhelm Arsenal's young guns and progress into the semi final with ease... Well you'd be wrong actually, because apart from an early Adam Johnson shot and a couple of desperate long range shots from Dzeko, the billionaires were toothless in attack and our boys had them on the run for the majority of the match.

The only problem we had was up front, with the still-adapting-to-English football Park Chu-Young and the desperate-for-a-goal Marouane Chamakh leading the attack. The Moroccan really cuts a depressing figure out there on the pitch; you can see he's struggling and his confidence must be at an all-time low. I really want the guy to do well here but Chamakh just can't catch a break right now. Anyway, with Park and Chamakh firing blanks all night it was up to the rest of the team to carry the load and young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped up in a big way. He was a constant menace to the City defence and had the experienced Zabaleta in all kinds of trouble. For such a young player he looks remarkably sure of himself when he's on the ball and looks a lot more dangerous than our other speedster Walcott when he's one on one with defenders; Chamberlain has no hesitation at all attacking the defence and taking them on, beating players with ease. The Englishman almost put us ahead with an unbelievable effort from way, way outside the box which City keeper Pantilimon (who was easily their Man of the Match, a great game from him) had to use every inch of his tall frame to tip it away from goal. 

Praise must also go to a few others who put in assured performances on Tuesday night. The defensive partnership of Koscielny and, unbelievably, Squillaci was brilliant with both players having excellent games in the heart of the defence. We cannot forget our Spanish youngster Ignasi Miquel who played extremely well standing in at left back. For a guy who is usually a centre back he looked pretty comfortable out there on the left, keeping Adam Johnson from causing too much trouble on the wing. Benayoung, Frimpong and especially Coquelin all had terrific games in midfield, bossing the play and keeping City's danger men quiet for practically the entire game.

Unfortunately Arsenal couldn't hold on and grind out the win. It was £35 million man Sergio Aguero who proved to be the difference. I should bloody hope so for £35 million, the guy cost more than our entire squad Tuesday night! Aguero made his entrance into the match after 32 minutes, coming on for the bemused Kolarov after just half an hour of play. Mancini has a very strange relationship with his squad; I appreciate he needed to change the game but to take a guy off after just half an hour is an insult to that player and you could clearly see Kolarov was pissed to be hauled off. But typically it proved to be the difference as the Argentinian Aguero was on the end of a swift City counter attack to make it 1-0 with only 7 minutes left. It was City's best and only real move of the entire match and it was enough to send the blue side of Manchester into the Carling Cup semi final. 

However, despite the loss and exit from the competition I'm not upset about the result. The guys put in a spirited performance and did the club proud. On paper we never should have been close to beating Man City on Tuesday but we took them all the way to the final whistle and had them quaking in their boots. Put it this way: City will probably go on to win the league this year and with all that money it'd be a disaster if they failed but I personally don't think they are everything they're cracked up to be and they'll never reach the heights of United and Barcelona. They'll certainly never be better than our 03/04 Invincibles!

That is all, thanks for reading.