Arsenal battled extremely hard overnight to come from a goal down and snatch a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Carling-Cup semi final against Tottenham. The away side deservedly took the lead through a Jermaine Jenas tap-in on 37 minutes and dominated the match for long periods before Arsenal struck back with ten minutes to go when Theo Walcott fortuitously scored with his hand.
Although Arsene Wenger will have been delighted with his side’s ability to avoid defeat despite a poor display he will be less happy with fresh injuries to newly-returned Robin van Persie as well as the centre-back pairing of Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos. The former two were taken off at half-time with respective muscle and groin while the latter sustained minor knee-ligament damage despite completing 90 minutes.
As expected, it was a fairly youthful side which started the match with only Gilbero Silva providing any real experience. Lukasz Fabianski started in goals behind Djourou, Senderos, Justin Hoyte and Armand Traore to complete an extremely youthful defensive line. The two Brazilians Gilberto and Denilson were paired in the centre of the pitch flanked by Abou Diaby on the left and Theo Walcott on the right while Nicklas Bendtner started alongside van Persie up front.
Despite controlling the opening half-hour Arsenal only created one clear-cut chance when Bendtner’s flying header was well-saved by Tottenham’s new number one Radek Cerny. On the other hand the away side carved out numerous opportunities for Steed Malbranque and Dimitar Berbatov among others before Robbie Keane played Jenas in for the game’s opening goal. In truth it was a lax piece of defending by both Djourou and Senderos, the former failing to clear with his header and latter caught horribly flat-footed. Wenger will not have been pleased and neither should he. I know I wasn’t.
At half-time Djourou (who in my eyes was very disappointing despite his William Gallas-esque haircut) and van Persie (the best player on the pitch for Arsenal in the first half) were substituted for Bacary Sagna and the red-hot Eduardo da Silva. The change forced a little tweak at the back with Hoyte moving into the middle to partner Senderos and Sagna slotting in to his usual position on the right.
Tottenham made more chances at the start of the half and should have scored at least one more goal while their tails were up. But as is so often the case against Arsenal they didn’t and were made to pay for it when Eduardo slipped Walcott in and his attempted shot went into the back of the net with a little bit of assistance from both Young-Pyo Lee and his hand. When I first saw the replay after celebrating the goal I really had to laugh – how that ball went in without Walcott getting caught I will never quite know.
Even after the goal Tottenham looked the most likely team to win it and almost did so when substitute Jermain Defoe was played in by Aaron Lennon but he miscued horribly. As Arseblogger pointed out, it was the least he deserved for sporting one of the worst haircuts in football history and the game finished at 1-1.
A 1-1 draw was certainly not the worst result in the world considering how poorly Arsenal played and how well Tottenham performed. The draw keeps the young side in with a great chance to make the final, although if they play like that again then they quite simply won’t be going to Cardiff.
As is typical in a side that underperforms there were a number of individuals who did not play well but for me the one that stuck out like a sore thumb was Denilson. He was slow on the ball, his passing was sloppy and he added none of the verve or creativity to the midfield that is so desperately required in the absence of Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas.
Way back in pre-season I spoke about my worries about Denilson and pointed out that he looked a little off the pace in comparison to the other players in the squad. Six months later and a number of distinctively average performances later and I feel that his situation has not improved one bit. There’s no doubt that the Brazilian has time on his side and it would be foolish to write him off as a player but I have serious doubts about his ability to assert himself on a football game.
The other major worry to come out of the game was of course the injuries to van Persie, Senderos and Djourou. With Kolo Toure away on international duty for up to six weeks it was important to have one of the two centre-backs available to play alongside William Gallas at the back. To lose one puts some strain on Wenger’s resources but to lose both is very worrying indeed. I don’t think either Gilberto or Sagna is the answer, as has been suggested, so maybe it’s time for Justin Hoyte’s perseverence to be rewarded. He did well in the second half and in all honesty looks more comfortable in the centre of defence than he has ever looked at right-back.
Despite having three strikers in top form to cover his absence, van Persie’s injury is also a big worry. In the last two seasons he has been so injury-prone and it really seemed like his extended recuperation would prevent any further mishaps this campaign. Alas, this has not happened and the Dutchman has another muscle problem which will most likely rule him for at least a couple more weeks. It seems he just can’t take a trick at the moment.
As for the positives from the Tottenham game, well, there weren’t really any apart from the result. Indeed, I felt that no player could really hold his head up high after the match apart from the goalkeeper (van Persie could’ve, but I suspect he was probably lying down). Aside from a worrying flap at a corner midway through the second half Fabianski was dominant in the air and kept Arsenal in the tie with a series of fine saves. Although Jens Lehmann has not yet committed terms with Borussia Dortmund, if the German does go then at least Arsenal supporters can rest a little easier knowing there is a top-notch second-choice goalkeeper waiting in wings.
Henry loves Arsenal
Other news floating around at the moment is that Fran Merida has joined Real Sociedad on loan and that Thierry Henry has declared his desire to return to Arsenal in some form or another later down the track. The Frenchman spoke about how the club is in his blood and he just can’t get it out.
“You often return to the place that you belong and, therefore, I hope one day to be able to work with the club. I have the club in my blood – I always follow Arsenal when they play and I’m happy when they win.”
Aw, thanks Thierry. I wonder if he’d still feel the same if Arsenal beat Barcelona in the Champions League. On a more serious note, though, I don’t think anyone could argue that having Henry back at Arsenal to assist with coaching at some stage would be of great benefit to the club. As such I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to London after he retires.
Just finally I wanted to talk a little bit about the new layout of the blog. I felt it was time for a bit of a change and I think this one is a little bit more user-friendly than the last one. Additionally, there’s actually some red colouring involved so it looks a bit more Arsenally.
It’s probably worth me pointing out that you can leave comments by clicking on the speech bubble at the top of the article and if you want to subscribe to the blog via email you can do so by filling out the form at the very top-right of the screen. Or by clicking here. Do it, you know you want to! Anyway, let me know what you think of the new look.
What do you think?
Have your say on Arsenal-Tottenham or the new blog look by leaving a comment.