Thursday, April 25, 2024

Brighton 2-3 Arsenal: difficult, but job done

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So, we’re through to the 5th round of the cup after a difficult game against Brighton yesterday. There were changes to the team that played on Wednesday against West Ham, with Diaby, Santos, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny all coming in.

The game took a little while to get going but once it did we found ourselves up against a good passing team, who looked comfortable on the ball (knocking it around at the back is not that normal when a Championship team plays Premier League opposition), and the home side created the first good chance of the game. Ashley Barnes was clean through, with just Szczesny to beat, but the keeper made a great save, and just a few seconds later a rapid Arsenal break saw us take the lead.

The ball came to Olivier Giroud in the D, and he curled a quite beautiful shot into the top corner to make it 1-0. But if Szczesny was the hero for that goal, questions have to be asked of him for Brighton’s equaliser. Arsenal’s defending was far too static and when Barnes arrived to head home from a corner I felt the keeper could have been stronger, particularly in his 6 yard area, but nobody covered themselves in glory there.

Lukas Podolski hit the bar with a free kick before Giroud put Arsenal ahead again in the second half, showing strength and a nice touch to take down Diaby’s dink over the top of the defence before swiping home a fine finish. But once again our defensive weakness allowed Brighton back into it. When the ball was played down their right, both Podolski Diaby and Santos stood off the man on the ball. Bizarrely, Diaby seemed to be signalling to Santos to cover the run of a player who wasn’t there, and when the cross came in Mertesacker was the wrong side of Ulloa who stooped to head home from close range.

When Steve Bould took over as assistant manager in the summer, and the first three games of the season brought three clean sheets, there was genuine optimism that more focus was being put on our defending. Yet as the season has gone on, the same problems, the same weaknesses, continue to manifest themselves and cost us goals.

Whether that’s down to not enough being done on the training ground, the quality of our defenders or the fact that the team as a whole don’t work hard enough to prevent chances, is anyone’s guess. I’d suggest a combination of all of those things, really, but it’s a worry that we don’t seem to be getting any better.

With a short squad the last thing we needed was a replay but it was looming until Theo Walcott grabbed Arsenal’s winner. There was a touch of good fortune about it, Ankergren’s punch was weak, as was Theo’s side-footed effort but it took a deflection off a defender, looped over the guy on the line and in to put us ahead for the final time. Sometimes you need a bit of luck, we got it and as shaky as we were I never really feared them getting another equaliser.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

In the end, we’ve got that extra bit of quality that got us through. It’s a cup game – you need to go through and that’s what we did. We did our job but we needed to fight until the end.

And on rotating his squad:

With the number of games we play, you cannot only play the same 11 in every single game. We play against Liverpool on Wednesday, Stoke on Saturday and then the players go away for international games. You have to rotate knowing that if it doesn’t work, you will be accused of having made the wrong decision.

It would be easy to focus on the negatives this morning. There were some distinctly dodgy performances, but ultimately we’re through to the next round after a typically difficult cup tie. It’s not as if we haven’t had them before, with better players than we’ve got at the moment too, so I’m not going to get bogged down in all that.

Instead, I’d rather focus on the performance of Olivier Giroud who got his second brace of the week, both of them goals that would have people creaming if it were a certain badger-headed wankblaster who scored them. The finish for the first was just perfect, and the movement, touch and finish for the second of the highest quality too.

I know it can be qualified by saying ‘It’s just Brighton’, and we do need to see more of it from him against the better opponents, but it would be churlish in the extreme to dismiss the performance simply because of the opposition. He could easily have scored more, there was a brilliant scissors kick that I’m sure was going in before it hit a defender who knew nothing about it, a free kick which wasn’t too far over the bar, and had Theo Walcott been a little more giving late on a simple ball inside to Giroud would have given him an easy chance for his third.

There’s a chance for him to show he can do it against higher quality opposition on Wednesday night when we face the Mugsmashers, but it’s been an encouraging week for the Frenchman and hopefully he can continue his progress and score more goals. A word too for Aaron Ramsey, who had another fine game in the deep lying midfield position. He looks infinitely more comfortable there than when deployed as a wide attacker (as you’d expect) and the guy gets so much grief when he doesn’t play well it’s only right to give him props when he does. Like Giroud it’s encouraging, rather than definitive, but it’s good to see.

Finally, a word on Tomas Rosicky who looked a bit rusty on the ball at times having been out for so long, but he’s such a positive player. When others look for a safe pass, he’ll drive forward, pushing the team on from midfield, and his defensive discipline, closing down and harrying all over the pitch makes a big difference. Fingers crossed he can stay fit.

Right, that’s your lot, have a good Sunday, back tomorrow as we start to prepare for a tough midweek game.

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