Before the game I’d said that a draw will be a good result and a win excellent. As it turned out Shakhtar were far too good for a makeshift Arsenal team that was neither here nor there.
The reason I didn’t share the optimism of some fans regarding a win in this game was down to two factors; the personnel available to Arsene and tactical problems that we’ve come to expect.
Expecting the midfield duo of Wilshere and Eastmond to dominate the ball in such a difficult European tie is ridiculous. The problem was we didn’t really have much choice and I’m not sure Lansbury or Nasri would have done much better because of their tendency to rush forward.
This issue was exacerbated by some tactical mistakes and an astonishing lack of composure. Arsenal almost had a 4-2-4 formation with Rosicky far too high up the pitch. I was really disappointed with Rosicky as he should have dropped deep when we were under pressure. What’s the point of experience if you can’t read a situation and take charge?!
Our biggest strength in this game was the pace of Theo and we got an early goal thanks to that. Wilshere got onto a loose ball from a set-piece and hoofed it forward. Walcott was halfway inside the Arsenal half but was able to blitz past the defender without breaking sweat. His finish was that of a man in form.
The sad part was that we rarely used this strength to our advantage. With the personnel we had on the pitch, I’d have asked the midfield and Nasri to play much closer to the defence and to release Walcott at every opportunity.
Instead what we saw was Rosicky and Nasri dwelling on the ball far too long, Eastmond and Eboue making too many mistakes, and Wilshere struggling to do everything on his own. Bendtner’s first touch and inability to hold the ball under pressure didn’t help either.
It took the hosts 15-20 minute to realize this Arsenal side was there for the taking. After that they mounted attack after attack, pressurising Arsenal deep in their own half. At the end of the first half, Shakhtar had 11 shots with 7 on target while Arsenal had 3 with 2 on target.
Fabianski made some good saves and the post kept the hosts out once but they managed to score two good goals to turn the game around before half time.
The first came from a set-piece when Chygrynski glanced the ball towards the goal and it went in off the hapless Eastmond. The big mistake for this goal came from Eboue who conceded the free kick with a daft foul. The Ivorian had the chance to make a clean tackle earlier but failed and then had to play catch-up, ending with a lunge that created the chance and earned him a booking.
The winner came from a bad mistake by Clichy as he was dispossessed on the wing. Quite what he was thinking, I do not know. Having said that, I was really disappointed Eduardo was completely unmarked in the box. What was Eastmond doing? For a kid with limited abilities he should at least make sure he is physically present in the right defensive areas.
I know many fans will again go ballistic over Clichy but I don’t agree with that. Yes, he made a bad mistake but so did many other players and the hosts could have scored from any other move. Point is, the problem was with the way Arsenal were playing – defence exposed far too often, senior players not taking charge, too many individual mistakes, absolutely no composure in any part of the pitch.
If the ball keeps coming at the defence every few seconds they are bound to make some mistakes.
To be fair, the second half was much better and more even. Arsenal didn’t play that much better but Shakhtar took their foot off the pedal. This allowed Arsenal to bring the ball out more easily and that in turn lead to some openings. In the second half, Arsenal had 9 shots with 6 on target while the hosts had 8 with 3 on target.
Even then, there were very few clear chances created by Wenger’s team. Squillaci had a good chance with a free header when Clichy put in a brilliant ball but the Frenchman didn’t generate enough pace on his header. Walcott had a couple of half chances and hit the target but it was always within the Keeper’s range. Wilshere hit the woodwork when he got a free strike on the goal but I thought it was a foul that led to the chance.
Shakhtar were defensively much better organized and their midfielders worked hard in support of the defence. Once again Arsenal couldn’t make a set-piece count.
I’m not that disappointed with the result. My concern is with the repetition of mistakes that we’ve seen in the past – tactical naivety, lack of composure, experienced players controlling the game, and too many individual mistakes.
Normally we see these problems intermittently but the team is strong enough to survive them and get a result. But when we see them all together and for almost the duration of the game, more often than not we end up losing.
I’m not sure what the injury situation is but starting with Sagna would have made a huge difference. Clear instructions to Rosicky to drop closer to the defence would also have made it easier.
Now Arsenal will have to focus on the remaining two games in order to top the group.
Fabianski: Probably the only player who didn’t make mistakes and I can’t describe how thankful I’m for that. Made some good saves but couldn’t do much about either goal.
Eboue: Casual, indifferent, and lackadaisical. Extremely poor for an experienced player. Didn’t read the danger well enough, movement on the right was poor, passing was ordinary.
Squillaci: worked hard to keep the hosts at bay. I thought he got away with one or two things in this game as he was a bit physical. Can’t really fault him for either of the goals or the chances that were created by Shakhtar.
Djourou: Made some important interceptions. Read the danger well on most occasions. Another one who shouldn’t be blamed for the result.
Clichy: bad mistake for the second goal. Worked really hard on the left as the midfield often left him exposed. Should have done better in attacking areas.
Eastmond: I’ve no idea how he even gets into the squad. I don’t want to blame him for this result but he oozes nervousness and it spreads to the rest of the team as well.
Wilshere: Best player from either side. My MotM. It was as if he was alone in the Arsenal midfield and had to do virtually everything.
Rosicky: Very disappointing for such an experienced player. Stayed too far up the pitch for most of the game. Did well in attacking areas and created some chances but that’s not enough in such a game. I’d love to know the instructions he got from the manager.
Walcott: Classy finish, looked threatening. Had five shots all on target but should have done better with some of them. Lacked understanding with Bendtner and Eboue. Didn’t get enough chances to run at the defence.
Bendtner: His touch and work rate let him down but I can’t say that’s a surprise. Showed good close control at times and created a good chance for Theo that was well defended by Srna.
Nasri: did a decent job on the left but should have been involved more. Like with Rosicky, I wanted to see him drop deep and demand the ball. Good running with the ball, decent defensive contribution (could have been better), hit the post with a good shot, could have done better in attack.
Subs: Vela tried hard and had some good moments, Chamakh’s touch was clearly better but he didn’t get enough time, JET looked physically strong but didn’t get a chance to run at the defence.
Before I end I must say we should not read too much into this result. I hope this write-up hasn’t come across as too negative because that’s not my intention. Shakhtar are a very goo team with some tricky, intelligent players and I don’t expect any top team to get a result there with their five of the six midfielders missing. Let’s not forget Barcelona didn’t win at Copenhagen even with a full strength side.
Time to focus on some tricky games in the Premiership and to hope our key players are back soon.