Thursday, December 8, 2011

Olympiacos 3 Arsenal 1

Is this Arsenal's worst performance we have seen for a long time? The team did not have any shape, with no cohesion nor desire to win. What I don't understand was why they performed so badly, because they are almost the same group of players who impressed us last week.

Arsenal played in exactly the same situation before: they were already through to the knockout stages with a game to spare and Arsene Wenger fielded the youngest ever team to play in the Champions League against the same Greek side. They were narrowly defeated, but the next morning, all the papers praised their brave and committed performance with a headline "Hold your head high". In comparison to this young 2009 team, Tuesday's team consisted of more experienced first-teamers. Out of the starting XI, only three players were under 21 and they are already a part of the first-team.

So what went wrong? Arsenal gave away the ball too cheaply and too often. Their passing success rate was 79.9% according Sky Sports site, which is far too low compared to Arsenal's starndards (usually around 84%). For the weekend game against Wigan, Arsenal's collective passing success rate was 89% (source: the Sunday Mirror), while Ramsey achieved over 90% mark. Olympiacos pressed them very hard and were always looking to intercept passes, but some passing by Arsenal players was just sloppy and too casual.

Arsene Wenger admitted "I don't think we had the right tactical approach." Could anybody explain this? Did he mean his selection of players? It looked like Arsenal played 4-4-2, which was similar to the last week's Carling Cup game, but each player did not seem to understand their role very well, hence no shape to offensive nor defensive moves. The system worked well against Man City, thanks to the two young defensive midfielders' outstanding performance, but in this game, Arsenal looked short of creativity. When Rosicky came off the bench, he highlighted what Arsenal had been missing.

For Olympiacos, their qualification was at stake and they had everything to play for in this game. On the other hand, the result meant very little to Arsenal, who had already secured their place in the last 16 and won Group F. However, this group of players had a lot to prove and should have been desperate to impress. While Olympiacos showed their determination and commitment, there was no urgency nor desire to win seen from most of Arsenal players (especially those who needed playing time).

It is difficult to find positives we can take from this game. Experience? Maybe for the young players like Chambo, Coquelin, Frimpong, Miquel, and Mannone. If fact, these players, except for Mannone, were better players than most of the more experienced players on the pitch.

Hopefully, Saturday will be a totally different story with many changes to this evening's line-up. The injury to Santos, the only proper left-back we had since Gibbs was sidelined, was a huge blow coming from this game, but fortunately he does not seem to be out for very long. In the meantime, Vermaelen is likely to slot into the left-back position, with Koscielny paired with Mertesacker in central defence and Djourou at right-back. Hopefully, Djourou will improve his performance significantly from this game!

As for the usual (Arsenal) Man of the Match, it is difficult to choose one player for wrong reasons, but we choose Benayoun, who was one of a few players who showed their desire and scored a goal on the miserable night for Arsenal.

Player ratings: (Before we start, we don't do 2s or 3s as some of our members suggested)

Fabianski: 5
The first goal was a bit unlucky, but his performance was never convincing to the moment he was stretched off at 25th minute due to a deep cut in the knee.

Djourou: 4
He was sloppy and not alert or sharp. You cannot dwell on the ball in your own box with the opponent attacker on you.

Squillaci: 4
Old Squillaci was back just when we thought he was a new player after the last week's game.

Vermaelen: 6
Not his best game. But at least he tried to win the game.

Santos: 6
We don't know why Arsene Wenger played him. He should have been rested as well as other key players because he was the only proper left-back we had. Miquel should have started instead.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
He was quiet for the first 15 minutes or so, but he displayed his talent. His crosses were good and he beat tough Olympiacos defenders on several occasions. The game was a good test for him to test his strength.

Coquelin: 7
Survived a brutal challenge from an Olympiacos player. Replaced by Tomas Rosicky in the 67 minute.

Frimpong: 7
He was one of a few players who showed their desire to win. As combative as usual, but he received a yellow card for a reckless challenge, just after he claimed in his pre-match interview that he was no longer reckless and he thought twice before going into challenges.

Benayoun: 7
Technically superb strike to net Arsenal's only goal. He showed some creativity and commitement. His performance on the night made many Arsenal fans wish to see him play more often for the Club.

Arshavin: 5
Some good moves, but he gave away too many balls. Failed to prove his worth.

Chamakh: 4
Had a few good moments, including a great run in the first 15 minutes but not enough to impress. He missed a great chance to score because he didn't bother to make a little extra effort. He didn't even jump to meet crosses. I fondly remember how he saved the first half of Arsenal's season last year when RVP was injured, but he didn't do himself any favour in this game to save his career at Arsenal.


Mannone: 4
He has to take a sole responsibility for the second goal. He came out of his area to clear the ball with a header, which went straight to Fuster, and then the young Italian keeper failed to realise the situation where he could have simply gathered the ball, but instead he went for it with his feet. Reportedly Mannone told the Club to play him or sell him earlier this season. He got his chance. Hope Szczesny will stay fit for the rest of the season so that we don't have to rely on the back-up keepers.

Miquel: 5
51st-minute substitution for injured Santos. He looked tired, slow to get back to defend.

Rosicky: 7
Made an immediate impact when he came off the bench.

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