Try as I might, and I’ll confess I’m not trying particularly hard, I can’t muster up anything for this game other than weary indifference. A rag-tag Arsenal side playing in a game which meant little ended up losing and despite Schalke dropping points against Montpellier – meaning a win would have seen us top the group – it didn’t really look like a game from which we’d take three points.
I’ll admit I only saw the first half live, and highlights of the second, but I was reasonably impressed with us in that period. Tomas Rosicky returned to add some zip to the midfield, his ability to drive forward is something the team has really missed so assuming the half-time substitution was planned and not because every tendon in his body went twang that’s a positive thing.
At left back Jernade Meade looked the part too. There was a moment early on when he was showing the ball out for a goal kick and I thought it might be difficult for him to hold off the attacker, given that he’s smaller than a Smurf, but he shimmied one way, the attacker bought it and he dealt with the situation very nicely. For a kid making his first start for the club that showed some real confidence and belief, I think we’ll be seeing more of this lad.
The goal was nicely worked in the end but showed the two sides of Gervinho. One, which can occasionally produce, the other which makes you want to headbutt a wall of spikes … with your eyes. It came after excellent play from Oxlade-Chamberlain who spread the ball wide to the edge of their box. Gervinho had Ramsey outside him, all he had to do was take it down to play in the Welshman but instead he headed it inexplicably back across goal. Having got hold of it again though he took off into their box, played in back for Rosicky who finished well to put us ahead.
Of course we could have been ahead a few minutes earlier when Gervinho broke from midfield, had a clearly unmarked Chamakh outside him, did the right thing by drawing the defenders towards him but instead of then playing in the Moroccan with the outside of his boot just carried on and was robbed. There was no way he was unaware of Chamakh’s presence either, his hair squelches with every step. To be fair though, the likelihood is that Chamakh would have trod on the ball or stopped to repair one of his tufts, so maybe it was for the best.
As for their two goals there was an element of bad luck to both of them, with an unlucky deflection off Ramsey for the first and Szczesny unsighted for the second, but that’s kind of the way things go when you’re in a bad run of form. As they were going in I was actually playing football and on a rare venture beyond the halfway line managed to trap a ball with the outside of my jaw which is now fucking killing me. Lesson learned there, let me tell you.
Afterwards Arsene said:
We have to wait for the draw but we wanted to be first. We need a good Christmas present. I’m not happy with things in the game but I’m happy with the team’s desire. The important thing now is to focus on the Premier League and forget about the Champions League.
And for me that’s the important bit. Tonight just wasn’t that important and when you look at the team that went out there it’s difficult to get worked up by defeat. These were mostly fringe players, bolstered by a couple of first teamers, supplemented by guys who know their Arsenal careers are essentially over. Squillaci, Arshavin – who couldn’t even make the starting XI for a game like this – and Chamakh are not picked for real games for one reason or another. The main one being that the manager just doesn’t believe in them.
So you can’t bemoan their lack of quality on one hand then go mental that we didn’t win the game. The real issue is that we’re still somewhat reliant on these players, by all means go mental about that if you think it will help. The sooner we have them off the pay-roll and replaced by guys who can contribute in a more meaningful way the better, but I can’t muster up the energy to get worked up about last night’s game at all. We know the squad is weak, we know we have little in the way of depth and it’s something we’ve been over time and time again. The drum has been well and truly beaten.
And look, we’ve qualified for the knock-out stages with that squad. I think I’d be far more peeved if, for example, I supported a club who spent a millionty-bazillion on players with petrocash and didn’t manage a single win in the group stages. The only oil we have is the stuff plastered on the top of Chamakh’s head. So a little perspective is no bad thing. We might well be struggling but we’ve done what we needed to do in this competition so far.
Some may complain that finishing second will give us a more difficult draw for the knock-out stages, which may be true, but winning the group would put is in the same pot as Real Madrid as much as second sticks us in with Barcelona. Depending on results we could get Malaga or we could get Bayern Munich. Whoever we draw it’s going to be a tough game, especially given the state we’re in at the moment, but it’ll be the new year when that game takes place and with some January additions maybe it won’t all seem so scary.
For now though, we get back to the bread and butter of the Premier League. Hopefully the legs that are heavy will benefit from a few day’s rest and maybe it’s just me but I’d have swapped any midweek win for three points over West Brom on Saturday.