Monday, February 18, 2013

Arsenal 0 Blackburn 1 (FA Cup 5th Round)

We don't usually criticise the boss, but he got it all wrong for this game. The Frenchman was reportedly not happy with the team's performance and rued a "massive" mistake that allowed the Blackburn goal. However, we think he has a large part of blame for the defeat.

We said in our previous post in this blog and our Facebook post that Jack Wilshere should not be risked ahead of Tuesday's Bayern Munich match and we still stand by the view. Abu Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, and even Aaron Ramsey could play in his place. In fact, Diaby and Rosicky were two standout players in this game. Midfield was not a problem. Diaby couldn't do everything Jack Wilshere is capable of, but he has different attributes to be a box-to-box player and contributed to the team in his own way, using his aerial ability. Rosicky has created enough chances to match what Cazorla could have offered, again in his own style.

While we had some injury issues prior to the tie, including Jack Wilshere and Laurant Koscielny's fitness, our other concern was that Wenger might not be able to resist the temptation of rotation, with the Champions League match looming on the horizon. We hoped that he would not make too many changes to his side, but seven changes to the starting XI against Sunderland proved to be just what we feared.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's inclusion was expected to some extent. He is a bright prospect, but has so far failed to replicate his last season's form. If Wenger were to play the Ox on one flank, in-form Walcott or a clinical finisher, Podolski, should have played on the other side. Gervinho was just one gamble too many to take.

To be fair to him, Coquelin probably didn't do too badly in an unfamiliar position, but why would you play the midfielder out of position, when a specialist right-back is fit in the shape of Bacary Sagna. Wenger might have hoped to save the experienced full-back for the Bayern Munich game, but the FA Cup was our best chance, if not an only chance in realistic terms, to win silverware. He should have fielded the best team available. Wenger's logic behind resting Sagna and Mertesacker was that the two players played 90 minutes of mid-week international friendlies and Saturday's Sunderland game last week. However, they had a week's rest since the last match and Sagna should been able to play against Bayern three days later. If the France international were to get injured during the cup tie, so be it. Carl Jenkinson will be available against Bayern. Although following the sending off last week, Jenks' stock has suffered a dip, he is still a competent deputy, if you remember how well he played at the beginning of the season.

Arsene Wenger claimed that he had no regret on his team selection, but we think that was exactly the major factor behind Arsenal's exit. Blackburn's intention was clear even before the kick-off that they were going to park the bus and try to hit us on the break as a lot of visiting teams do at the Emirates. We knew Blackburn would be happy to let us keep the possession of the ball. The only way to open their defence up was to score the first goal. In order to do so, we needed our best players up front. Once we had scored the first goal, they would have had to come out, resulting in the floodgates opening. With a comfortable cushion of goals, then Wenger could have withdrawn some of key players to rest them ahead of Tuesday's match. He should have started with the strongest XI.

OK, the boss may have overestimated some of his second-string players' ability, but he still had a chance to rectify his mistake. At Las Mimosas bar, we were crying out for substitutions in the 60th minute. We had seen enough of some of the players. However, our calls were not answered until the 71st minute. Some may argue that the triple substitutions led us to concede a goal, but if the substitutions had been made with half an hour to play, we would still have had a time to score a goal or two.

We had 71.4% of overall possession, but we were too comfortable with it. Maybe the players thought that they could score at any time with the overwhelming possession. There was no urgency and they lacked clinical finishing. Also, we were unlucky that Blackburn's second-choice keeper was in defiant form. The decisive moment was arguably Gervinho's miss in the first half. Rosicky's incisive pass released Gervinho behind them. However, Gervinho dragged his shot wide. If he had found the net, then Blackburn would have had to come out and it would have been a totally different game.

In his post-match interview, Wenger admitted that we need to improve in set-pieces. We failed to take an advantage of a whopping 16 corners (according to the Sky Sports site, it seemed more than that to us) we were awarded. Under pressure Blackburn were just hacking the ball after ball out of the line, knowing we would do nothing with corners. To start with, we have to improve our deliveries. Also, we tried to break through the crowded middle on the edge of the box too many times, which proved to be fruitless. We have to find another way to break down a stubborn defence.

It's difficult to find a positive from this game. Obviously we were all shocked and heartbroken with another trophy hope dashed. However, one thing Wenger got right was that we avoided a replay.

A clash with Bayern Munich, last season's Champions League runners-up and the current leader of the Bundesliga, is looming large. Hopefully, the players will bounce back from the disappointment quickly and show some spirit and desire in the massive game.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 5
He was almost certainly guilty of the goal. Any professional keeper would have parried Olsson's shot to either side (preferably to his left), or even held the ball. Maybe, he was not alert enough as he had nothing to do for a long period. Disappointing display after his heroics against Sunderland last week.

Coquelin: 6
He was a threat when he went forward. If he hadn't been so theatrical when he was fouled in the area, he may have had a chance to be awarded a penalty (if he was lucky, with Mike Dean as the ref). He may have had his hand in the Blackburn goal.

Koscielny: 6
Looked solid.

Vermaelen: 7
Led the defence well.

Monreal: 6
Went forward more often than his previous two games, but his deliveries left something to be desired.

Rosicky: 8
In the heart of Arsenal's creativity. He was unlucky not to score as his shot hit the under-side of the bar. It just summed up our day. His shot hit the bar and came out, while Kazim-Richards' scuffed attempt hit the inside post and went in. Gave way to Santi Cazorla in the 71st minute.

Diaby: 8
Encouraging performance from the injury-ridden player. Had a couple of good chances to score himself, as well as providing others, and completed 90 minutes.

Arteta: 5
One of his poorer games from the usually consistent performer. Some of his passing was disappointing for an accomplished passer boasting high passing success rates usually. (We have no individual stats on this game as this is not a league game).

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Started brightly. Lively. Replaced by Walcott in the 71st minute.

Gervinho: 5
Missed a match-defining chance. He is still not good enough, no matter how well he did in the Africa Cup of the Nations. It is frustrating as he had a good pre-season and start of season. Withdrawn in the 71st minute.

Giroud: 6
Maybe it was his off-day. His movement without ball was poor on this day, static and wrong at times, but his disappointing performance may be partially affected by the fact that he was often isolated and had to hold up the ball on his own.


Walcott: 6
71st-minute substitute. The three substitutions injected the urgency to the game, but could not find the net.

Wilshere: 7
71st-minute substitute. He upped the tempo of the game and made an impact to Arsenal's attack.

Cazorla: 6
71st-minute substitute. Didn't have enough time to influence the game.


Mike Dean: 5
Since he was assigned to take charge of this game, we were doomed. Another number added to the stats that indicate that he is our "bogey" ref.

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