Braga 2-0 Arsenal: A bad week gets worse

Having been involved in a thrilling top of the table clash myself last night my plan was to watch the game on delay. Note to self: this only works if you remember to record it before you go out. So, I only caught the last 20 minutes on TV with a bit of Tom’s live blog before that. Not enough to comment on the performance as a whole, or individuals, but some thoughts nonetheless.

We should have had a penalty. Vela’s fall was perhaps a little theatrical but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t contact. It was clear and obvious and to be denied the penalty was real blow. The booking was taking the piss, frankly. I don’t know about Arsene saying it was a turning point but if we’d scored it I think we’d have gotten a result.

Arsenal v Braga champions league

Perhaps the turning point was Eboue’s injury. It looked a foul to me without being a particularly bad tackle. I assume he injured himself on landing. Having used all three substitutes we had to carry on with 10 men and I’m not sure we got ourselves organised properly to cope with the absence of a right back. It’s also more than likely that Eboue would have been in the position Denilson found himself in for the first goal and I suspect he would have defended it better.

For the first he got caught too high up the pitch, as if he was trying to play the bloke offside. Hard to do that when he’s coming from his own half and you’re standing on the halfway line. His lack of pace meant he was never going to get back and Matheuss’ finish was deft.

For the second, as Braga cleared from an Arsenal set-piece, he did the right thing by getting himself between the man and the ball but he had to be stronger and just play a simple pass left or right so we could get it forward again. Instead he was brushed aside far too easily and again Matheuss’ finish was emphatic – this time despite the presence of three Arsenal defenders. On both occasions he should have done better, in my opinion.

It was another typical defeat after a defeat. I mentioned yesterday how this team tends to wallow and finds it difficult to react in the immediate aftermath of a bad result and that’s how it looks again. Arsene can talk about Braga’s approach and gamesmanship all he likes, or the officials, but this is a team we put 6 past just a couple of months ago, a team that is lying 10th in the Portuguese league and who lost 3 out of their last 4 games coming into this one. They’re really not very good which makes last night’s result all the more frustrating.

We’ve given the medical team some work to do as well. Eboue looks set for a spell out and another hamstring injury for Cesc Fabregas is a huge worry. The manager said it was not the same leg that has been troubling him in the recent past but clearly there’s a need to sort this problem out once and for all.

In December 97 Tony Adams was sent to France by Arsene Wenger for treatment on an ankle injury. He felt he couldn’t trust it, he couldn’t run or jump properly, and it was restricting him on the pitch. I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison to make with Cesc’s hamstrings right now. I ignore all the stuff when people say he wants to be elsewhere or his heart isn’t in it. They’re not mind-readers for a start and they clearly haven’t watched him well enough in the last six seasons. However, it’s fairly obvious he is struggling with both form (really for the first time in his Arsenal career) and fitness.

If you go out on the pitch and you don’t trust your body, you don’t trust your hamstrings not to go at any time, then it is going to inhibit the way you play. Consciously and subconsciously. Plus the fact you’re never fully fit, never fully sharp, and at the very top level it’s the extra few percent you have over other players that makes the difference. We have to do what it takes to get Cesc’s problem sorted now. If it means more than three weeks, then fine. What we can’t do is patch him up and muddle him through only to see him get another injury a few weeks down the line.

It does us no good, it does him no good, and in the best interests of everybody we’ve got to find a proper solution to this. Some short term pain for long term gain is required here. It would be much better for everyone for him to take time off, come back and be fully fit for the second half of the season than live with on-off injuries for the rest of the campaign.

The decision to ‘rest’ Arshavin and van Persie still strikes me as odd. Robin has been in full training for some time now, even if he wasn’t going to start having him as an option on the bench, in a game where we might need a touch of quality that he is capable of providing, would have been welcome. As for resting a man who can barely play 90 minutes I can’t help but think the manager is too soft on Arshavin. I’d love to see if his fitness tests are up to scratch because for all his talent and this fabled ability to provide that ‘special moment’ (10 games without a goal now) he just always looks unfit. Resting him seems counter-productive.

In terms of the group it leaves us in second place on 9 points, level with Braga and 3 behind Shaktar. We’re lucky our final game is at home against Partizan. A win will see us go through and there’s still a chance to top the group depending on other results. Anything less than that against a team yet to win a point in the competition this season and you can say we didn’t deserve it. That said, I don’t see anything other than an Arsenal win but we’ve made life much more difficult for ourselves than we should have.

November has been bad. Played 6, lost 4, won 2, scored 7, conceded 9. There is no curse, there is only a team that has fallen well below acceptable standards. And amazingly we have a chance to go top of the Premier League on Saturday. I agree with Goodplaya, that it’s not a sign of how tough this league is but how poor it is. I’m not sure I have anything to say about that game just yet but whatever happens this week on the training ground some home truths need to be addressed.

I’m mindful of how quickly things can change, witness the gloom of the Newcastle defeat and the subsequent change in mood just 7 days later after two wins on the trot. Yet faith is shaken, in the team and the manager, and the only way to restore that is on the pitch. Ill-timed, vaguely patronising, statements about our winning mentality of great spirit via the official website won’t do the trick, performances will. More on Villa in the days to come.

Anyway, so as not to end on a down note, there was some good news yesterday as Aaron Ramsey played his first game after being Shawcrossed back in February. 45 minutes against Wolves reserves went well, with no ill-effects apparently, and it’s good to see him on the comeback trail. Fingers crossed everything goes well for him. I don’t expect to see him near the first team for a good few weeks yet, so patience is required, but having another midfield option will be no bad thing when he does get there.

Right, that’s really about as much as I can manage this morning. More tomorrow.

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