Sometimes, like against Manchester City in the Carling Cup, we see a performance from the second string that lifts the spirits and gives us hope and encouragement for the future. And sometimes we get performances like last night which reflect little more than why these players are part of the second string. Some are making progress but not quite there yet. Some, sadly appear in terminal decline and some are just what they are, squad players.
Faced with an Olympiacos team that had everything to play for and went at it like they’d all done a wrap of speed just before kick off, we really struggled. Yes, they pressed us high up the pitch which is difficult for any team to cope with, let alone one that isn’t exactly a cohesive unit, but we really didn’t help ourselves either.
Their first chance came in the 2nd minute when a poor Fabianski clearance was picked up and only for Djourou getting back they would have scored. It wasn’t an auspicious start for the Polish keeper. He suffered a torrid 24 minutes, making poor clearances, almost getting lobbed, scampering about the place – almost like a bloke who has hardly played all season – and conceding a goal, before Thomas Vermaelen put him out of his misery by slicing open his knee in a challenge.
Little did the Belgian know that Fabianski’s replacement, Vito Mannone, would come on and almost immediately guarantee his place in one of those supermarket DVDs, probably fronted by a cunt like Robbie Savage, which catalogs ‘hilarious’ goalkeeping howlers. Making his first appearance of the season (and his first Arsenal appearance since October 2009!) he did well to come out of his area and bravely head away, but when the tame shot came back in he clearly had lost in his bearings. Instead of just, you know, picking it up, he tried to float in mid-air, turn sideways and karate kick it back up the field. He missed, the ball bobbled over the line and it was 2-0.
I felt for him a bit, I have to say, although it was a real cock-up. I thought Squillaci might have been experienced enough to drop a little deeper just in case something like that happened but then Squillaci had one of those games. You know, almost like a bloke who hardly played all season. And I say that knowing there’s a very good reason why. He was involved in the first goal too and got a bit unlucky when the through ball cannoned between him and Djourou and into the path of Xerxes from 300 to tuck it away, but the goal came when Arshavin was caught in possession on the halfway line. It’s hard to know what to make of the Russian at the moment other than he’s in serious funk when it comes to his form and you have to wonder if he’s doing enough to get himself out of it.
We did have chances. Arshavin should have scored, Frimpong hit the side netting, but as you’d expect there was more bad news when Andre Santos, our only fit full back, was taken off on a stretcher. Arsene said it was a ‘bad ankle injury’ which, I suppose, would lead you to question the wisdom of playing our only fit full back in a game which meant nothing but there you.
The second half was more of the same. Arsenal’s defence all over the place, and although we got one back through a very fine Benayoun volley (after Chamakh had inadvertently set him up when the ball bounced off him as he was diving for a penalty), and had a chance or two late on, that they got a third, in scrambly style, was no surprise at all. Ultimately though, it meant nothing for Olympiacos as Marseille came from 2-0 down to beat Dortmund away from home, and if you’re feeling bad that we lost a game which had no bearing on our qualifcation, imagine how gutted they must feel. Oh well, them’s the breaks.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
I am annoyed because we lost the game. It’s difficult to single out (individuals) – I feel offensively and defensively we were not convincing tonight. We lost many challenges. You could feel there was more at stake for Olympiacos than us. I think that made us insecure defensively. We lost many balls in position where we are not used to.
It’s a fantastic experience (for the young players). They’ll realise what kind of intensity you need at that level. I still think, in patches, some young players have shown good things but, as a team, we missed a bit of maturity to keep the ball when we were under pressure.
And the last point is a good one. Part of the learning experience is not just games when you play well, but those when you don’t. Tonight, against a committed, energetic side, a number of those youngsters will have taken some important lessons away. Hopefully one of them will be that when you get to a point late in your career that you, as an experienced player, need to help out the kids who are still finding their way, and without pointing fingers I think they might have been let down by one or two of the older heads.
Still, it’s not as if this game didn’t tell us anything we already know. Like any team and squad we have weaknesses. Sometimes they’re not so apparent but tonight they were. And despite that there’s really no need to go overboard with criticism or rage (in most cases). This is hardly a group of players that will start a Premier League game. Anyway, we’ve got to re-group, re-organise a bit for Saturday’s game against Everton due to injury etc, and make sure that when the games really do count we’re far better than we were last night.
Right, that’s yer lot for this morning. It’s an early start as me and Mrs Blogs are heading for the airport now and hopefully we’ll see plenty of you later at The Tollington for the book launch. All the details are here.