Bradford City* 1 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Most of the big teams crash out of a competition like the League Cup, often against opponents from the lower divisions. It happens every year. However, few play a virtually full strength side against a team sitting three divisions below and still fail to progress.

In that regard, Arsene Wenger’s surprise selection made the result all the more disheartening, to put it mildly.

I have a feeling Wenger knows this is his weakest squad in years, not just in terms of individual quality, but also in terms of balance and understanding. The total output produced by the 11 players on the pitch is much, much lower than that of their predecessors. His decisions and comments over the season have shown that he isn’t quite sure what his best line-up is and Le Boss is still searching for the right combination in midfield and attack.

It seemed to me that Arsene went with a strong line-up because of two mains reasons – 1) he wanted to use the Cup as an insurance policy in case transfers don’t work out in January and/or the club fails to get into the Champions League spots at the end of the season; 2) He wanted to give some players more time to understand each other’s game and hopefully a boost to their confidence.

The decision bombed in every which way imaginable. Many key players have clocked up minutes which will have an impact by the time we reach the crunch period of March to May. The negative vibes will gain further strength while confidence of the players hits a new low. The only positive I can think of is that there will be fewer games to play in the coming weeks, which is really stretching it.

Coming to the game itself, I got the feeling Arsenal were a tad nervous at the beginning of the game. Bradford were able to chase the ball and put the Gunners under pressure which forced certain mistakes. Despite that the difference in the quality of the two teams was obvious.

The Gunners were well below their best but they were still creating chances. Vermaelen and Podolski couldn’t direct free-headers towards the target and there were some other promising moments that were squandered.

At the other end, the threat was always going to come from long balls and set-pieces. That’s just how the goal came. One long punt took the ball from their goalkeeper’s hands to deep inside the Arsenal defensive third.

Vermaelen’s inability to attack the ball earlier and the ease with which he was nutmegged exposed certain basic defensive weaknesses that many central defenders have shown while putting on a Arsenal shirt. The defending from the set-piece was woeful, it was again a case of a soft goal being gifted to the opposition.

Scoring goals is the hardest part of the game. It may be a cliché but is also the most fundamental tenet of the game. Once a team gifts goals to the opponents it makes its own task infinitely harder. Throw in the inability to produce decisive quality in the final third and you have the perfect recipe for a massive upset.

I don’t agree with people who claim there was no desire or spirit from the players. It’s a stunningly lazy argument that defies everything we saw on the pitch. I thought the players fought really hard, they just didn’t have the right quality in the right moments, and at times their lack of understanding or execution let them down badly.

From Arsenal’s point of view, there were two different phases in the game. In the first 70 minutes, the hosts had a relatively comfortable time. The Gunners got into plenty of threatening positions but the quality of delivery or the shot attempted was really poor. There were no shots on target in this period. If anything, Bradford’s basic long ball tactic created more threatening moments than all of Arsenal’s possession.

The game changed after Wenger’s three substitutions. Arsenal were a different team for the rest of the game and completely controlled the game. Duke was forced into many saves and for 50 minutes it was mostly a training exercise of attack against defence. To Bradford’s great credit they did enough to keep a misfiring Arsenal team at bay.

When Vermaelen equalized late in the game there was hope that Arsenal could turn things around. The players were visibly trying very hard, and that’s the reason I don’t doubt the desire or spirit of the individuals. However, they just didn’t have enough individual quality in the final third of the pitch to convert possession and territorial dominance into goals.

Bradford did not have a single shot on or off target in the second half and in extra time. That highlights the importance of not gifting goals better than anything. You have to be defensively strong in Cup ties, particularly when you’ve a misfiring attack.

I knew Bradford would be favourites once it went to penalties. Tweeted the following during extra-time.

It wasn’t just about their record of winning 8 successive penalty shootouts. The simple fact of the matter was that the game was now completely even. Any technical advantage that Arsenal had was nullified. The players with more confidence were going to go through and the Gunners were clearly second best. To me it wasn’t as much about desire at it was about belief and self-doubt. A single grain of doubt can be the difference between the ball hitting the post and bouncing out or just nestling inside the corner of the goal.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Can’t blame him for the shootout defeat but he was extremely indecisive for the goal. Came forward, went back, got into a mess. Didn’t have much to do otherwise! Still remains a young man with potential but everything to prove as well.

Sagna: Was he at fault for the goal as it was scored from behind him? Maybe he was but definitely not the primary culprit. Put in a good shift on the flank but he wasn’t able to make an impact with his crosses.

Mertesacker: Had a decent game on the whole but he didn’t really show the aerial dominance and organization skills that people keep telling me he has.

Vermaelen: Extremely poor, particularly in the first half of the game. Really struggled against the physical nature of the game and the long balls. To me he was primarily responsible for the goal. Atoned for his error partially by scoring the equalizer but failed in the shootout.

Gibbs: Another one who I thought had a decent game except for the quality of the ball in the final third, which has been a problem throughout the season.

The defending in the first half was relatively poor but they didn’t allow a shot on goal after that. Unfortunately, even that one goal was one too many.

Coquelin: Had some highlights worthy moments when he ventured forward like the time he hit the post or got in behind on the right side, but overall impact was marginal at best. Couldn’t help the defence as well as he should have in the first half. If he’d been able to take charge of the midfield, Arsenal would have pinned Bradford back in the manner they did towards the end.

Cazorla: Many shots from distance, no real return. Did get the assist for the goal. Poor penalty. This is the kind of game where he should have shown he’s a class apart but his style of play is such that he can’t really make others around him better than they are, which means the overall team play suffers. Have some thoughts on his game but need to find time to put them across in a balanced way.

Wilshere: Another one who had many highlights-worthy moments but also very little to show for it at the end of the game. He too has a lot to learn to make his individual qualities work for the team. Desperately needs to improve his right foot.

Ramsey: Very disappointing game. Work rate was again good but there were just too many mistakes. Couldn’t offer penetration on the right or any sort of clever technical combination play.

The midfield had players with individual qualities but it didn’t work as a unit for the first 70 minutes. To be fair, they were not helped by the quality of the attackers but the key point here is that we know the quality of the attackers. IMO the onus of making average players look good is on the great players. That isn’t happening for the Gunners.

Gervinho: I wrote these sentences when he was signed – 1) “I am not convinced about his passing or finishing abilities despite his fairly impressive stats for Lille.” 2) “Gervinho’s weakness seems to be his technique…” 3) “…don’t be surprised if he frustrates more often than he delights…” I haven’t spent the last two years repeating these points because it doesn’t add much value but it’s been clear from the time he signed that Gervinho remains a very average player.

Podolski: There are only certain patterns of play that suit his strengths. Outside of those he looks a very mediocre player. Arsenal haven’t been able to play to his strengths and he hasn’t shown the ability to improve/adapt.

Subs: Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain brought drive and penetration to the side but they too lacked the final finish or supply. Chamakh had decent moments with his hold up play but he also lost possession far too often. Poor penalty as well.

Wenger: We know he focuses on the team more than the individuals. Unfortunately, this season the Gunners just haven’t clicked as a team. A few big wins have created false hopes but the disappointments have been too many to be ignored. The big challenge for him is to get his great players performing in a manner that lifts the average ones.


33 Responses to Bradford City* 1 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. GoonerDave says:

    Well balanced, clearly well thought out and well written.
    Thanks for a great article. I agree with so much of it. The players were not lazy. They did try, and very hard too. They are just not very good! As you say, Wenger is well aware of the weakness of this squad. The depth and quality of our squad appears shocking.
    I really feel we (as a squad) have been in complete disarray since we lost Cesc and Nasri and signed all those players on deadline day. The fans can no longer relate to the players, the only ones that stick around are the poor performers or the injury ravaged.
    I never really gave serious thought to Wenger getting the sack, but it really is coming apart at the seams this season.
    If our squad is not very heavily invested in this January, I fear we are in for a very bad season. And sadly, I doubt we will add too much.
    What is to become of Arsenal, and to Arsene? Poor Arsene never deserved an end like this. Lets hope he is given some serious backing this transfer window. He deserves his chance to build a winning team again, with proper players.
    Cheers again for a great read pal.

    • amahgfur says:

      This season Giroud, Podolski, and Cazorla were bought long before the deadline day ;D

      • Dhruv says:

        But then he sold RVP and Song. Dud signings combined with nonstop selling of top players has resulted in these kinds of results.

        And BTW Arsene should not have defended the team’s performance against Bradford after the match. That was kind of stupid.

    • santori says:

      Spending is not an issue. We have spent 55m two summers past and 39m last summer. Swansea, WBA, Bradford don;t spend half that much.

      We have the assets to compete. Where we lack is in using the assets to their optimum rather than unbalancing the squad and in particular midfield.

      The other issue is of course retention (where Silent Stan can make more of an effort). The current policy is not healthy as we have to continuously reconstruct. Where some of the players lost may have been difficult to avoid, in more recent case, the Song sale was a total shame with 3 seasons left.

      Simply put, the experience within the spine of the team in going through difficult times adapting to the Wenger system is just not there.

  2. amahgfur says:

    Couldn’t agree more with all the points analyzed.

    One thing I noticed from the game is that there are moments where Gibbs was reluctant to get forward. I think it was because Vermaelen was having problems dealing with Bradford strikers that Gibbs decided to provide cover, rather than going forward. It does affect our attacking movement since Podolski always drifts inside.

    This season AW has been more often than not critical to the teams. Provided he has the money, I believe he’ll bring in new players next month.

    • Scott (USA) says:

      Wenger will not spend in January. He just doesn’t. He may buy a a player for the future but nothing to help us now. He thinks players like Ramsey and Gerv will get us to the top.

  3. A non-hysterical, rationally based asessment of the latest disaster to befall our beloved club. Good work Des, like most Gooners I am desperate for a quick fix but fear there isn’t one.

  4. 2GunnsUp says:

    Good analysis as usual. Few points…
    1. Vermaleen may have great abilities but he hasn’t fit the bill yet. Between his previous injuries and his inconsistencies we may have overrate him.
    2.Wenger needs to do what is required at the moment and start players where their strength lies. For instance, Gervinho should play left wing and podolski should be played down the middle. Its mind boggling why he would play Gerv in the middle after all his misfirings this season. He lacks the composure to complete a simple pass let alone beat a goal keeper.
    3. Arshavin needs to get back in the line up by all means. He certainly can contribute more than podolski ever could on that left side.
    4. I can’t help but wonder if the team could cope with playing KOS at DMF in the meantime. With his experience he can provide better defensive cover in the midfield and his technique is decent enough distribute the ball to our attackers.

    But what do i know am just a fan.

  5. Nizam says:

    It’s obvious to all except the most blinkered the fm has lost the plot. That’s is why RVP left and he is being vindicated in his decision.You see the way the red faced plays and passes and scores.You contrast that with Arsenal.No wonder the gunners find it hard to score let alone shoot.
    Arsenal’s game may be pretty to watch that is if you are winning.The possession play based on endless passing and reluctance to shoot from long range is a god send to defenders.Then the latter will have time to close the gaps.Robson may have an axe or axle to grind but I think he is spot on with his observation.
    Buying quality and experienced players aint going to be enough. Wenger has to change the way the gunners play and speed up the passing by cutting down the number of passes.Otherwise it will be the sos iesame old story 90% possession and two shots at goal.Thein if the gunners fail to the cl spot,he will have to pay the price for his arrogance and intrnasigence.That means 4th won’t be good enough assuming red faced wins the cl.

    • santori says:

      Agree but hard to say if RVP would have stayed regardless. We could not compete with wages.

      That said the sale of Song did not do anything to help our cause.

      Poor policy.

  6. myra says:

    You are a credit to goonerdom Mr. blogger.

    My thoughts. It’s just the league cup ffs. This team is weak and doesn’t fancy a cold night in Bradford. Embarrasing yes. The odd thing is that this team will still come fourth! I do wonder if Arsene’s powers are fading. Signs pointing in that direction. Watch this space. Rosicky and Cazorla together look tasty! Two astute signings in January will turn this around but we’ll most likely still have to swallow RvP winning a trophy before us, this year or next. Arsene has never, ever, bought enough good squad players and this is presently killing us in the age of the big squad. (I don’t know how Fergie gets away with it.) Davor Suker missed a penalty in a shoot out ffs. (So did Paddy that night, btw.) We have one serious striker at the club! G’night.

  7. Philip says:

    Surely Arshavin should get a start. He has looked lively this season when given an opportunity. He played well asnd ran his socks off when we played Reading.

    • santori says:

      I have a feeling he is being gift wrapped for a sale.

      But we can ill afford that at the moment and surely any good performance (or performance) will add to our asking price.

  8. tommy says:

    Totally agree with most of that.. Ransey and gervinho are just dismal

  9. Charlie says:

    Desi to manage Arsenal! You’ve got my vote, after Pep Guardiola. You have players that occasionally show they have quality trying hard so why do they lack quality ? Cazorla, Wilshere, Rosicky Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski definitely aren’t bad players but together in a team they can’t break down a League 2 defense, why ? It has to fall on the manager to take responsibility when good players consistently play badly. Whether it be motivation, training, tactics or fitness the manager is responsible.

  10. Charlie says:

    Oh, then there’s the insistence on playing Ramsey despite consistently terrible performances. Again that’s down to the manager.

  11. Raghugovind says:

    I still don’t understand why Wenger is not trying Rosicky as CAM and Cazorla on the left wing . It will work very well Wilshere and Arteta have played with Rosicky there and Cazorla can bring the creative spark we have missed from the wings since Nasri left . Why on earth is he persisting with Podolski on the wings when Walcott is not playing it will not work unless it was practised during pre-season

  12. Spec says:

    Its obvious to all gooners bar Wenger that Gerv shouldn’t be leading the line, Ramsey is terrible on the flank and Poldi should be given games as the point man as he’s inconsistent on the left.

  13. Spec says:

    ‘I still don’t understand why Wenger is not trying Rosicky as CAM and Cazorla on the left wing’ Mate thats cos we all want him to and Wenger is too proud to listen to anybody. Even fans see areas in the team that has been crying for reinforcements what does he do, we have a big squad, Diaby is like a new signing, Quality this and quality that etc while the trophy drought continues.

    • santori says:

      We have so many options unexplored.

      Rosicky next to Arteta could free Jack up into a more forward attacking mid role. Santi can go wide (either flank). there is also Arsharvin.

      Obtuse thinking by the gaffer to persist with Ramsey whose best position is clearly through the middle (and in that he is behind Santi, Rosicky and jack in pecking order with Eisfeld nipping at his heels)

  14. Spec says:

    How he freezes out AA23 out of the team and consistently plays Gerv and Ramsey despite inconsistent performances is beyond me. Give the man a chance ffs he being paid week in week out.

  15. nachiketa says:

    ur just soo right about podolski.. he mostly never seems like a world class player in an arsenal jersey. maybe it’s got to do with with his non adaptive attitude. but we need to play 2 in the centre. more men to cross to ..

    • santori says:

      What we need is a finisher up top.

      And we need creativity from midfield. Someone like Arsharvin (whilst not entirely the answer) would have provided more nuanced approach play and incisive crosses from LW.

      And whilst Poldy is not ideal, he is likely more clinical in finishing than Gervinho plus he adds some physical presence at 6′ where as a gentle breeze blows Gervinho over.

      • Grumpygunner says:

        Just a thought…

        West Ham rumoured to be interested in Chamakh. Liverpool are interested in Walcott.

        Could Chamakh go to West Ham, Liverpool buy Walcott and take Carroll back from loan, we make a play for serial diver Suarez (to join Santi)? Walcott make weight should bring his price down. They can use the money to go buy Demba Ba.

        Tricky (fox in and out of the box) player up top and just shy of 6 foot.Also doesn’t shake Evra’s hand. Ticks quite a lot of the boxes.

  16. santori says:

    I have critical issue with the way Wenger goes about his selection :

    1) In lieu of Arteta, Coquelin is a different creature and what happens within the dynamics in midfield around him must change to suit his strength (and weaknesses)

    Santi and Jack in a forward role ahead of Coquelin is not ideal.

    Jack is good going forward with Arteta but lacks the requisite experience to chaperon Coquelin. Instead, Rosicky should have been used next to the young Frenchman.

    That he came on later and provided more effective play begs the question why Wenger did not deploy him earlier? Evidently the fine tuning in midfield makes a massive differance.

    Also another issue with Coquelin is (much with Song two seasons ago), he should be given instructions to restrict movement forward instead concentrate on the destroyer role just south of the half way line.

    2) Ramsey out wide is a poor option when we have Arsharvin available who can provide better nuance play and more incisive passes from LW. That he is not utilize indicts the manager of his poor use of assets (much like when he froze Walcott out for a duration to gain contract leverage)

    Plus had we elected to play Rosicky next to Coquelin with Jack forward, we could have used Santi as an option RW or LW (should he decide not to use Andrei)

    Again lots of options and tactical set ups unexplored.

    3) Gervinho in the middle. Frankly, I’d rather we put Poldy there. The Ivorian is hit and miss (and more miss before a hit). I’m not saying gervinho is poor (finishing apart) because he provides a lot of energy for us and off ball runs which gives options but again, the set up to me is just wrong.

    Hence our problems.

    The critical key is midfield. Granted we are limited with personnel (thanks to Wenger electing to sell Song without replacement) but we have the assets that I believe we are not using well.

    It’s very sensitive at the moment with any wrong tuning creating an adverse effect where as fine tuning with right direction creates the right one. Night and day. Whilst I think we are finally getting the fluidity with the first choice three in Arteta, Jack and Santi (Bearing in mind Jack had not played with either Spaniard in his long lay off nor Sant with Arteta), any pice out of that puzzle means we have to really get the optimal solution or it all starts to fall down like a pack of cards.

    • Scott (USA) says:

      I think Wenger has to look at running a 4-4-2 with this group. We really don’t have wingers exect for maybe Walcott and I think that is a stretch. With a 4-4-2 we could have Pod and Giroud up front. This would be much better for Pod. With Rosicky,Cazorla,Wilshere and Arteta in that Midfield. Granted they woud probably play a little narrow but with Rosicky and Cazorla taking turns in more of an attacking Mid spot I think overall everyone is in a more comfortable position. Walcott could sub if we needed more width. Arshavin is not in these plans because I believe the deal has been made for January so he won’t be playing.

      • Grumpygunner says:

        Ramsey experiment has gone far enough.

        Santi out wide is a viable option.

        ……………………Giroud……………………………
        Podolski………………Jack…………………Santi
        ……………..Rosicky………..Arteta……………..
        …………………….Back 4………………………….

        With Rosicky back in contention, Wenger should have played him earlier. His team selection is wierd, too unbalanced. Even if Giroud is not available, Podolski should be up top and Gervinho at LW. not finishing (or trying to)

        No Ramsey please.

  17. santori says:

    The other issue I had was that I frankly felt it was again a mistake for Wenger to over emphasis this competition.

    By all means put on a serious team for the FA cup but to me, the league should be about development mixed with giving some under used players a chance.

    That we elected to go mainly first team (albeit terribly unbalanced) backfired on us and heaps pressure back into the psyche (unnecessary I might add) of the first team just so recently recovering from a good performance against WBA.

    It was a bad gamble which has brought back the gloom and negativity over the club not quite needed at the moment.

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