Arsenal 0-1 Man City: no shame in defeat

frimpong_nasri

Video highlights and reactionmatch report

So Carling Cup defeat last night, and late defeat at that, but the overwhelming sense I have this morning is that of team that deserved more. Arsenal’s youngsters, combined with some experience, more than held their own against the most expensively assembled squad in modern football.

In the first half we had the two best chances. A great move saw Coquelin’s cross find Park at the far post, his strange skippity-hoppity attempt on goal was saved by the City keeper. And he was forced into making another excellent stop when The Ox’s first time, left-footed effort from a Chamakh lay-off looked as if it was heading into the top corner. For their part City’s only dangerous moments were an Adam Johnson shot from distance which dipped just over and a corner which Fabianski came for and missed.

In the second half it was more of the same. Periods of posssession for each side with anyone creating a real goalscoring opportunity, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hugely positive down the right hand side, willing to take men on and shoot. In midfield Frimpong and Coquelin faced Nasri, Hargreaves and de Jong, they battled and scrapped and came out on top more often than not.

Defensively we looked sound. Squillaci might be much maligned but he and Koscielny kept Aguero and Dzeko – £60m worth of a strikeforce – pretty quiet for most of the night, and after his early shot Adam Johnson got little change out of Ignasi Miquel, a centre-half playing at left back.

Up the other end we struggled as much as they did. Chamakh and Park both worked hard but neither troubled City’s defence. Nor, to be fair, did they get much in the way of service. And all it took was one moment for City to undo us. An Arsenal corner was poor, cleared at the near post, two Arsenal players went to ground to try and win it back and City broke with pace, eventually creating an opening for Aguero which he was never going to miss from that distance.

It was a bit cruel really, I thought we deserved something from the game, but that’s football. It just shows that that extra bit of quality up front can make all the difference in a tight game. With respect to our striking pair they looked like they could be out there all night and still not score. A fantastic Gervinho cross in the final couple of minutes provided the sort of chance that a confident, capable striker would probably have scored. As it was it evaded Chamakh’s head which pretty much summed up the way things are going for him at the moment.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

It is frustrating because we put a lot of effort in and we were not rewarded. On the other hand I feel that considering the youth of our midfield we have battled really well and have shown some fantastic quality.

I feel I want to take the positives out of tonight’s game and of our run. We have a fantastic attitude and spirit and we have quality. How far can we go this season? I feel if we keep this attitude, we can have hope. You can argue that we lost the easiest trophy to win but as well if you look at the teams who are still in it, it does not look as easy to win as usual.

And for me the positives far outweigh the negatives. It’s becoming more and more obvious why Arsenal paid Southampton such a large amount of money for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In the opposition half he was absolutely fantastic, fearless, creative, always trying to make something happen, and he wants goals, you can see that. We did see the other side to him as well though, the one that needs to increase his awareness when defending (learning to track the runners will be crucial) or how to use the ball more sensibly when in possession in his own half. However, these things will come with time, coaching and experience and once his game begins to round itself out I think we’ve got a hugely exciting players on our hands.

The two midfielders, Coquelin and Frimpong were impressive. The former looks to me the most ready of the two, benefitting from his season on loan and I hope he gets further chances because he looks a player determined to take them. Frimpong is physically imposing, and loves a tackle but also looks to have added a bit of maturity to his game. He’s less gung-ho and less recklesss, and that showed last night. Again, experience and time will help improve him, especially when on the ball, but there’s a lot to be encouraged about.

Overall it was the strikeforce which cost £60m which made the difference against the one which cost £1.5m. I don’t want to be overly-critical, and as I said I am mindful that neither Park nor Chamakh had great service last night, but I think it’s fairly obvious that the striking department is one that could be improved by spending some of the money we have in the bank during the upcoming transfer window.

Our unbeaten run comes to and end, and I know many will bemoan the Carling Cup exit as one which robs us of our only chance of silverware, but I think that’s a pretty negative outlook. Last night was about using our squad, seeing who was up for it and who wasn’t, and making sure we’re set up right for the weekend’s game against Wigan which is, in the grand scheme of things, far more important. We got some answers last night and I hope the manager looks at the positives, and negatives, and acts accordingly.

Finally, we’ve got to mention the tunnel incident. There’s a little clip here of Nasri and Frimpong niggling at the final whistle – kudos to Frimpong he was at Nasri from the first whistle and backed it up with a good performance on the pitch. From what I’m told it carried on in the tunnel, Nasri took a swing at Frimpong and then legged it to the away dressing room.

It’s quite normal for both sides to play down incidents like this, and it probably was just a bit of handbags, but it also shows how wound up Nasri was. I’m not sure what’s funnier, the idea of him throwing a punch at Frimpong and scarpering, or the fact he clearly would have been happy to come off after half an hour when City were making that substitution.

He was outplayed all night long by the FrimCoq axis and that’s the reason why his departure this summer was annoying but not heartbreaking in any way. He’s a player who went through a purple patch last season but the Nasri of last night is the one we were more used to seeing during his time at the club – tidy but ultimately ineffectual. And he looks like he’s been getting collogen injections in his arse.

Anyway, time for us to refocus, turn our attention back to the Premier League and begin another unbeaten run. Till tomorrow.

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Man City preview – all kinds of chances

Good morning to you.

We have the Carling Cup to contend with this evening and we take on the richest club in the world, with the biggest, most expensive squad in the world, and a manager who is complaining about a fixture pile-up. To be fair to Roberto Mancini, he’s got a point. Playing Sunday then Tuesday is tough for any team but when you can replace all 11 players and call on the likes of Kolo Toure, Kolarov, Dzeko, Adam Johnson and others who didn’t start the game against Liverpool then it does make life a bit easier.

Arsenal will rotate too, protecting players who have played a lot but also giving chances to those who have been on the fringes of the first team. Guys like Yossi Benayoun who the manager says is unlucky not to have played more but whose influence around the place seems more positive the more you read about him. Andrei Arshavin says that his performance on Saturday against Fulham was down the fact he hasn’t been playing much and that it’s difficult to come in and play well straight away.

*tumbleweed*

He’s likely to get another chance tonight. Lukasz Fabianski will play in goal. I suspect we’ll see something of a makeshift back four, perhaps another chance for Yennaris at full back, Squillaci and Miquel will probably play. In midfield Frimpong and Coquelin will be hoping for a chance while Abou Diaby’s availability remains a mystery at this point. There’s some suggestion he’s picked up a muscular problem which could be false but it sounds so perfectly true it’s hard to know without any official confirmation.

The boss is talking about the development of the Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain:

Overall, Alex has the quality and I can only show that I believe in that in buying him. Secondly I can show that by playing him – but also by working with him on the training pitch. Alex is developing very well. He is very positive and he works very hard.

He has a goal in this competition already, and one in the Champions League, so looks the kind of player who will take his chances when they come along. Whether he starts tonight or not remains to be seen and probably depends on the formation. The manager has two strikers who both need games and goals – might he play a 442 to accomodate them both?

Marouane Chamakh has got just two goals in the last 12 months – one in the FA Cup in March, the other in the league game at Ewood Park earlier this season. More than anyone he’s got something to prove tonight. Another game without a goal and he’s heading into the last chance saloon. I realise it’s difficult to play second-fiddle to someone as good as Robin van Persie but I don’t think it’s unfair to expect more.

Similarly, Ju Young Park’s signing is one that makes less sense the more time goes on. Of course he needs time to adapt but it’s December, he signed in August, and he has yet to play even one minute of Premier League football. On the one hand you want to give him time and give him a chance, on the other you can’t help but ask why he hasn’t played even one minute of Premier League football and why he hasn’t even been in the squad for the last three games. So the Carling Cup is more than just a chance to rest weary legs, it’s an opportunity for the manager to assess players and make decisions about the team and the squad.

There’s a lot of talk this morning that Arsenal have been scouting Lukas Podolski as back-up for Robin van Persie. Which makes sense. Beyond the Dutchman our striking options are far from convincing and for Park and Chamakh tonight’s game is of huge importance. Play well and contribute and the effects are obvious. For the Moroccan in particular another one of those games might well be enough to convince the manager it’s time to cut his losses – if that’s a decision he hasn’t made already.

Personally, this is a game I’m a bit indifferent towards. It’d be nice to win it, of course, and I’m looking forward to seeing the youngsters and how they cope with a team as strong as the one Man City put out tonight. However, defeat wouldn’t be a huge blow so this is one I can watch without much in the way of nerves and anxiousness.

Of course, given that City will probably play our old friend Samir Nasri there’s a touch of spice that might not otherwise have been present. Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy left quietly and respectfully, Nasri, well, we all know how that went. Remember his quotes about Arsenal fans?

Arsenal have good fans but not that passionate since they moved from Highbury. City fans are really passionate. When we played against City, the crowd was amazing. That’s what I want.

For a guy that never played at Highbury that’s a bit much. And while Arsene Wenger does what he always does and asks for respect for former players, there’s no doubt that Nasri will be the pantomime villain should he play later on. You can ask for respect, and you can also see where the manager is coming from when he asks for it, but that ignores the very essence of being a football fan.

There’s no huge bitterness towards Nasri because he was never that important in the first place. He’s not the first, and he won’t be the last, to get ideas above his station and to listen to people whose only interest in him is to make money, and I’m sure he’ll get a gentle reminder (or two) of that this evening. And there’s not much wrong with that, to be honest.

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In book related news the production of the physical edition is complete and I’m waiting now for them to be delivered – so everything is in place for the launch next Wednesday evening at 7pm. All are welcome to The Tollington. Arsenal books and a beer or two, what more could you want?

I’ve also finished the digital editions which will be available on Amazon Kindle, iBooks and all the usual ebook places a day or so after the launch. Now, I just have to worry about what dress I’m going to wear.

Right, that’s that. Catch you later for the Man City game.

Early City news and Szczesny talks defensive change

Morning all,

another week, another two games on the horizon and the football world is in a strange place after yesterday’s news about Gary Speed. I really don’t have much to say about it other than to hope his family and loved ones manage to cope with such an awful situation. Speculation about why it happened isn’t helpful at all and the public’s ghoulish fascination with celebrity death is something which distrurbs me greatly.

How can you not be disturbed when people use the death of young man (I know as you get older the qualifcation for ‘young’ is quite liquid) to try and get themselves more followers on Twitter by setting up a fake account pretending to be an Arsenal player? Or a major newspaper launching a ‘Gary Speed suicide’ live blog? Do we really need close-up pictures of Shay Given in tears? I just can’t get my head around that kind of thing at all.

The bottom line is a 42 year old man died, that’s no age at all, and in a football world where you wouldn’t give tuppence about most of the people in it, Gary Speed seemed like a good guy, and the tributes reflected that. I hope his family get the privacy and respect they deserve at a time like this but I fear they won’t. Which just makes the whole thing even more sad.

Meanwhile, the world keeps on turning, as it does, and as I said we’ve got two games coming up this week. Tomorrow night we face Manchester City in the Carling Cup and there will obviously be changes made. Arsene says that certain players are ‘on the edge’ after the current schedule:

We have a few players on the edge like van Persie, of course, and Walcott, who had a hamstring alert and Ramsey as well. We’ll see how they respond to 24 hours’ rest. Walcott’s hamstring was picked up during the game but he should be OK.

And on the possible team for tomorrow night:

We have to consider the injuries we have. We have red alerts on a few players. It will be easier for you to pick the Man City team because you can look in the stand and on the bench and you will see who plays on Tuesday.

I think if we were playing any other team than Man City the selection would be easy. Pretty much any first-teamer that hasn’t played in recent weeks gets a start and then we throw in a couple of kids to make up the difference. However, as City’s bench probably cost more than our first team their squad depth means he might have to use one or two to provide some balance.

Who they might be we can leave until tomorrow’s blog, but for those left out it’s a chance to recuperate for the week. To rest and get patched up. One of the things I noticed when I was given that tour of the new medical centre was a list on a whiteboard in the doctor’s office which had players who weren’t officially injured but who were carrying little aches and niggles which needed to be managed.

There were 6-7 players on it when I was there and I’d imagine that’s fairly normal. Anyone who is on that list today is unlikely to play tomorrow. Anyway, we can look more at that game, and who we might pick to face $amir Na$ri and co in tomorrow’s blog.

In other news Wojciech Szczesny has revealed that the 8-2 at Old Trafford brought about some changes at the training ground. Speaking to The Times yesterday, he said:

We always used to train as a whole team. When we did attacking it was as a whole team and defending was the same. Now we’re split into groups and the defence works separately, under Pat Rice. We know our jobs and communicate better.

Which is interesting in that it’s a very obvious change and, perhaps, an illustration that the manager and his staff realised they needed to react. What’s even more interesting is that this change of separating the team during training has made the team a better defensive unit overall. You just have to see how players are working hard and tracking back from forward positions to ensure defensive solidity. I wouldn’t call that game a blessing in disguise or anything but it’s good to see that we’ve taken steps to try and rectify things.

And SZCZ is another who says the signings made late in the transfer window have helped:

The manager bought players who have brought back the spirit to the dressing room. I think when we went to Old Trafford, we didn’t actually believe we could win. Now, we’ve signed Arteta, Yossi , Mertesacker, who have played at the top for a long time and that’s made a difference.

After Saturday’s match it was put to Arsene Wenger that earlier in the season the Fulham game was one we might have lost, going behind with not a great deal of time to go and he agreed. I wouldn’t disagree with that either, it’s not long ago that every little thing that went wrong felt like a hammer blow from which we reeled around punch-drunk, so the experience and maturity these guys have added to the side is very welcome indeed.

We seem much more able to cope with little setbacks, realising that they are only little, and can be dealt with. I do hope that the younger players in the squad are learning as much as they can from these guys. Mertesacker, for example, is the super-pro, everything he can do to make himself better, fitter, more available, he does, and it’d be good if those with potential were doing that (and not, perhaps, entering into slagging matches with fans of other teams on Twitter when they still haven’t proved themselves at first team level).

And that’s about that for this morning, a very busy day ahead. I’ve got to check on the progress of the books ahead of next week’s launch at The Tollington – to which you’re all very welcome. I’ll give you more info on that in the next few days.

Back tomorrow with a full preview of the Carling Cup – news throughout the day on Arseblog News. And remember, you can follow Arseblog on Facebook and Twitter – and if your workplace is one of those nasty ones who limit Internet access, you can Arseblog slammed into your box each morning by joining the Mailing List.

Arsenal 1-1 Fulham: Devermination

Arsenal 1-1 Fulham

Video highlights and reactionmatch reportBy the numbers

I guess in the context of recent results and the form we’ve been in yesterday was something of a disappointment. Dropping two points at home can always be criticised but post-Champions League games against well organised, tough opponents are never easy. Just look at Man United.

The first half, well, the less said the better really. You could see the hangover from Wednesday night, we struggled to find any rhythm or momentum and the game was played at testimonial pace at times. Still, there were moments. Arshavin had the ball in the net but was marginally offside when it came through to him. Aaron Ramsey really should have done better after a great Theo Walcott run set him just inside the box but he shot over, and late on Per Mertesacker’s back-header from a free kick drifted a foot or two past the post with the keeper beaten.

Anything good we did seemed to involve Theo Walcott and it continued in that vein in the second half. Lots of Arsenal possession nullified by a Fulham side set up to deny us space and to squeeze us into the middle of the pitch. The best chance of the half fell to Robin van Persie whose shot, after wriggling free in the box to find some room, beat Schwarzer but was cleared off the line by Chris Baird.

And just a couple of moments later Fulham scored. A diagonal ball into the box found the forward running Riise. My first impression was that it came back off his arm but quite what Vermaelen was trying to do with the clearance I don’t know. It ended up not as a clearance but as a trickling shot on goal which crept in just inside the post. A freakish own goal really but perhaps a defensive situation we should have dealt with better.

The almost immediate response from Arsene was to take off Mertesacker and Ramsey, putting on Diaby and Gervinho in their places. And straight away the Ivorian made inroads into the Fulham defence, putting them further on the backfoot. Arshavin was replaced by Chamakh, I guess to have a different option up front, someone who could attack a cross.

In the end he was there when Walcott’s cross came in from the right hand side but failed to make contact. Thankfully Thomas Vermaelen, obviously determined to make up for his earlier error, arrived at just the right time to head down into the ground and then into the Fulham net. There were some half-chances in the final ten minutes, and a vague penalty shout (seen them given but don’t think it was a penalty really), but it wasn’t to be and we had to settle for the draw.

Afterwards Arsene spoke about the Champions League game in midweek as an explanation for the lethargy of the Arsenal performance but refused to use it as an excuse:

We want to be in the Champions League so we cannot cry when we are tired. Our challenge is to win these kinds of games even when we are tired.

The positive again is that we have shown exceptional spirit, desire and refusal to lose the game. Overall if you look back at where we came from we have a long unbeaten run and of course we are disappointed because we dropped two points.

With hindsight you might say Arsene should have rotated a little bit more but then hindsight is good like that. Had he done that and we’d drawn the game, or lost, he’d be on a hiding to nothing for not playing his best players. I think he’ll have been disappointed with the contribution of Arshavin. After challenging him to show his worth the little Russian’s performance was pretty poor and was a clear indication of why he hasn’t started a league game for over two months. On days like yesterday when you need everybody giving 100% you can’t carry any passengers.

If he didn’t start Gervinho then perhaps it was because he was in this ‘red zone’ where he’s more likely to pick up an injury. You simply don’t leave one of your best performers on the bench to be charitable to another player – and to be honest I think Benayoun can count himself a bit unlucky not to be involved ahead of Arshavin.

Defensively Fulham were very good and when you’re lacking that 5-10% because of heavy legs then it becomes all the more difficult to break down teams like that. They offered little up the other end. Szczesny had to make one save from Dembele in the first half and other than that there was nothing, so we can count ourselves a bit unlucky to have conceded and conceded in such a fashion.

Nor can we ignore the physical effect of the Champions League game against Dortmund. If we’re quick to praise the team for the effort they put in on Wednesday night then we can’t ignore it on a Saturday. I think it’s probably telling that our stand-out performance of the day came from Johan Djourou who came into the game with fresh legs. But for his crucial intervention in the last few seconds of injury time – when he prevented Clint Dempsey going through one on one with Szczesny in the box – it might well have been worse.

As for Vermaelen, I’ve long said we’ve missed his character as much as his presence as a defender. The team deserve credit for getting back into the game having gone behind,  but the fact it was the Belgian who refused to let his own goal decide the game speaks volumes about what he can bring to the side. That kind of determination and unwillingness to lose is great to see.

So, while dropping two points is always a disappointment I think the fact we’ve been unbeaten since Sp*rs – a run of 10 games now, wining 8 of them – remains a positive. The momentum might have been halted a little bit but there’s still plenty of games to go this season to make up the points.

With the Carling Cup on Tuesday the manager is sure to rest the vast majority of the ‘first team’, giving more chances to the fringe players but, more importantly, making sure we’ve got plenty of energy for the trip to Wigan next Saturday.

Till tomorrow.