The day after the night before. A lot has been said about Wenger’s team selection over the past 24 hours, including by myself, and I still feel as frustrated as I did at the final whistle, but its over now, and with a match to prepare for at Anfield in two days, we have to move on quickly.
But not before putting a little perspective on the absence of Song, and more particularly Arshavin. While the reasons given were Song’s lack of rest, and Arshavin’s height, I can’t help but suspect Wenger is trying not to allow one big defeat to derail our season as much as in the aftermath of our hammering at Old Trafford in the cup last year. Then, we effectively threw the match, and never recovered our confidence.
With an in form and rested Liverpool to face on Tuesday, we could be in for a tough night, but if Wenger was saving the likes of Arshavin for that game (to protect us against such a beating), I think he may have made an unnecessary mistake. Villa’s draw yesterday meant that we can lose the United, Chelsea and Liverpool games, and still confirm fourth if we beat Boro and Stoke at home, and Pompey away. And that even if Villa, without a win in eleven, get three points from every game. We’re practically there, so surely the cups should take ultimate priority?
I realise that criticising Wenger opens me up to a great deal of flak myself (I’ve noticed that the minute you suggest he may have got something wrong the comments become increasingly angry), but that shouldn’t be the case. We have an incredible manager, the best I’ve ever known in charge of our club, and I wouldn’t want anyone else at the helm. At the same time, everyone gets things wrong from time to time – earlier this year, for example, I stated my belief that with Arshavin cup tied in Europe and unfit from the Russian close season, he wouldn’t have an impact this season. I was wrong then, and equally, Wenger occasionally gets team selections wrong. Remember the 2005 cup final with Bergkamp up front on his own? What is important is that his mistakes are rarer than most.
But what happened, happened, and with better decisions from our makeshift defence, we might’ve pulled off a fantastic win anyway. It was a good effort against a powerful team, and there certainly were positives to take from the game. After a day to digest, I have a few musings:
- Gibbs was excellent. Against Villareal and now against Chelsea, he has proved himself capable against high class opposition, and in high pressure situations. All the talk around the youth team was of Wilshere, Ramsey, Lansbury and others, but Gibbs has established himself superbly, and long may it continue.
- When was the last time we scored a goal where both goalscorer and assister were English? I can recall Wilshere’s through ball to Simpson in the Carling Cup game against Wigan, but putting that competition aside, I’m guessing you have to go back a long way. At least it should shut the Daily Mail brigade up.
- Denilson was very lucky to stay on the field. When he pushed the Martin Atkinson and the referee instantly went for his pocket, I was convinced a red was about to emerge. Had Chelsea lost, they would have had a real bone to pick over that one.
- Ballack is one of the worst divers I’ve ever seen. With Drogba in the side, the diving focus is often elsewhere, but the German goes down ridiculously easily, and referees fall for it painfully often.
- That said, Atkinson displayed one of the best bits of officiating I’ve seen in a long time, booking Ballack a full two minutes after his late challenge on Cesc, when the ball finally went out. Credit where its due.
- The Wembley pitch is awful, and until they stop playing on it so often, we won’t see flowing football there.
But that’s that. We’ve done incredibly well to be in such a strong position in fourth while maintaining cup challenges, after the start we had. It is something of a relief that yesterday’s defeat doesn’t end our season as cup exits have in the past – we still have the small matter of a Champions League semi final to play. And if we get through that, we have revenge to exact on whoever faces us.
Time to move on – we have plenty of opportunity for redemption between now and the end of May.