Tuesday, March 06, 2012

It was the Squad that Lost It: 12 Thoughts on Arsenal 3 AC Milan 0

Well, what to make of that? One of the most exhilarating matches I've watched for a long time. We came close, but not close enough. Thoughts as follows:

* In my preview, I argued that we could win the game if we got one goal early on, and one before half-time, which would make the second half anyone's game. Not only did we do that, we managed to go one better. To go three goals up against any team before half-time is impressive, but to do it against Milan was pretty much incredible. It's funny to talk about 'mental strength' when you consider that a good number of players on the pitch tonight were also present during our three worst defeats this year, at Old Trafford, Ewood Park and the San Siro. But they really believed they could do it from the first whistle, and they created a first-half which was about as good as it gets for an Arsenal fan. They deserve massive credit for that.

* You could make an argument that we never really got started in the second-half. Milan managed to regoup during the half-time break, and imposed themselves to a much greater extent during the second period. They had several chances, and really should have put the tie to bed before the final whistle. Nocerino's miss, in particular, was nothing short of spectacular. When faced with an open-net, he somehow only managed to muster a feeble back-pass to Szczesny.

* But Nocerino's failed attempt was nothing compared to the moment upon which the whole game hinged - van Persie's miss in the second-half. I'm not sure what Robin was thinking, but he tried to dink it over the keeper from close range when a slide finish surely would have been better. Indeed, despite his brilliant penalty, you could argue that Abbiati got the better of Robin over the course of the two ties, pulling off great saves in both matches that got Milan through to the next round. You can't really blame Robin though - 4 shots on target from 4 attempts is superb, and another day he would have gotten us the crucial goal.

* One can't help but wonder how things might have been different if Chamberlain had started in the San Siro. His whipped corner was the type of ball into the box that we too often don't produce. He terrorized the Milan defence throughout the first half, and it was his driving run that won us the penalty for our third goal. As his performance dipped in the second half - hopefully just due to fatigue - it was notable that Milan began to control the game more successfully. The Ox is a phenomenon, and, unfortunately for us, I think he will end up going to the Euros in the summer. England better not break him.

* Speaking of players that we missed in the San Siro - Laurent Koscielny put in a Man of the Match performance tonight, utterly dominating in defence. I very much doubt we would have conceded four goals in Milan had he played the full 90 minutes. It's interesting that he led the team in interceptions and offsides won tonight - he is becoming an organizing influence in the defence, and his reading of the game seems to improve almost weekly. Indeed, the rate of his progression is so startling that, in my opinion, he is now the senior player in his partnership with Vermaelen. Which is not to say that Vermaelen didn't play well tonight - he did. He was superb. It's just that LK was even better.

* The other main contender for man of the match was Tomas Rosicky. After his barnstorming performance in the North London Derby, he was relatively subdued at Anfield, but he was superb tonight. I've often been critical of Rosicky but it's mainly from a sense of disappointment. When we bought him in 2006, it seemed like we'd acquired one of the real, future superstars of world football. Instead, injuries have largely destroyed Tomas's time at the club, and we've only seen glimpses of the player we could have had. Tonight was one of those glimpses. Even though we lost the tie, I'm glad that we have a few more fond memories  of Tomas. And on that performance, I'm pretty sure he'll still be at the club next year.

* I also thought Sagna and Gibbs had, overall, decent games. Wenger asked them to play very far up the pitch, understandably, and they were caught out of position on a number of occasions. They did their duty piling up and down the flanks, but neither player put in an accurate cross all night, which is fairly disappointing. Especially with Gervinho and Walcott both having disappointing matches, we could have used more of an attacking threat from our full-backs.

* Walcott  - in some respects, it's difficult to know what to make of his performance. Theo never went hiding, and stretched the Milan defence with his pace, but zero accurate crosses from five attempts tells its only story. Although, Rosicky's goal came from a misplaced Walcott pass, ultimately. I also felt that he cut inside too often, overcomplicated our play, and lost the ball far too many times. It may sound harsh, but I still don't think Theo should be an automatic first team pick. He simply doesn't create enough chances, or score enough goals.

* It's easier to know what to make of Gervinho's performance: it wasn't very good. I have an awful feeling that his season is going the same way as Chamakh's last year. A bright start, followed by a few doubts, followed by the need for a replacement. Let's hope it doesn't get to the latter stage, but I can't remember the last time he had a good game for the club. Today, he was indecisive, he struggled to control the ball, and didn't provide enough of a threat against a weak full-back.

* Park and Chamakh - or, it was the squad that lost it. If we'd had just two quality players to bring off the bench, we might have won this game. Instead, we left players like the Ox and Theo on for too long, the pace of the game slackened, and we lost our momentum. We left them on for too long because are only options were Park and Chamakh. The stats for the two players make grim reading. Chamakh only touched the ball 6 times in 16 minutes; Park only 3 in 6. Park completed 1 pass; neither player had a shot on goal. In short, they didn't do much, and they disrupted the shape of the team. We piled too many players forward and didn't have enough bodies to pick passes in the midfield.

At the very end, we had a break forward and Song had the ball. A relatively easy pass lay to his left - Park. A harder pass lay to his middle and to his right. His chose the harder pass. Maybe it was just a moment of overconfidence, or maybe it shows that the senior players in the side can't work out why we bought Park either. I bloody can't.

* In light of my last comment - should we have got rid of Arshavin? Would you rather he or Park/Chamakh had come on tonight? I still don't understand his loan move

* So was tonight all for naught? Yes and no. A cold-hearted rationalist could look at tonight's game and say - who cares? You still lost - you just lost with a little grace. But, I think tonight's win was important. We keep our run of good form going, and we proved the we can still hand out a beating to other members of Europe's elite. Hopefully the players will concentrate on the positives from tonight's result, and use them as the basis for winning more games during our run-in. And, maybe just as importantly, tonight continues another rebuilding process - that of the relationship between the fans, the team and Arsene. We've had some rough times this season - this wasn't one of them. This was pretty fucking ace. Let's just enjoy that for now.


akm said...

"We've had some rough times this season - this wasn't one of them. This was pretty fucking ace. Let's just enjoy that for now." - My sentiments exactly! The players gave all they could, if their quality was not enough, can't be helped

Anonymous said...

Sorry akm, but it could have been helped. The whole theme of this article is the thinness of our squad. A couple of quality players added in January would have given us the backbone to not have lost so badly in Milan in the first place, but then to have completed the job last night.
With all the millions lying in the bank do our management re4ally want us to win trohpies or just count their fortune

Anonymous said...


Russ C said...

That team plus Rambo, Wilshire, Diaby, and a back up for RVP is very very good.

No mention of Alex Song in your article who was yet again a man mountain. driving the team on, tackling, strength, penetration, this season he has become a man. his contract extension is second in importance only to RVP.

exciting times ahead for gooners if we can keep song and rvp plus add a striker eg Podolski this summer. back 4 and midfield really starting to show their class.

Anonymous said...

In all the exposure about RvP's contract, it can be forgotten that Song and Walcott are in the same position. (The person above hadn't and this prompted me).

I genuinely cannot imagine any club superior/on a par with Arsenal being interested in Theo. I heard that Chelsea may want him, but how can that be when they don't have a manager? I think he will re-sign on the usual 'undisclosed' (but the same) terms.

Alex Song is someone I can imagine Barca/Real Madrid being interested in, and the feeling may be mutual. There is real risk here of losing him and though Coquelin is a dark horse who could be as good as any holding midfielder in the world, it'd be a shame to lose Song but I can see him running down his contract.