What a cracker! Probably was the most open and entertaining game I have seen in the Premiership this season. Begrudgingly, I have to say congratulations to the Tiny Totts for putting up a performance like that. I lost count of the long balls and hopeful crosses but in between all that there was some good football from the hosts.
I thought one of the reasons the game was so tightly fought was that Modric was playing out of his skin and might have produced his game of the season. For Arsenal, Cesc was nowhere close to his best. The other reason of course was that Arsenal really struggle against the long-ball/cross-to-big-man style and the Tinies pulled it off pretty well.
To be fair no team should be criticized for a 3-3 draw in which either side could have scored more. I loved the similarities between the goals. Both teams scored the second from outside the box from a position one would not have normally expected the ball to go in. Arsenal’s first was a lovely through ball that caught the defence out and Spuds scored a similar one for their third. Their first and Arsenal’s third came from crosses into the box from the right and some defensive mistakes. Freakish!
I don’t think in this game anyone can say that Arsenal bottled it. That would be an extremely ignorant and lazy opinion based solely on the fact that a lead was lost. But in such games I find that irrelevant. We cannot be in denial about some of the weaknesses that Arsenal have. When the opposition exploits those we just have to say fair play to them. I’m convinced Wenger has some defensive blindspots that are about the system and not individuals. That’s the reason I have been talking about a new defence coach but now is not the time to get into that. One thing is for sure, if you think buying a goalkeeper or defenders would have changed anything in this game you haven’t been watching closely. It’s a complicated topic so more on this in the summer.
I don’t want to write about the goals and other aspects in detail as it would turn this article into a novel. I’ll just cover key aspects in the bullet point form.
- First– Diaby should have read it better. Central defenders were doing a good job on the strikers. Szczesny should have covered his near post as Diaby would most probably have blocked a strike across the goal. Van der Vaart deserves credit for his opportunism and technique.
- Second– System problem, too many players in the box no one outside. Have covered this in the past so will leave it for now.
- Third– Stupid mistakes by Sagna and Szczesny. Sagna moved forward when that angle was already covered, he should have moved towards the centre. Szczesny could easily have pulled out. At this level the keeper should be aware that the attacker is at a hopeless angle and is most likely looking to go down rather than control the ball. Lennon anyway doesn’t have the control to take a soft touch in such a position.
- First – Another superb break at speed. Excellent finish from Theo.
- Second – Opportunism and technique from Nasri. Awful tracking by Van der Vaart.
- Third – Excellent cross by Sagna. Rubbish from Gallas. Wonderful chip by an alert Walcott. Powerful header by RvP, top class save by Gomes, good finish from Van Persie.
- The Tinies moved the ball from flank to flank really well. Even though my head was aching after watching some of the long balls, I must commend their general approach and the technique to successfully execute it on many occasions.
- Arsenal seem to suffer an identity crisis at times, especially when the team is leading by a couple of goals. This team plays its best football when the pressing starts higher up. They can also do a decent job when they stay back with discipline (Wolves, Everton etc). But there are times when we get stuck with a couple of players in a no man’s land. That’s the time when the attack doesn’t have enough numbers to create or press and the defence doesn’t have enough bodies to cover the key areas.
- The Gunners didn’t do a good job on the second ball on some occasions. I thought this was related to the identity crisis issue as the bodies were in the wrong areas of the pitch. It’s another issue that I want to expand on with snapshots, either next week or in the summer.
- There were acres of space in the Spuds half but the system didn’t allow Theo the chance to run into those spaces often enough. That’s another example that the team/manager doesn’t have a clear cut approach in some cases. If you want to attack after three goals, press a bit higher up. Don’t allow the opposition so much time to pick out effective long balls. If you want to defend, change the shape and get the fastest man down the middle.
- Arsenal should not have played the end-to-end game in the second half but slowed the tempo down a bit. This would have allowed the team to get back into shape and pushed the Tinies back. When a game is so spread out it favours the team that thrives on long-balls.
- Redknapp brought on Sandro for Pavlyuchenko in the final fifteen minutes. Arsenal introduced Arshavin and Bendtner. Shows what both managers wanted to achieve.
- Let’s not forget no visiting team has scored three at WHL this season. Nor the fact that United, Chelsea, and City have all drawn here. Arsenal might have played a more cautious game and come up with a 1-1 or a 0-0. People would have found other reasons to criticize the team then. But the simple fact is that it’s no longer an easy ground to get results at.
Szczesny: Made some good saves. Could have done better for the first and second goals. Should have done better for the third.
Sagna: Good game on the right, especially against Bale. But made a big blunder for the third goal. Put in a couple of good crosses.
Djourou: Had a few shaky moments. Didn’t look like he was prepared to attack the second ball after Crouch won the first, instead he was watching the ball.
Koscielny: Lost almost everything against Crouch in the air. Can’t really blame him but he needs to learn how to make an impact using his body to put the striker off.
Clichy: Did quite well given the fact that even with Nasri on the left he often had to deal with two attackers on his own. Could have done more in attack as Van der Vaart would not have tracked him that well. No one at Arsenal seemed alert to this option.
It was disappointing to see crucial mistakes from reliable players like Szczesny and Sagna. The back five did as well as they could considering how often the team lost its shape.
Song: Had to do a lot of chasing as the ball moved from flank to flank. Was a bit clumsy in the first half, lost his footing and control of the ball on occasions, needs to do a better job of holding his position in the defensive areas.
Cesc: Surprisingly poor touch in and around the opposition box. Tried some shots from distance late in the game that should satisfy some fans who keep demanding it. Was one of the players who was caught in a no man’s land quite often.
Diaby: Had a decent game but made some mistakes. Was lucky not to be punished for his tackle on Modric. Should have done a better job on Van der Vaart for the first goal.
In the second half, the midfield didn’t control the game as well as they could have done against a two-man opposition. I also thought the midfielders should have been closer to the back five. Only Song was staying deeper and that sucked Walcott back whenever the ball was kicked long to Arsenal’s right. It also left Clichy in difficult situations.
Walcott: Put in some amazing crosses. Excellent finish. Good assist for RvP. Did more than his share of defensive tracking as well.
RvP: Excellent movement, good goal, should have done better on certain occasions when he was in possession in dangerous areas.
Nasri: Opportunistic goal. Didn’t offer enough in attack or defence. Another player who was caught in a limbo quite often. Struggles on the left so it’s a bit of a sacrifice to play him there but that’s the best balance this squad can achieve right now.
The attacking players were incredible in the first half and extremely clinical. Struggled in the second half when the game was stretched. I would like to see Nasri and Walcott swapping positions during the game.
Wenger: This is the best team available to the manager, often called the first-team by some fans. Can’t criticize the team selection. Don’t know why Diaby was taken off so no comment on that. Wasn’t able to instruct the players to control the shape or the pace of the game. Individual mistakes came from usually reliable players so again tough to blame the manager for that. On the positive side his system was the only one that opened up this opposition so often in their own backyard. If you don’t believe me watch the opening day Spuds-City game to get some perspective.