There’s no doubt this Arsenal team can frustrate and exhilarate (not always in equal measure) and when faced with a ‘big’ game we have a tendency to let it slip.
For every Barcelona or Chelsea there’s a Sunderland or a Birmingham cup final or Newcastle away. Yesterday was one of those frustrating days in terms of the performance. It was altogether too flat, without verve or energy for too long and in the end I think we paid the price for that.
However, we’ve had those days before and scrapped out a result. I don’t think there was any lack of effort, we kept going, created some chances and, ultimately were robbed of the points by a wrongful offside decision. These things happen in football though. We had the benefit, such as it was in the end, of a terrible offside decision in the first minute at Wembley last weekend. Yesterday we scored a perfectly good goal and it was taken away from us.
I think the less said about the first half, the better. The two best chances fell to Bendtner. One an overhead kick from close range after a corner which, luckily for Sunderland, went straight to the keeper. The other created by the dynamic Jack Wilshere, a young man who is never flat or without verve, but the shot from an angle was well saved by Mignolet. I don’t remember a real Sunderland chance at all.
That’s not to say we didn’t try to give them a helping hand. A couple of generously donated corners were well dealt with by the defence but might well have cost us. In attack it seemed we were always looking for the most difficult ball when the simple one might have been most effective. We huffed and puffed but we made little headway until the manager made a change. Denilson came off, Chamakh came on, and we were instantly better. Make of that what you will.
The Moroccan got in behind the Sunderland defence and had Arshavin free in the box. His pull back was a bit too weighty though meaning it had to be hit first time. A more gentle ball meant he could have controlled it and had more time with the shot, but it was better from us. Mignolet pulled off a brilliant save from a Nasri free kick and we began to really pile on the pressure. Wilshere crossed from the left and Chamakh hit the bar with a header. Unlucky, yes, but he should have scored from there.
Then two moments which had people questioning the officials. First Arshavin was sent through, there was a tug from Bramble, then a push as he tried to stay on his feet and get the shot away. The shot ended up going wide and the ref gave nothing when it should have been a penalty and a red card. Perhaps Arshavin should have gone down but he’d probably have been booked for diving the way the decisions were going.
Then the incident which had Arsene, and everyone else, really fuming. Bendnter picked out Arshavin with a fantastic ball, his run was perfectly timed, he was onside but by the time he’d rounded the keeper and rolled it home the flag had been up for some time. I know some people afterwards were suggesting that the referee being from Manchester had a bearing on that decision. I suppose if it had been the referee who gave the offside then it might have some vague merit. I don’t buy the conspiracy stuff though. It was just a terrible decision by the linesman. He got it badly wrong.
After that there was little time to do anything else. A Koscielny header from a late corner went just wide but it was tame anyway. There was no late winner, we had Wojscez©® to thank for an excellent save from Welbeck to keep us in it, and in the end the chance to cut the gap at the top to 1 point went begging. As I said, not for the want of trying, but I think there are definitely issues in terms of quality of performance from some players.
Afterwards Arsene was understandably frustrated at the bad decisions, first saying:
I am too disgusted to speak about it frankly
We had two decisions go against us today that punished us severely, especially the offside. What can you do? If you say to me it was offside, the only thing I can say is that if he is not offside.
It’s a disappointment, yes. Today was the kind of game you want to win 1-0. We do not want to have things going against you, it happened. I cannot fault the players’ attitude.
I think it was West Ham earlier in the season that we won 1-0 with a late Alex Song goal. A similar kind of game to yesterday, a team determined to defend well and deny us space but who got caught out with a late goal. Yesterday we scored a perfectly good goal which was given offside. The margins are so tight. Had that goal been given we’d obviously have a very different outlook on yesterday. It wasn’t so we have to just get on with it. Bitching about officials isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference.
And while you can certainly point fingers at the linesman for the offside and the ref for the penalty that wasn’t, you have to look at Arsenal’s performance as a big factor too. We tried, no doubt about it, but we lacked rather too much and didn’t get going until late in the second half. I thought the decision to play Wilshere in the Cesc role was a strange one. I can see why he tried it but at half-time it was clear it wasn’t right. The Diabnilson axis behind him just wasn’t working at all and I think it might have been better to move Wilshere back and let Diaby go forward – or bite the bullet and bring on Chamakh or Rosicky earlier in place of one of them.
While Jack did his best to make things happen further up the pitch we lacked that drive in the engine room where perhaps it was more necessary. Deniaby were just pedestrian and the lack of movement to open up space and even just take a pass meant we ended up going backwards far too often. I’m looking forward to the return of Ramsey who is always looking to make something happen and tends not to slow down the play as much.
As well as that it shows how much we struggle without Cesc, van Persie and Walcott. Without making any excuses take away three of the most creative attacking players from any team and they’d have problems. Still, for all the reasoning and perspective, it doesn’t make the fact we couldn’t take full advantage of United’s midweek loss any less frustrating. We’ve got to hope the Mugsmashers can do us a favour today. I’m not especially hopeful but you never know.
From our point of view we have to turn our attention to Barcelona and all that entails. Jack Wilshere is a bit of an injury doubt having picked up an ankle knock yesterday from the close attentions of Muntari, so fingers crossed he can make it. We’re told Cesc is more likely than Song and if the latter misses out the manager has a big decision to make as to who fills that gap. Anyway, we can think about that in the days ahead.
So, keep fingers crossed that the ‘smashers can help us out a bit. It’s a shame that having had it ‘in our hands’ we’re now reliant on others, but what can you do?