When I was growing up we used to joke that the Indian Cricket team always provided the audience with value for money in terms of thrills and chills. In those days the Indian cricketers had the ability to turn the easiest of wins into nail-biting encounters. Seems to me, Wenger has been inspired by that lot.
How else do we explain what we saw? A little bit of credit to the visitors Partizan Belgrade; they worked hard all over the pitch, were defensively organized, and tried to create as best as they could, deservedly scoring their first goal from open play in this year’s Champions League group phase.
After that, some credit goes to the Arsenal players for finally getting the job done.
Beyond that I guess it was all about Arsene Wenger’s desire to see how an experimental formation works out. In terms of numbers one could say Arsenal were playing a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, or 4-4-1-1 or anything else along those lines. Numerical description of the system doesn’t matter. To me the most important aspect that was lacking in the system we had today was ‘balance’.
Playing Arshavin on the left in a free role and Van Persie behind Chamakh meant that there was very little understanding between the players in attacking positions. It wasn’t a surprise that Arsenal failed to get their game going and the visiting keeper didn’t have a save to make in the first half except for the penalty.
Many pundits will put the blame on Arshavin and the defenders while cheering Theo for making an impact from the bench. While that is based on some valid observations – Arshavin lost the ball far too often, Theo made a big difference with his goal and runs, defence looked vulnerable – to me those are the symptoms and not the problems.
I thought in this game Arshavin and Van Persie got in each other’s way far too often. RvP didn’t know when to drop deep, what runs to make in attack, what pass to pick and how to play the patient possession game. It’s not his fault; he’s not used to this role. As a consequence of this Arshavin didn’t know whether to stay further forward as he does when Cesc is on the pitch or to come in deeper and a little centrally as he does at times when Rosicky is playing in the middle. And neither of them made any contribution to the defence. Even Chamakh was a little confused about his role and movement. Add to this Song’s movement up and down the pitch and we have a defence that was exposed time and time again while Arsenal barely created a meaningful attack.
Thankfully, Partizan didn’t have too much quality in attack. Arsene might say he knew this and that’s the reason for his choices. Since the result went Arsenal’s way one cannot really argue but it was risky.
I don’t want to further analyze the game right now without watching it again but those were my thoughts while watching the game. Now to the goals.
The first one came out of nowhere as RvP was fouled in the box. His penalty was powerful, well placed, and almost perfect. Can’t say the same for the celebration. When I saw him jump and land on his knees I was worried a stretcher might have to be called. Good to see that he can take at least that much of a knock!
The equalizer came when Arsenal were chasing the ball in a clueless manner in their own half. There was a gap behind the midfield line and a Partizan attacker exploited it well. Koscielny got sucked out but didn’t follow his man. That left Squillaci in a spot with a runner to his right and the man on the ball in front. A little bit of hesitation was enough for Cleo to get a couple of yards and his shot was deflected in off the lunging Squillaci with Fabianski stranded.
Arsenal regained the lead with a brilliant goal by Walcott who controlled a clearance on his chest and found the far corner with the outside of his right foot. Some breathing space was achieved when Nasri finished off and excellent move in which Song was heavily involved. Picking up a loose clearance in the centre of the Partizan half, Song moved forward with a neat one-two with Bendtner. The Cameroonian then beat a defender with some deft close control and passed it to Nasri just inside the box for another one-two. The Frenchman saw that a defender was ready to intercept the pass to Song so he steadied himself and finished on the half-turn. Great skills from Song and good presence of mind and finishing by Nasri.
It must have left many wondering why we didn’t do more of this earlier. Well, part of the reason was that Nasri didn’t see enough of the ball in the first half and what he saw was mostly in the Arsenal half or wide on the right with three defensive players in front of him.
There was still time for Arsenal midfield to go to sleep and for Sagna to tangle with a man running through on goal. The Red Card to the Frenchman for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity might really hurt Arsenal in the next round.
The only thought that’s been there in my head since the end of the game is – if Van Persie plays in the midfield against United, Arsenal will be massacred. Hopefully that won’t happen as Rosicky might come back into the side but with Arsene one never knows. More on this after I watch this game again and in the build up to the big one.
Fabianski: another typical game for the Arsenal Keeper. Not much to do and couldn’t do much for the goal.
Sagna: was surprisingly caught out of position and for pace. One of the better players before that moment. Some of his crosses were quite good but the players in the box didn’t do enough.
Squillaci: mistake for the goal but difficult to really blame him. Didn’t do much wrong otherwise.
Koscielny: bad mistake for the goal. Didn’t read the situation well enough and put himself in a hopeless position. Some decent tackles and good performance for most parts.
Gibbs: I thought English players were supposed to be hard and strong and all that? Hopefully it won’t be a serious injury.
Eboue: probably the best player in the defence! One or two good moments in attack, did fairly well in an unfamiliar position.
I thought the defenders were exposed far too often but dealt with most situations well. This can be seen from the limited number of shots by Partizan despite the amount of time and space they had in Arsenal’s defensive third.
Song: worked really hard at both ends and the middle but his new role left the defence exposed. I’d have preferred if Song stayed deeper and played the simpler game since RvP was playing an unfamiliar role but clearly that’s not part of Wenger’s plans this season.
RvP: Great penalty, good free-kick, one or two exciting touches but not much else. Nowhere near the work rate needed for that role. Didn’t make enough runs in attack and didn’t provide any defensive cover. He might develop into the new role but I think this is a risky time to be trying that.
Denilson: had some very good moments when he won the ball and moved play forward but also had some awful moments when he lost possession cheaply in dangerous areas.
Nasri: not that effective on the right. did much better after Arshavin went off. Decent defensive effort in the first half.
Chamakh: poor positioning in the box and didn’t attack the ball well enough. Not enough runs down the channels and couldn’t strike an understanding with RvP and Arshavin.
Arshavin: looked confused and frustrated. Didn’t really know where to be on the pitch and didn’t have many options in front once he got the ball.
Subs: Walcott scored a fantastic goal and looked lively. Bendtner had one or two decent touches but I was surprised a midfielder wasn’t brought on when Arsenal went ahead.