Well that wasn’t very good, was it?
Before I start let me credit Ipswich for their performance. After a 7-0 thrashing at the weekend they could easily have gone to pieces again last night but when it became obvious, fairly early on, they were facing an Arsenal side at less than half-throttle they not only continued to defend well but they had more of a go at us than Man City did. At the end of 90 minutes it’s hard to say they didn’t deserve their win.
It was clear from the team selection that Arsene had sent out a team with some fresh legs and enough first team quality to make sure we won this game. A starting XI with Cesc back in midfield, Theo Walcott up front, Djourou and Koscielny at the back (not that he had much choice there), mixed with fringe players and guys like Arshavin and Bendtner was more strong enough to beat a team lying 19th in the Championship.
Yet after a couple of bright early minutes you could see things weren’t right. The same malaise as against Leeds, players caught on their heels, passes just out of reach because of that, and little or no craft or attacking threat in the final third. At half-time, despite dominating possession, it was Ipswich who had had more shots on goal, better chances to score (without any of them being clear cut), and who looked the most threatening coming forward. Off the top of my head we had one shot on target in the first half, an effort from Walcott which was easily saved.
The warning signs were there for Arsenal and if we expected better in the second half we really didn’t get it. When, after just a minute or so, we’re playing long, high diagonal balls across field to that renowned target man Theo Walcott (which go straight out for a throw) you can’t help but be worried. Arsenal dominated possession, as you would expect, and while we still struggled to create anything from an attacking point of view we went to pieces defensively.
Denilson’s sloppy pass led to an Ipswich free kick, Eboue bottled a 50-50 in the Ipswich half which saw them come forward and threaten, Eboue’s control let him down on the halfway line when they cleared from a corner and nearly went clean through on goal. We were shambolic at the back. At the other end we were the worst of ourselves, too many touches, not enough conviction. That commentator cliché about Arsenal trying to walk it into the net annoys me most of the time but it would have been true if they’d rattled it off last night.
Ipswich should have gone ahead a little after the hour. A clearance from the back went over the head of Koscielny and left Priskin clean through. It was there to be finished but he delayed and allowed Djourou to nip in at the last second and put it out from a corner. Being caught out so easily by a hopeful punt up-field is really unacceptable. If it happened in a Sunday league game the defenders would get a bollocking. At this level? Not good enough.
Yet Arsenal being Arsenal should have been 1-0 up just before their goal. A Gibbs cross from the left dropped just over Chamakh’s head, hit Cesc on the thigh and went over from about 5 or 6 yards out. And when you see Cesc miss from there you know it’s not going to be your night. Almost straight away they scored. Arsenal played a high line, and I’m pretty sure Priskin was offside when the ball was played through to him, but there was no flag, he took it on and finished calmly into the bottom corner to make it 1-0. Even now it’s hard to argue they didn’t deserve it.
With Chamakh and Song on for Bendtner and Wilshere, Arsene’s last throw of the dice was Carlos Vela for Andrei Arshavin. Are there really 10 clubs after him? I’d only believe it if you told me they were nightclubs. Cesc fashioned a chance for Theo which the keeper did well to save but for the biggest danger wasn’t that we wouldn’t score, it was that we would concede again.
As we pressed to try and find a goal another long ball from the back, and I think it was a kick out from the keeper’s hands, saw one of their men all on his own down our right hand side. He seemed confused by how much time and space he had and Wojscez©®, after making a save, was clearly asking where the fuck his defence was. A very good question indeed. Answers on a postcard etc etc.
So, final whistle 1-0 Ipswich. A team battered by Chelsea at the weekend manage to turn things around to beat Arsenal. And while I give them plenty of credit for their performance they were aided and abetted by a lacklustre, disinterested and complacent Arsenal. Afterwards Arsene said:
I think we had an off night. You could see from the start, every single pass was a problem. We rely a lot on our sharp, crisp passing and that was always a problem tonight. I would say in every department we were below our usual level. It would be unfair to only put the blame on the defenders tonight because I believe in every single department we were not at our usual level.
Ok, no arguments with that. Passing was a problem, check. Below usual level, check (I suppose, although you wonder what exactly our usual level is). Not only blame defenders, check. Every department, check. Then he went on to say this:
I felt we got more and more problems as the game went on. We looked in control in the first half but in the second half we looked much more vulnerable defensively, I put that down to fatigue.
Fatigue? Really? Eboue – hardly played recently. Gibbs – just back after an injury lay-off, should be fresh. Arshavin – been on the bench. Bendtner – hardly played this season. Walcott – fit and able. Denilson – hardly played. If you really wanted to make a case for Djourou, Koscielny and perhaps Cesc and Wilshere you could try but it wouldn’t sway too many people. They’re highly trained professional athletes, not kindergarten kids who need afternoon naps.
And Arsenal played Leeds at 12.45 on Saturday afternoon. Ipswich came off the park at 5pm on Sunday having been battered by Chelsea. Where was their fatigue? That’s pathetic excuse making from Arsene. There’s no reason this team should have been tired. If there’s any reason for the display it comes from him and the way he prepares his team. Yes, he picked a side that had added quality and experience which showed he wanted to win it, but this was a cup semi-final and his team looked about as motivated as a man who is faced with the job of washing the crusty poo off an ancient basset’s arse.
Compare and contrast Chelsea performance v Ipswich. For the former we were up for it, determined, energetic and driven to beat a team we knew we had to be at our best to get a result against. Last night we were sloppy, careless and lazy against a team we thought we just had to turn up to beat. The same old problem with this Arsenal team. Arsene said:
I believe we will turn it around but we got a good warning tonight that we have to produce a different performance.
Why did we need a warning? How many times have we been here in the past? How many times do we need to learn that if you give less than 100% you open yourselves up to punishment and how many times does it need to be made crystal fucking clear that you have to produce the same effort in games against so-called smaller opposition as in games against the big boys? The list of these performances is almost endless now and while it’s very easy to point fingers at players and their lack of performance on an individual basis this is a team malaise.
Just over 14 days ago we beat Chelsea. That day was a lesson to this team that if you work hard, press the opposition, concentrate and take your chances you will be rewarded. Yet here we are with that lesson well and truly forgotten, once again we’ve gone into a game against a smaller team thinking we just have to show up to win. And that we’re capable of going from one level to another in such a short space of time is entirely down the manager.
That we have players who cannot maintain a level of performance for a little over two weeks, let alone over the course of the season, is one of the reasons why we continue to hear how long it is since we’ve won a trophy. And these are Arsene’s players, this is his team, and ultimately the buck stops with him. Complain all you like about individual performances – and some of them certainly merit a good moan – but at the end of the day he picks them, pays them, trains them, motivates them. I can’t remember where I read it but in the immediate aftermath of last night’s game someone said this team has a fear of success. It’s hard to argue.
That was a cup semi-final, a chance to get closer to a piece of silverware after so long, and it was a monster’s abortion of a performance. So disappointing.
However, it is only ‘half-time’ in the tie and we’ve got 90 minutes at home to put things right. We’ve got one foot in the grave instead of one foot in the final but there’s still time to make it better. This team needs to find some form though, the inconsistency of performance is our Vermaelen’s heel and until we sort that out we’re going to make hard work of things.
We travel to West Ham, potential Carling Cup final opponents, on Saturday. More of the same and we’ll make Avram Grant look like he knows what he’s doing. And I don’t think it gets any more damning than that. Sort it out, Arsene.
Finally, thanks for all the emails and comments to the live blog. Way too many to publish or comment on but all read and much appreciated.