Slow Starting Arsenal Book Place in FA Cup Semi-Finals
We’re in the FA Cup Semi-Finals. Much will be written about this match and much will be said about what happened after the match. People will have an opinion about the winning goal and about the conduct of our players and our manager. Those people can scream and yell as loud and as vociferously as they want but they will not change the fact that Arsenal are in the Semi-Finals.
The thrust of my blog entry yesterday was that Arsenal should be able to win this match provided that they approached it with the proper focus and attitude. Apparently the team are not interested in reading my blog on a daily basis. (Or the economic downturn has forced them to cancel their Internet access thereby preventing them from reading the blog.) Regardless of reason for the team’s failure to patronize my blog, it is clear that the message was not delivered. For the first thirty minutes of yesterday’s match Arsenal simply did not seem to have the least interest in going to Wembley.
Someone is going to have to break the news to these players that no team has ever won a match simply by showing up at the stadium. No matter how many pundits expect you to win, and no matter how superior your talent may be, you must, in fact, play the match at a level resembling your best in order to achieve the result you desire. Full credit to Arsenal, they managed to rouse themselves from their slumber on the half-hour and by the second half their dominance was clearly on display. While there is some debate over the legality of the second goal, there can be no debate over whether Arsenal had done enough to emerge victorious. Hull started brightly, (mostly because we started so lethargically) but once we came into the game, they were truly overrun.
I believe that the starting XI was a strong and capable selection by Wenger. The studio crew and match commentators for Setanta gave Wenger some stick for not playing his best side, but all that shows is their total ignorance. Apart from Clichy at left back, Toure at the center of defense, and Nasri in the midfield, you could argue that this was a first choice eleven of available players. He could very easily have rested both Walcott and Arshavin in favor of Vela and Eboue, with Bendtner starting up front. I can’t see how that would be a stronger side.
If you throw out the first thirty minutes, because they might as well have been played by a pub team, most of Arsene’s men performed well. It was a disappointing night for Vela in particular because he never really got into the match. When he plays well he can be spectacular, but when he doesn’t hit the high notes, he seems to vanish from the pitch. To be fair to Vela, his strike partner didn’t do much better. It’s hard to pick on Van Persie considering he scored the equalizer, but he really wasn’t very effective. He just seems to have lost an incisive edge to his game over the past two months. It will be interesting to see if he regains some of his magic when Adebayor returns . I think playing along side a big center forward suits his game.
Theo wasn’t at his best, and his end product leaves something to be desired, but you can already see how much panic he sends through opposing defenses. Song and Diaby are not an ideal central midfield paring but they were decent. It’s amazing how strong Diaby is in possession. He is nearly impossible to knock off the ball. I don’t think he had a great game, and he clearly didn’t put in the effort early, but he grew into the match. Unlike Denilson, who usually just puts his foot through the ball, Diaby plays his way out of danger and that really helps setup the attack.
The defending wasn’t great. Most of that is down to attitude. We went to sleep on their goal and again on two corner kicks later in the match. One that almost resulted in a goal but the header landed on top of the net, and another that did result in a goal but was negated by the offside flag. I thought Gibbs was generally very solid, and got forward well, but Djourou and Gallas had a very mediocre match. Gallas atoned for any sins by scoring the winner. Sagna, as usual, was solid. (A sentence that appears in this blog more often than any other.)
The real standout was once again Andrei Arshavin. He finds so many ways to influence a match. His passing in the final third is top-drawer and he always seems to be in the proper position. If the rest of the team had his vision, he could have scored a goal or two today. In one instance, Theo failed to spot him on the other side of the box during a counter attack. He made an absolutely sublime pass through a defender’s legs to setup Gibbs in the box. And what can you say about the unselfishness of a player who thinks to setup Van Persie for a simple equaliser rather than blasting into a crowd from six yards out? It showed great composure at the critical moment. Composure in the final third is a quality on short display at Arsenal at the moment and hopefully it will spread throughout the team like pink-eye. I am more excited for his future with the team every time I see him play.
I thought Wenger had one of his better games tactically. Sometimes I think he waits too long to make changes or he doesn’t get aggressive enough with the changes he does make. Today he got it just right. Vela wasn’t productive and Song wasn’t needed as Hull sank deeper and deeper into their own half. Bendtner made an impact right away with his energy and Nasri brought more cut and thrust to the side. Although he doesn’t get enough credit for it, Bendtner really does have a good work rate. I never get the sense that he’s not putting in the proper effort. What’s missing at the moment for him is Arshavin-like composure. He looks to shoot at every opportunity and seems to make decisions a little to slowly. There were a few occasions today where he could have setup his teammates in the box but missed the opportunity and chose to take the shot instead. Still, he does put in a shift, and had a critical role in the equalizing goal.
So we can put the FA Cup behind us for a while and focus on…what’s that you say? We have more to discuss? I really wrestled with the decision of whether to even adress the issue of Phil Brown and his ten-year-old style, sore-losing tantrum. But I suppose it merits some brief discussion.
Here’s my take:
Brown’s team were time wasting from the opening whistle and Wenger and the Emirates faithful didn’t appreciate it. Phil didn’t seem to appreciate the derision and suggested that Mike Riley was influenced by the “local pressure.” What Phil Brown doesn’t understand is that Mike Riley is an incompetent referee who completely lost control of the game and was guilty of approximately one dozen incorrect calls throughout the match. When it came to the key moment in the match, Brown didn’t pull any punches in his assessment of Gallas’ goal.
“There is no excuse … about the second goal it was definitely a mistake by the officials, that is why we are out of the FA Cup. Ask Mr Riley how much that will cost to the city, I don’t think he’d understand and I don’t think he’d care.”
Strong words from a man who should be much more comfortable with losing. Yes, the winning goal was scored from an offside position but it wasn’t as blatant as Phil Brown seemed to think. As Wenger pointed out,
“It is not offside because the ball was deflected by the fist of the goalkeeper, Djourou first, the goalkeeper after, then a foul on Gallas. We should have got two goals.”
While Wenger might be wrong in his assessment, the linesman and referee could have reasonably seen it that way without the benefit of slow-motion replays. (Although I do like Wenger’s idea of Arsenal being awarded two goals. This should happen more often.) Moreover, Brown is absurd in his conclusion that the decision allowing the goal to stand is the reason Hull are out of the FA Cup. Arsenal could have easily put three or four past them. The Gunners were the better team by miles in the second half and were deserved winners.
Phil Brown further accused Wenger of not shaking his hand but replay shows clearly that Brown was nowhere to be found at the end of the match so we can rule that out as the ramblings of a deranged mind. But where Brown went completely off the reservation was when he chose to impugn Cesc Fabregas’ good name.
“I was there and I witnessed it, he spat at my assistant manager down the tunnel, that is their club captain, hopefully he is proud of himself. He spat at his feet.”
Cesc clearly made a mistake…he should have spat at Phil Brown. Now let me be clear, spitting at another human being is a disgusting act even when they deserve it, but how the hell Phil Brown can tell that Fabregas was spitting at a man’s feet is beyond me. It sounds far fetched and naturally Fabregas has categorically denied the incident saying,
“I categorically deny that I spat at anybody after the match. I have never done this in my whole career on the pitch, so why would I do it when I am not even playing? I can understand the frustration of losing a game to a dubious goal, that has happened to me many times in my career as well. But this is not the fault of me or any of the Arsenal players.”
I particularly like the part where he rubs in the pain of losing to a dubious goal. There’s no denying it, Cesc Fabregas is impossible not to love. As far as I’m concerned, the matter is concluded. Phil Brown might believe that Arsene Wenger did not behave properly, but his post-match interview more than overcompensated for any perceived impropriety. Not only did Hull crash out of the FA Cup, they manager crashed out of sanity-town into crazy-ville.
So now we truly can put the FA Cup behind us for a while. This weekend sees the Gunners make a trip to struggling Newcastle. They have some dangerous players back healthy and a 60 minute effort might not be enough at St. James’ park. We’ll take a closer look at that match later in the week.
Until then, hope you had a happy St. Patrick’s day. (We certainly got the “rub o’ the green today.”)