I’ll admit that 0-0 at home against a Fenerbahce team we beat 5-2 away doesn’t look too good on paper. And while the 6-4 scoreline that many people were predicting might eventuate never did, this was an acceptable result and a step in the right direction following the weekend loss to Stoke City.
Given the embarassing nature of our defending in the last few games it was satisfying to see the boys keep a clean sheet, even though they could not find a goal at the other end. Robin van Persie came closest on the half-hour when his fierce shot from close range was spectacularly tipped onto the bar by goalkeeper Volkan Demirel, but this was ultimately a day when the Arsenal attack fell a little bit flat.
Arsene Wenger sprung a couple of very welcome surprises in his starting team selection. Johan Djourou returned to the side at centre-back, partnering Mikael Silvestre and pushing captain Kolo Toure onto the right. Meanwhile Aaron Ramsey was a shock starter on the right side of midfield to complete a balanced midfield consisting of Cesc Fabregas, Denilson and Samir Nasri. Even more of a shock was the inclusion of Lukasz Fabianski in goals. He replaced Manuel Almunia who ‘fell sick’ on game day. Up front was a little more predictable with van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner paired in the absence of Emmanuel Adebayor.
I liked the look of the team before kick-off and they started the contest extremely brightly, van Persie having three clear chances before Volkan’s amazing save. One in particular was a real sitter as the Dutchman volleyed hard into the ground from close range instead of placing it into the corner. It’s about time Eduardo had a word to van Persie and let him know that smacking the leather off the ball is not always the best way to score. You just get the feeling that a touch of Eduardo’s subtlety would see the Dutchman find the back of the net more consistently.
It’s seems odd to say but after van Persie’s crossbar hit on the half-hour there really wasn’t much more to cheer for Arsenal fans. Djourou and Silvestre put in a solid shift at the back, as did Toure at right-back, but the midfield and strikers never really clicked, something Fabregas was quick to point out after the final whistle:
“We’ve lacking a little bit of mobility in the final third. I think we’re a bit too nervous. I’ll a little bit frustrating to have so many chances and not score.”
Wenger brought Abou Diaby and Carlos Vela on for Ramsey and Bendtner on the hour mark in an attempt to inject some urgency into Arsenal’s performance. And while the pair were full of run and a little bit of spark it was never going to be enough as our attacks continued to fizzle out.
There was a hell of a lot of blind-alley running going on this match which I feel came down to nervousness. The players without the ball did not have the confidence to pour forward as they usually do and as a result the player with the ball was punished as he waited and waited and waited… for something to happen around him. It was a problem that was clearly evident against Stoke and something which usually tends to happen when Adebayor is not on the pitch, so the manager has quite a job to arrest the issue before the visit of Manchester United on Saturday. Good luck to him is all I can say.
I thought the defence did well to keep a welcome clean sheet even if Fenerbahce never really gave it their all. Although it was a comfortable game for Djourou and Silvestre I think the manager could do worse than to play the pair against United this weekend. It will always be a mystery to me as to why the manager dropped Djourou at the start of the season when he was playing so well alongside William Gallas and I feel that decision has been one of the major contributing factors to our leaky defence. The man has yet to put a foot wrong this season and given the fact that most of the other defenders have been below par I really think he deserves a go in the team. Just my opinion.
The big worry going into the United game was the rather disinterested performance of Nicklas Bendtner. With van Persie suspended and Adebayor injured the big Dane has got to know the huge role he has to play this weekend. Based on that assertion, this was a very disappointing performance. It wasn’t that he was particularly bad, just that he seemed really reluctant to get involved. Maybe he was trying to conserve energy or avoid injury but his performance was nowhere near his best. He must do better against United.
Just as aside, I get the feeling that the team the manager put out today has given us a huge indication of the one he wants to play this weekend. Bacary Sagna’s absence means he’ll probably start, while Silvestre and (if he recovers) Gallas should pair up at the back. The lack of available strikers leads me to think that Wenger is going to go for a five-man midfield and Diaby’s absence from the starting side suggests to me that he is set to play in behind the striker like he did in Turkey. Nasri and Theo Walcott will surely be on the wings with Fabregas pulling the strings in midfield and Denilson protecting the back four. I have to say that I like it and will fancy us to get a result if this indeed how we start. Just don’t tell Sir Alex…
So, an acceptable result and performance today by Arsenal if not the win we were all hoping for. Now onto the big one.
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