Yesterday’s game was so disappointing from an Arsenal perspective. We just weren’t at the races at all. Too many players didn’t perform in a game when we needed a big performance from our key players. Unfortunately, Adebayor played like he did before Christmas, Fabianski clearly didn’t have the composure required for the occasion, Fabregas had a very quiet game. the only two players to come out of the game with any real credit are Walcott and Gibbs. I thought that Gibbs was probably our best player.
It’s immensely frustrating to look forward to a game so much only to see the team collectively fail to impress. Although never really dominating in the game, we managed to go ahead through a Walcott goal which deflected into the net off the hand of Cashley. The cross for the goal came from the impressive Gibbs, who showed little sign of his groin injury.
I suppose the most surprising thing was seeing Arshavin start from the bench, given that he had had a full week of rest due to not being eligible for the Champions League game against Villarreal. I had expected Van Persie to start from the bench in order to save him a bit for the Tuesday game against Liverpool. Diaby also came into the starting line-up in place of Song and, on paper, that should have given us more height and attacking potential from midfield. However, Diaby had a particularly poor day at the office and he was too hesitant too often on the ball and it is a side of him that he must work on if he is to become a good player for the club.
A problem that we had before Christmas seemed to return again yesterday, too many players didn’t work hard enough. Is that a symptom of the money that is now in the game? I mean, if you can’t raise your game for an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley then there is something seriously wrong. These are supposed to be the occasions that footballers live for. It’s also a chance to give something back to the fans too. Is it too much to ask for the team to put in a decent 90min of hard work?
I know it’s easy to sit here and write about all the negative things instead of focussing on the positive things. But, the fact is, there really weren’t many positives to take from the game except the performances of Gibbs and Walcott. None of the other players did anything to cover themselves in glory. Fabianski’s decision making was truly atrocious and he was blessed to not have cost us a goal early in the first half when a rush of blood to the head saw him come rushing out and it took a Gibbs goal-line clearance to prevent the ball from going in off the post. That incident was a sign of things to come from the Pole and he never really recovered from it. His positioning wasn’t great for Chelsea’s equaliser and then for the winner he had another rush of blood to the head when he came steaming out for a ball that he never really had a chance of winning. Let’s hope that he can regain his composure and a modicum of confidence ahead of the game against Liverpool. We can’t afford for him to have any more moments of madness like that between now and the end of the season or else we can say goodbye to any hopes of silverware. The sooner we get Almunia back the better. It should also be pointed out that Eboue was poor for Chelsea’s equaliser and he didn’t get tight enough to Malouda.
It’s easy to blame one man and he was particularly poor for both goals as well as some other close calls but, the whole team were poor and should shoulder some of the responsibility for not protecting him more by snuffing out Chelsea’s attacking threat. In hindsight, I am sure the manager is regretting not starting Song instead of Diaby.
Before the game Walcott talked about teams fearing us, but after that performance teams will be relishing playing us should we play like that again. The goalkeeping coaches need to help Fabianski work on his decision making. You can argue that he is still young, but we can’t afford to have him making mistakes that cost us the chance of silverware or points in the league. Perhaps he needs a season out on loan somewhere to get a full season of competitive football under his belt and help him improve his decision making and composure.
The boss was understandably angry about the quality of the pitch, which was a joke. It’s incredible to think that the stadium reportedly cost the guts of £750m yet they have a pitch of such comical quality. It was cutting up from the first minute and undoubtedly affected us more than Chelsea due to our style of play. However, we have played on worse and should have adapted to the conditions. As bad as the pitch was today, it will be worse for today’s semi-final and could work in Everton’s favour.
The boss had this to say afterwards:
“The disappointment of the day was that we gave away two cheap goals and the second, with ten minutes to go, cost us. I also thought the two teams looked jaded physically. We have the biggest target now in front of us – the Champions League. And of course as well, the Premier League, to come as close as possible [to the top] and, minimum, to stay fourth. We have big targets in front of us.”
There shouldn’t have been any real reason for Arsenal to look jaded. Adebayor, Silvestre, Walcott, Fabregas, Gibbs and Diaby have not played in a lot of our games this season and should have been fresh. Toure also was out of the squad for a while, Eboue has spent some time on the bench. The only player on the pitch for us yesterday that could have a claim for being tired was Denilson. Nobody else can have that excuse. The adrenalin of the occasion should have given the players extra energy, not less.
He also had this to say about our keeper:
“We’ll have to lift his confidence. I don’t like singling out individuals, but he’ll be feeling guilty and we have to make sure he responds quickly, like the rest of the team. I still believe that Fabianski is a great goalkeeper, but he perhaps did not have his best performance today.”
Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to single somebody out. I am not so sure about his assertion that Fabianski is a great keeper, he certainly hasn’t shown it yet. He has shown some decent moments, but not greatness. Time will tell on that one. Whether or not he gets that time at Arsenal is another thing.
Van Persie was substituted due to a slight groin problem and is a doubt for the Liverpool game. Given his injury history, you would expect him to be out for the Liverpool game and possibly returning for next weekend’s game against Middlesborough, or the first leg against ManUre.
Okay, that’s about all I have to say on a very disappointing weekend. It’s just hard to accept such an inept and spineless performance after being on such a good run. But, that’s football, I suppose.
More tomorrow (or Tuesday, not sure when yet. Depends what time I finish work.)