On reflection this 3-1 defeat has cost us control of the group and affected our chances of a decent draw in the knockout rounds. However there are benefits of this loss. It might not seem it straight away but think about it a little:
With so many first teamers out rested or injured the loss will not affect them so much. The pressure of 28 games unbeaten is now gone and the pressure of this record is off. They can now concentrate on a new run with the first teamers back. Had the loss occured this weekend to Villa, in a few weeks against Chelsea or god forbid against Spurs, it would have had a stronger affect on morale. A defeat was inevitable and I'd rather it was now, with the younger squad players in, than in the League with the first team.
There is one main worry from tonight and this is Phillipe Senderos. When Kolo Toure leaves for the African Cup of Nations we will be left with Gallas, Senderos and Djourou. Djourou has better pace and is decent in the air but hasn't done brilliantly for Birmingham. Alongside Gallas he might do better but I think Senderos will get the nod. The problem is that Senderos is so clumsy and lacklustre, his decision making is slow and most importantly he lacks the pace for the Premiership. He has been punished so many times for this and with the high line we play I am very worried. I would play Djourou there against quick teams or give sagna a game there, even Diarra could fill in. I just think Senderos has never found consistency for 3 years and is still not doing well - could it be time to sell and get in someone more suitable for the pace and speed of the Premiership?
Gilberto is a player that looked like he was missing match practice. That was the worst half of football he has played in a while; he gave the ball away so many times and looked so off the pace. He improved in the second half but his confidence looks battered. Flamini has taken his place and performed ever so well and it has affected Gilberto. He could be on his way come January and he looked like he didnt have his heart in it first half. Diarra has also done ok as another destructive DM and we dont use a Gilberto type player behind Cesc as much anymore. Denilson was ok on the ball but Fabregas was very absent. Hopefully he will be ok for Saturday.
Eboue did have some good moments and showed the skill that made Wenger move him to midfield. He caused major problems for the full back and should have had a penalty in the second half. Eduardo was employed on the other wing and although he showed some good attacking flourishes, he is not a left winger. He did not track back and help the hapless traore when up against alves and navas and clearly wanted to be alongside Bendtner.
Nicklas Bendtner was the only plus point from tonight; he held the ball up very well and was a threat all night. He was unlucky as he had no runners off him and had Eduardo been up top then it might have been a different story.
We missed William Gallas - had he played I think we would not have lost. 3 changes at the back caused too much disruption and we lacked organisation. Sagna was also missed as he is a far better defender than hoyte. Traore was a forced change and he didnt do brilliantly, but he was left hugely exposed. Lets put this behind us, get back the first teamers and move onto Villa on Saturday. It was not the best night - even Wenger was sent to the stands!
1. Liverpool vs Arsenal (Anfield): With the scores level at 1-1 Steven Gerrard broke through the midfield and hit a goal bound shot that looked destined for the net. Suddenly Gallas came out of nowhere and showed brilliant determination to block the shot and earn us a point.
2. Arsenal vs Man.Utd (Emirates): In injury time Gallas popped up at the back post with a really great finish to level the scores. Gambling, he showed great desire to get in the box and got his just reward.
3. Arsenal vs Wigan (Emirates): With Arsenal struggling to break Wigan down Gallas again ventured forward to get on the end of Sagna's cross.
These 3 moments in matches summed up the desire to win within Gallas and yesterday his goal was as important as anything he has achieved in an Arsenal shirt. With Man Utd losing to Bolton it was important to put some distance - however small - between us and last years Champions. From the moment Marcus Bent fouled Denilson from behind Gallas was even more pumped up. He had a confrontation with Heskey that led to a booking and this spurred him on. In a way it made him determined to inflict pain on those doing the same to his team mates and the best way for him to do this was to get the winner. As soon as he played the ball to Bendtner and continued his run, it almost seemed like an inevitability he would be on the end of Sagna's fantastic cross. Once the first went in, the game was over - Wigan never looked like breaching the defence.
Aswell as playing a part in the first goal, Nicklas Bendtner had an even bigger role in the second goal as he carried the ball out of our half and turned defence into attack within seconds. He timed the pass to Rosicky perfectly as he fed the Czech midfielder to slot home. It was a typical Arsenal counter attack. For me Bendtner is futher along the line of development than Walcott and he seems to have a far larger impact when it comes to goals. Everything Walcott did was lively but it did not always lead to an end product. He made some good passes and linked well with Adebayor and Eboue at times, he just needs a league goal to gain confidence. I just hope his injury is not serious as he looked in pain.
The interesting thing for me is that Eduardo cannot seem to get a start for Arsenal. I thought that after his performance for Croatia Wenger would give him the 90 minutes to try and get some goals in the League at last. The Croat can finish well and has pace to play alongside Adebayor. The thinking on Wenger's behalf might be that Eduardo will feature more in the second half of the season once he has had the proverbial '6 months to settle'. His ability in front of goal can be crucial for us come the run in to this season.
With Hleb and Fabregas out injured and suspended respectively, we did struggle to create chances. Rosicky was his usual busy self and looked to force the issue like he does so well. He showed directness and purpose and got his goal late on. Lassana Diarra showed why Gilberto may soon move on. Flamini has been brilliant in the destructive role this season and Diarra showed he can do the same. If anything Diarra has better ball control and passing than Flamini, as well as the bite in the tackle of his fellow Frenchman. With some work in training (particularly his shooting) Diarra can push Flamini for the supporting role to Cesc. Eboue showed flashes of brilliance and he has the dribbiling ability to beat players and get to the byline. I partcularly like his partnership with Sagna which was working well yesterday. Denilson showed some good moments but had large boots to fill with Fabregas out and did not do enough to put pressure on the Spaniard. I cant wait to see Cesc back in action at Villa.
Alan Shearer summed it up briefly on MOTD: "Last season Arsenal would have drawn this type of game". Once again we ground out a good result and march on into a difficult December with a smll margin between us and United. Well Done Lads!
Almunia - 6
Sagna - 7 - Toure - 7 - Gallas - 8 - Clichy - 6
Eboue - 6.5 (Eduardo - 6) - Diarra - 7 - Denilson - 6 - Rosicky - 7
Adebayor - 6 - Walcott - 7 (Bendtner - 7.5)
Armand Traore - He was missing in the last round of the Carling Cup due to the fact he was away on International Duty. For me Traore is arguably the most exciting talent in the reserve team; his pace is electric and coupled with great skill and and an excellent delivery into the box he is an excellent attacking full back. His defending has certainly improved from last year and I would like to see him have a game in which the weather conditions are difficult, the stakes are quite high and in a game when the home team are out for revenge. Against Newcastle he showed real potential and showed the player he can be. He is rated highly by most Gooners and tonight is a perfect chance for him to gain some further experience in the first team.
Lassana Diarra - Whether he plays right back or in centre midfield I want him to start ahead of any other player in the squad tonight. This may seem strange but for me he was the best player on the park when we hosted Newcastle at the Emirates. He controlled the game with such ease and this was against players who play week in week out in the Premiership. He keeps it simple and plays the easy pass. As well as being assured on the ball he is brilliant in the tackle. Against Sheffield United one crunching tackle simply sticks in my mind and I can see him being the destroyer in our team for years to come. He came to us to get more first team football and now I would like to see it. He could play alongside Gilberto or Denilson tonight or replace Sagna. Either way I want to see him given a starting role.
Theo Walcott - Having played a major part in taking Slavia Prague apart in the home tie I bet he is itching to get another chance to do so. The thing Theo needs to do is be more consistent and lately he has shown he can do this. His two goals were a major confidence boost and whenever he has come on lately he has made a big difference. He has learnt to use his pace to greater effect and his intelligence has shone through a lot more on the pitch. A partnership of Eduardo and Walcott may not work as they are too similar. Therefore he should play right wing
So who would I like to see get a game up front?
Nicklas Bendtner - Against Sheffield United he was brilliant. He showed great ball control, ability in the air, a good range of passing all blended together with hunger and hard work. He has the potential to be a top striker at this club; he is difficult for defenders to deal with and any striker with pace can feed off him easily. He has called for first team football and tonight could be the chacce to give him a confidence boost and let him prove a point. Eduardo and him combined well in their last game together and I would like to see them do this again tonight.
My team therefore would be:
Both teams are defending very well right now and look very solid at the back in open play. United will be a bigger threat from set pieces as we lack the dominance in the air they have. Aswell as a solid goalkeeper in Van Der Saar they have defenders who are capable of starting attacks while keeping it tight at the back. United have a perfect blend in Ferdinand and Vidic. The latter can dominate in the air with his partner having the pace to track players on the ground; it is a perfect mix of power and skill. This will be the key for them should they want to dominate Arsenal in the final third. Adebayor will be up against Vidic as he is Arsenal's main ball winner but it depends who lines up alongside him that will make a big difference. Should Hleb play just off the Togo man it may cause the opposition some problems as he will want to play in the hole behind Adebayor. This will give Ferdinand a dilemna as to whether to push out of position to pick him up and leave Vidic one on one, or leave Hleb with some room. We all know the ability Hleb has to pick a pass and dribble past players; when granted any space and he can punish teams. Should Eduardo or Walcott play Ferdinand may have the beating of them as their pace will be matched. Ferdinand is known to have lapses in concentration so any sniff of a chance and Eduardo is the player to get a goal out of nothing.
Their full backs will need to be watched, with Evra in particular a real threat going forward. He will need to be tracked by whoever is chosen on the right of midfield. He will leave space in behind and this can be utilised on the counter should we attack with speed. He does have the pace to recover but we have the pace to get from one end to the other before he has the chance. I would pick Walcott over Eboue as his attitude is better and he will be willing to get back to help the team. His form is very good of late and the boost of being picked is the main thing that can get him up for this game. He can take advantage of space left for him aswell with his blistering pace. Brown is less naturally attacking but joins the play well and does the simple thing. His defending can be suspect and Rosicky must give him a hard time. They will play behind Ronaldo on the right and Giggs on the left most likely. We all know the threat these two pose and our full backs will be in for a tricky afternoon. Clichy did well against Ronaldo last season and hopefully he can do the same. He has been in good form and if he can get Ronaldo running towards his own goal we have a real chance. Sagna has also been in great form and I feel he can win his individual battle with Ryan Giggs. Although he is intelligent still, his pace has gone and Sagna is a hard tackling, speedy full back. I know they have much to deal with in defending our own goal but they must get forward as they did at Anfield on Sunday.
In the centre there will be a real battle. Hargreaves will be there to pick up Cesc and try to stop him playing. He is still a little rusty and probably wishes he had to face the in form Fabregas after a few more matches to gain fitness. It will be a real fight in there but Cesc can really give him the run around if he can re produce the form of this season so far. In all likelihood Flamini will play up against Carrick. Carrick has a great range of passing but if Flamini can get in and around him he can disrupt and unsettle Carrick's game. United will miss Scholes in there and Carrick has big boots to fill. If Wenger opts for Hleb on the right he may add Gilberto to the team and try and stop United completely in midfield. With 3 in the centre we will dominate this area and hopefully prevent the ball reaching the forwards as they are the main threat.
Rooney and Tevez have finally gelled and Gallas and Toure will have a tough 90 minutes on their hands. They will not have much to do in the air and they are very good defenders on the floor. They have the pace and strength to match the forward line of Manchester United. This is the type of game that Toure and Gallas will be up for and should they win their battle at the back we have the basis to go and win this match. Hopefully Almunia will not have much to do; he has done well recently and if he can keep this up we have an opportunity to take the points.
Being the home side I feel we should attack them as much as possible while being wary of leaving ourselves open at the back. We need to work hard both going forward and defending and thats from the strikers all the way back to the keeper. If each player wins his personal battle we can win this game. Should they lose them, we will not. The game will be tense and we must take our chances when they arrive. This let us down against Liverpool. One last thing before I list the line up I would play:
COME ON ARSENAL - WE CAN WIN THIS
I HATE MAN UTD - YOU HATE MAN UNITED
LETS BLUNT THEIR TITLE CHALLENGE EARLY AND GET REVENGE FOR THE TRAVESTY THAT WAS THE END OF OUR UNBEATEN RUN
Subs: Lehmann, Gilberto, Eboue, Eduardo, Bendtner
Alexandre Song has taken some stick recently but in the Carling Cup he has shown some true potential. He seems more settled as centre back. He has the strength to play there and has a strong tackle. He can pass the ball well from the back and in each game has looked composed alongside his defensive partner. Hoyte did well alongside him and I would really like him to succeed at Arsenal, he has stuck loyal to the club he loves and I hope he can make it here, maybe in the centre instead of at right back. Lassana Diarra and Kieran Gibbs were selected at right and left back respectively and they deserve special mention.
Many people did not know how good Diarra was when he switched from the blue of Chelsea to the red of Arsenal. Having many Chelsea fans as friends (disgraceful I know!) has given me the chance to see him in action and I was always impressed. He seemed to be a carbon copy of Makelele but with more pace; he was strong in the tackle, had a great reading of the game as well as a great calmness on the ball. Although he is a central midfielder by trade he can cope at right back and last night was excellent. He is a much more of a solid back up to Sagna than Eboue and we may see Diarra become permanent 2nd choice, especially if Hoyte moves inside. Having seen him both at right back and central midfield I think he would definitely be better used in the centre of the park as Gilberto/Flamini's replacement. Diarra could really compliment Fabregas and give the Spaniard the freedom to roam just like Flamini has so far this season. Like Diarra, Kieran Gibbs is naturally a left sided midfield player but was asked to do a job at left back. He was only selected due to Armand Traore's absence and when the Frenchman returns he will come back into the team in this competition. However Gibbs is an exciting talent and can fill the void left in our squad after Reyes left. We have no natural left footed winger and sometimes this is needed to add balance to a team in some matches. Rosicky does a different job out there and sometimes you need a player that will get to the byline and whip in crosses for the strikers to attack. He played well in the Emirates Cup and has impressed in every game I've seen him. His pass for Eduardo's goal showed the great vision and potential he has. They are both new players to the squad who can add something different to the squad in what will be a difficult season.
Theo Walcott looks like a different player now he has come confidence. During his last few games he has shown brilliant pace and has added an end product to his game. Denilson also has more confidence having signed his new contract and is ready to push on and try and oust one of the midfielders. His passing is not far off the level of Fabregas' and despite his build he can put himself about. These players again have a hard battle to get into the team but they have the ability to do so and if they warrant a chance, Wenger is the manager to give it to them. The depth is exciting but it is up front that gives me the most hope.
Eduardo came to this team with a lot of expectation, too much in my eyes. He started quite well and got a few goals in the appearances he made but did not hit the ground running as too many over expectant Arsenal fans wanted. He was then hit with an ankle injury that hindered his adaptation to a new league and a new team. There is a reason Wenger gives players 6 months to settle in before he passes judgement and we as fans must do the same. Last night he finally showed the sort of form he has for Croatia. His first goal was fantastic and showed real strikers' instinct. He knew where the goal was and had his mind made up as soon as he received the ball from Bendtner and sent a shot towards goal with such power that the 'keeper could not react as the ball flew into the top corner. His second goal had less force to it but showed something else Eduardo posseses. Picking up the ball from Gibbs' pass, he took the ball down easily and with great assurance he sent the keeper the wrong way as he slotted the ball into the bottom corner. The ease with which he put the ball away really encouraged me. He never looked like missing and this is why Wenger bought him; he has the ability to score with just a sniff of a chance. Wenger may think about starting him on Saturday after this performance; chances may be scarce against Man Utd and he may be the man to put anything we get away.
Alongside the Croatian striker was Nicklas Bendtner. He has demanded first team football and had something to prove after wasting the chance to win the game on Sunday with his horrendous miss. Last night he went someway towards redeeming himself. The Sheffield United defence couldn't handle him with his pace, strength and close control. He showed great skill and directness to set up Eduardo for his goal and was awkward for the oppositon throughout the game. He adds something different to our team when he comes on. He has great aerial ability mixed with skill on the ground with a decent ability in front of goal. The key thing for him to realise is that he is a rough diamond and under the guidance of Wenger he can become world class. He will get a few chances this season but mainly in the Cups, if he takes them, keeps his head down and works hard he can become an intengral part of this squad.
Once more our 'kids' have done us proud. This was a difficult away game and we came through with flying colours. Although I picked out Diarra, Gibbs, Eduardo and Bendtner for special praise, the whole team was excellent for the 90 minutes. The players who came on to make their debuts also looked decent in the short spell they had on the pitch. Hopefully we get a good draw at home in the next round so we can get another look at the second strong up close.
Next is Manchester United and although most of this team will not start, they showed the confidence and togetherness of the entire squad.