If yesterday was a chance for some of our fringe players to show what they’re made of, I’m not sure I particularly like it.
That said I’m cognisant of the fact that they’ve been bench sitting for quite some time and it’s hard to expect guys who don’t play regularly to come in and be in top form. That also said I’m aware that some of the players who have been on the bench have been talking, quite loudly, about how they should be first team regulars. When given a chance they’d take it. Not really the case.
I thought we started fairly brightly to be honest. We should have gone ahead in the 12th minute when a delicious Rosicky pass set Arshavin free with just the keeper to beat. I suppose it’s symptomatic of his game at the moment that he never really got the ball under control and Schmeichel Jr stood tall making the save, when Arshavin shot straight at him, fairly easy.
Arshavin had another hit with his left foot which again the keeper saved well, Chamakh headed straight at Schmeichel from a corner, Leeds cleared one off the line, one off the post, again from corners. Denilson fired one in from distance (saved), Bendtner fired a shot over the bar and had one saved at the near post when he ducked between two defenders. That chance kind of summed us up though. If Arsenal had players attacking the 6 yard box he just needed to square it for someone to tap in but there was nobody there. We spent too much of the game in the final third caught on our heels.
So while it wasn’t a brilliant display by any means we’d created enough to be ahead. And as is the Arsenal way, having more or less dominated the game, we found ourselves behind. Leeds hardly threatened at all but when they found an overlap down our right hand side and their player burst into the box Denilson’s clumsy, lazy challenge gave them a penalty. It was telling that Cesc said of the tackle:
When you are a professional footballer you cannot give away this kind of penalty so easily.
A public rebuke from the captain is unusual but it was amateur league defending from Denilson and not the first time he’s given away that kind of penalty. I think it was against Bolton last season, almost exactly the same effort of a tackle. Anyway, Snodgrass stepped up and fired it home with his left foot despite Wojscez©® getting a touch. Obviously they were fired up by that and the big Pole made an excellent save from a corner after Denilson stood watching, allowing the Leeds man to get the header in, while Snodgrass fired a free kick not far wide with Wojscez©® wrong-footed.
That was the extent of Leeds threat, however, as Arsenal pressed and pressed for an equaliser. Song was taken off for Fabregas while Walcott replaced Chamakh. The introduction of the captain rejuvenated us a bit and we made some chances. Bendtner headed over from a corner (or free kick), Arshavin had numerous shots blocked, he then played a lovely ball over the top to Theo Walcott but the attempted finish was easy for the keeper.
It looked as if we might have had a penalty but the ref blew for offside instead – then we did get one. Theo was clearly pulled back in the area, Cesc stepped up and fired it down the middle to save the day. Even then there were chances to win the game, Denilson’s long range shot brilliantly saved by Schmeichel and the best of all fell to Bendtner. Cesc played a long ball high over the Leeds defence, Bendtner got in behind and it sat up nicely to be volleyed with his left foot but he put it well wide.
At the final whistle 1-1 was a relief and the frustration with the performance palpable. It was, until I’ve gone through the game again, easy to forget that we made more than enough chances to win that game. Not so easy to forget that we didn’t take them though. You can put some of it down to excellent goalkeeping but we need to look at our finishing. I like Bendtner’s confidence, I like that he thinks he should be in the team, I don’t like the fact he appears to be all mouth and no trousers at the moment. If you’re going to mouth off you need to be able to back that up with performances.
Update: I take the point 100% that he’s not a winger and you’re unlikely to see the best of him from a wide position. That said, the two best chances he had – the header and the late volley – were from a central position.
A lot has been said about Arshavin too. It’s clear there’s frustration from the stands at what he does and it’s getting worse. He should have scored yesterday but he’s a player low on confidence. However, he’s got enough ability and talent to play his way out of this slump if he wants. And that’s the key. He has to want it. It’s difficult to suggest he’s giving everything when twice he made his way to the touchline as Arsenal were making substitutions. On neither occasion did his number come up. Is it self-awareness, knowing he’s not playing well and assuming he’s going to be taken off, or a guy who just wants to be anywhere else but on the pitch?
It’s an unhappy situation, that’s for sure. And utimately the only one who can make it right is Arshavin. There’s still a long way to go this season and when he’s playing well he’s got end product and the ability to score and make goals that few others in this team have. If we want to be successful we’ve got a better chance if he’s playing well but at the moment he seems to lack the fight and desire necessary to play his way out of this slump in form.
On a positive note, however, I thought we saw another outstanding display from Johan Djourou. He was impeccable at the back, his timing, tackling, positioning and distrubution were all excellent and he’s played himself into the first team on a regular basis. It’s a lesson for some of the others. He’s gone about his business with quiet determination, perhaps the year out of the game has focussed him and made him realise how quickly a career can pass you by. His re-introduction by the manager has been gradual but we’re now seeing the benefit of that. Hopefully he can keep this up because if he does we’ll be better at the back.
So, a replay at Elland Road sandwiched between the West Ham and Wigan games. Not ideal by any means. Given our schedule it would have been nice to have a week of rest but it’s not the end of the world either. We never win the cup without a replay or two so it’s probably best to get it out of the way early! With more cup football coming up on Tuesday night it’ll be interesting to see how many changes the boss makes.
Right, aside from all that, there’s Theo Walcott’s admission that he dived to try and win a penalty. A touch too honest, you’d have to say, but I’d rather see a player like Theo own up to it the first time he does it than a player like Steven Gerrard who is hypocritical enough to condemn diving in his autobiography despite being lighter on his feet than Rudolf Nureyev. Any fears that referees might now be reluctant to give Theo free kicks when he’s genuinely fouled are negated by the fact he’s not foreign and really this should be water under the bridge in no time.
Then there’s Glen Johnson. Reacting to criticism by Paul Merson of his, frankly rubbish, performances this season he took to Twitter and said:
Where do you even start with comments like that? He deleted the tweets but cannot delete the fact he’s a fucking idiot who isn’t fit to lace Merson’s boots. And as the chaps at Football Ramble said:
Glen Johnson’s battle with Paul Merson is the closest he’s been to an attacking player in months.
Quite so. And to finish off this Sunday, how about a dodgy rumour suggesting Sol Campbell could come back for a third spell at the club? Well, here you go. And with all due respect to Sol if he’s the answer I don’t want to hear the question.