War-saw, What Was It Good For?

An all-too familiar sight.

Yesterday’s match in Poland against Legia Warsaw still has me scratching my head wondering, “What the hell was that?” Some have suggested that yesterday’s 6-5 victory over a team that finished 4th in the Poland encapsulated both the positives and negatives of the current side. We can score a ton of goals, but we also concede a ton. (Highlights on the right).

Of course, it’s impossible to judge a team based on pre-season results against lesser sides, as Arsene has said. However, there is no denying that what we all witnessed yesterday was nothing less than disturbing. And to still be without a 4th center-back, with Anfield a week away, is even more disturbing. A Liverpool side, revitalized by the arrival of Hodgson, could’ve scored 12 goals against our defense yesterday.

All this is further exacerbated by the keeper problems. Perhaps 1-in-10 Arsenal fans have any confidence in Almunia. Even less in Fabianski. We can all agree that Szczesny is a right prospect but not ready for a title challenge. Arsene must’ve been hoping that Fabianski would put the past behind him and put in solid enough performances over the pre-season to quiet criticism of the keeping situation especially as Fulham continued to rebuff his interest in Mark Schwarzer. Instead Fabianski goes out tripping over his own defender’s leg in front of his hometown crowd. He just doesn’t seem to have ever been able to put Porto behind him.

Nasri continues to shine to the point where it almost seems wrong to push him out of that central role when Cesc returns. Gibbs also appears to be getting back to his best. While many seem happy that Gibbs and Wilshere have been called up to the England squad for the most meaningless and inopportune of friendlies, I can honestly say that I’d rather they hadn’t been.

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the criticism of the official website over the Spahic article. It is without a doubt hypocritical on the club’s part and embarrassing. This is most embarrassing because the article has an Arsenal player, Bacary Sagna, talking about another club’s player. But this isn’t something happening for the first time. It’s been going on all summer long with these ridiculous “Transfer Linked” articles. Since the summer started, I have been unable to understand just exactly what an official website is doing posting things like that. How can we complain about Barca’s players talking about Cesc when we have linked ourselves with 20 players on our own website since May? It’s obviously such bullshit anyway because anyone who knows Wenger knows that he would never let the club put a news article about a player he’s interested in on the website. That would only drive up the price further or, worse, alienate the other club into not dealing with us. So, please Arsenal.com, do us all a favor and remove the entire section and all the articles from the official website.

You Just Cannot Count This Team Out

So, let me begin by saying that I was probably thinking what alot of you were after reading guest contributor, Greg Schwartz’s article yesterday regarding starting Eboue and Walcott on the left. In fact, I told him to expect to be flamed, but, to his great credit, he stuck to his guns. Now Walcott and Eboue may not have played on the left, but they both came on as subs and had a major impact on the match.

With a day to reflect back on the match, let me share some of my thoughts. I believe I can say with NO exaggeration that yesterday was the worst 60 minutes of football I have ever seen from the Arsenal. In my over ten years as an Arsenal supporter, I have never seen us so completely dominated for so long a period of time.

Yet, having said that, I believe we once again showed immense character, of the kind that has kept us in the title race this season. In fact, I am more proud of the side after that display than I was after the 6-1 win over Everton on the opening weekend. This team just does not know when to quit, when to lay down and die.

Regarding possession, I felt we enabled them to dominate  possession by giving the ball away so cheaply and so often. It was like we had a team of 2007 Diabys out there. But, in the end, what did Barca do with their possession? Nothing, really. Their two goals both came from disappointing, fundamental errors on the part of Almunia and the defense letting Ibrahimovic get in between Song and Clichy when Vermaelen had pushed up too high. Their goals were our own fault. For all that great football, none of it got them a goal.

I don’t know what I can say really about Cesc’s yellow card except that, to me, it wasn’t a foul and an English referee would never have given it. That he will now miss the return leg has to be crushing for him. On the night, I thought Nasri was our most consistent player in attack and I don’t rate our chances much less knowing that he will be in Cesc’s central role.

The substitutions of Theo and Eboue made the difference for us last night as Barca, especially Maxwell, could not deal with Theo’s pace nor Eboue’s directness. If we are to get the result we need at the Nou Camp, I believe those two will have to be on the pitch. Let’s also not forget Bendtner who set up both goals.

Consider that, to injuries, we lost our captain, our former captain, and our most explosive player in Arshavin (for three weeks now with a calf strain) and a 2-2 result even at home to the best team in the world doesn’t seem too shabby at all. I have watched Barca a fair amount this season and that first sixty minutes was some of the best football I’ve seen them play all season. It has not been par for the course this season, like it was last season. They will need to replicate that performance and more if they want to go through.

The pressure is on them, the holders playing the second leg at home, not us.  And we seem to play better when that is the case. In that case, the away goals mean less than usual because we must go to the Nou Camp to win anyway. Arsene wouldn’t have it any other way.

This match, despite being dominated for such long stretches of the match, will only breed more confidence in the side that no matter what happens, we always have a chance. I believe we can go to Barcelona and get the result we need to go through, especially considering Barca will now be missing Pique and Puyol for the return. As I said last week regarding the title race, the same applies here… it’s not over yet!

IT’S NOT OVER YET!

We have to keep the faith. What else can we do? We now sit four points behind United and three behind Chelsea. But should we beat Wolves at the Emirates on Saturday and we get that United-Chelsea draw we’re all dreaming about we will be one point behind Chelsea and only two off the top. Even if Chelsea win, we would still be within a one-match striking distance of the top. It is not over yet.

I can’t bring myself to write much about the match as I still want to scream every time I think about it. And while it may be harsh to fully blame Almunia for the dropped points, I can’t help but wonder why it is that he can be fairly inactive for most of the match and then cock-up the one moment when we need him to just do what any mediocre keeper would be expected to do.

To be fair, it’s amazing that the team has gotten this far in the title race with a keeper like Almunia. A little over two years ago, after taking over from Lehmann, he looked like he might be progressing towards being a true number one keeper. Last year, his performance suffered with the rest of the side. However, the rest of the side broke out of the 2008/09 funk but Almunia never has. He has become even more prone to errors, and costly errors at that, the more he’s played. I don’t think there can be any doubt that Almunia is not a title-winning keeper. But, yesterday was not entirely his fault…

We had chances to put the match away at 1-nil, most notably Arshavin’s opportunity from less than 10 yards out. However, though Arshavin has returned from injury, his shot has not. I can think of 4 or 5 instances off the top of my head where he had clean shots on goal from inside the box and mishit them, and that’s in the last two weeks. To be fair to him, his substitution along with Nasri made a big difference to the match and we weren’t getting shots off or penetrating Brum’s center-backs until they came on. But those chances have to be taken at this time of the season.

The thing that annoys me is when we read these articles in midweek quoting Arshavin as saying stuff like, “Arsenal need more players to win the League.” No we don’t. We need our own players to be able to put a shot on goal and test the keeper from six yards. If Arsenal lose out on the title, it won’t be because we didn’t buy the “3 or 4 experienced players” Arshavin has talked about, it will be because the players we do have didn’t get the job done when they had the chance. If Arshavin had scored, the points would have been secured and we would have remained two points back.

As painful as it is, and I literally mean painful, we have to put this behind us and focus on the Champions League tie with Barcelona on Wednesday evening. Cesc will apparently be struggling to be fit after sustaining a knee injury and you have to wonder why Arsene didn’t just pull him off instead of letting him play for another 50+ minutes on a hurt knee. The ball is out of our court now. And though it looks bleak, in reality, any result besides a United victory next week, puts us right back within striking distance of the top. IT’S NOT OVER YET. And we need to KEEP THE FAITH!