Before the game I was quite anxious. In the last two seasons we’ve seen young teams struggle in this competition away from home against top 6 Premier League sides. Thankfully, Arsene had learnt his lesson and he put out a really strong starting eleven. And once I saw the Tiny Totts’ starting line-up all the anxiety was turned into anticipation of a big win.
We should have closed the game out in the first half. Spuds were embarrassing as Wilshere ran the midfield. Arsenal were passing it around at will, patiently waiting for an opening. I thought there was a time, early in the first half, when we had the ball for four or five minutes. Spuds midfield was completely clueless and they had to sit deep for most of the half just to survive.
Henri Lansbury will not forget his first goal for a long time and I’m sure admirers of the beautiful game will remember it as a classic Arsenal goal. And I’d say there was a touch of the English style in this goal as well. Not surprising considering three young English kids played a big part in the goal.
The ball was moved from right to left into the path of an onrushing Gibbs. The youngster cut inside and found Rosicky on the edge of the box. Little Mozart rolled it into the path of an overlapping Wilshere who drilled in a low, hard cross. Lansbury popped in between four white shirts and picked up a tap in. There was a touch of Ljungberg in that run and finish, mighty impressive.
It does make me wonder why we don’t hit more such low, powerful crosses into the danger area just in front of the goalkeeper. If we add this threat to our game, teams who sit back will really struggle to contain us. Anyway, more on that some other day.
The rest of the half saw Arsenal dominate but we lacked the cutting edge. For a while it seemed players were happy to play the tippy-tappy game and that looked like a risky strategy. One goal leads have an uncanny way of disappearing and this game was no different.
Keane was marginally off-side but the linesman waved him on. Interestingly, this was the same assistant who’d incorrectly flagged Gibbs when the youngster was through on goal in the first half. The Irishman’s strike wasn’t powerful but it was well placed. Fabianski couldn’t keep it out. It was a save he could have made but we should not get hyper over such things.
The second half was a much tighter contest but neither side really created a clear opening except when Lennon was put through. A phenomenal last ditch tackle by Koscielny prevented him from scoring.
The game changed again in the 72nd minute when Arsenal brought on the big guns. Arshavin and Chamakh replaced Vela and Rosicky. After that it was all Arsenal once again. We could have scored late in the second half but desperate defending kept us out.
The game was over in the first five minutes of extra time when we won two penalties for fouls on Nasri and Chamakh after two delightful balls from Arshavin had put them through. A quick free kick by Wilshere followed by a clinical finish by Arshavin made the score-line emphatic. A fifth goal would have been nice but I’m not complaining.
Fabianski: Will probably be criticized for the goal. It was the kind of save that we’ve seen made and botched. I thought he didn’t have his eyes on the ball till the last second. Didn’t have to do much more.
Eboue: Largely solid but had a couple of lapses in concentration like when he left Bentley free to head at the back post.
Djourou: Was quite shaky. Totts’ best two chances in the first half probably came from his mistakes.
Koscielny: Another exceptional performance. Last year Vermaelen impressed a lot but it was mainly due to his scoring streak. Koscielny has been superb with his defending. Read everything, headed well, very composed and confident.
Gibbs: Excellent game in attack and defence. Had Lennon in his pocket. I thought he was a bit casual for the goal we conceded as he was jogging back. If he’d stayed higher up it would have been a clear call.
Denilson: Simple and effective.
Wilshere: Immense. My man of the match by a country mile. It’s astounding that someone his age can play so well in his fourth game in ten days. He was everywhere and dominated the game like a box-to-box powerhouse. Two assists, countless incisive passes, great physical strength, unquenchable desire.
Nasri: In the first half he looked like he was taking it a bit easy. Raised his game after the two substitutions. Good composure to convert the penalties.
Lansbury: Ljungbergesque goal, hard work down the right flank, good technique and passing, overall quite impressive. Not in the same league as Wilshere but fairly good in his own right.
Vela: Struggled a bit in the central role. It looked like no one was reading his runs and he had to hold back on a number of occasions. Good to see some more minutes under his belt.
Subs: Arshavin raised the standard of the game to a new level. Fantastic passes for the penalties, cool finish. Chamakh worked hard and proved to be a nuisance for the defenders.
Hopefully we will get an easier tie in the next round and Arsene will be able to give some other youngsters a chance. It’s worth noting that Arsenal don’t even complain about the penalty that was not given for a foul on Lansbury early on, or the fact that the two Spuds central defenders were not sent off, or the fact that the off-side decisions were clearly going against us, or the persistent, rotational, somewhat dangerous, and dare I say deliberate fouls on Wilshere.
For now let’s all laugh at Whinger Twitchy who’s complaining that Nasri dived for the penalty and Spuds fans so embarrassed that they ran away from their own home.