May 062009

Arsenal 1 (Van Persie pen 75) Man Utd 3 (Park 8, Ronaldo 11, 61)
(Champions League Semi Final, agg 1-4)

The temptation today is for many to point the finger at a fourth consecutive season without a trophy, and demand immediate wholesale changes. It is easy to label four or five players as substandard, and insist on a Championship Manager-like overhaul. It started minutes after the game last night – Jens Lehmann, providing stiff punditry on ITV, was asked whether Wenger’s methods now had to completely change.

It is clear to all and sundry that there are flaws in this Arsenal side – not even the most optimistic fan would claim otherwise. In the big games recently, we’ve been outthought, outfought and outclassed, and ultimately both Chelsea and United deserved to go through. And unlike the Chelsea game, where we were missing 80% of our backline, we can’t even blame injuries – last night we were without only Gallas and Clichy from our first choice XI.

So my defence of this group of players is not borne out of myopia of the frailties they have. But it would be an unravelling of great progress to ditch the younger players in favour of established stars, and an impractical process given the price of the players we would be seeking. No, instead Wenger needs not to change his approach from recent times, where he has added the likes of Eduardo, Sagna and Arshavin to his emerging crop of youngsters – players who can make an immediate impact. More than anything, he needs a summer without an exodus.

In truth, most of this talk can wait until the summer, but it is instinctive to look forward when the last flame of success is extinguished from your season. And that is what happened so early last night.

The irony is that the early stages were promising. The team selection was as we all hoped, the atmosphere was electric, and the team started with pace and positivity. But when Gibbs, so impressive in the first leg and generally over the last month, slipped at a crucial moment, Park nipped in to convert Ronaldo’s cross.

Deflation. The side were rocked, you could see that immediately. Poor Gibbs looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up, but we could still progress with a 3-1 win. I predicted that exact score yesterday, but realistically that relied on us scoring first, and quite possibly second.

If Park’s goal made it unlikely, what followed killed the tie. The referee (who gave soft free kicks all night) bought a Ronaldo dive, but the free kick was still forty yards out, and good as Ronaldo’s strike was, Almunia should’ve saved it. So cruel that our two best performers from the first leg had contrived to gift United a two goal lead.

Some will criticise our lack of fight after that, saying we should’ve gone for it, but ask yourself this – did you believe the tie was over? Of course you did, and the players aren’t stupid – they knew the game was up too. We huffed and puffed, but it was Almunia who was making the saves, two great stops from Rooney and Ronaldo saving us from further embarrassment.

Ronaldo did get his second from an excellent counter attack in the second half, after I imagine he got a rollicking from Ferguson at half time. It was noticeable that from the second goal to the break, he was treating the match like his own personal show boating session, a mocking that stopped after the interval, and rightly so.

We did get one consolation, but even that was fortunate – Fletcher clearly got the ball before bringing Cesc down for a penalty that Van Persie converted, and the red card (which cannot be appealed) was particularly harsh, in truth. In the context of this match, it mattered little – we didn’t look to have the numerical advantage at any point.

At the end of the day, we were thoroughly outplayed over two legs – Almunia made all the saves, Van der Sar was a passenger except for routine stops from Van Persie last night and Cesc at Old Trafford. And ultimately, we have to accept that at this moment in time, we are not as good as United – these matches showed it, as does the league table.

But that does not mean we tear the teamsheet up and start again. We need more power, more numbers, and perhaps more leadership, but we do not need a whole new team.

  8 Responses to “Outclassed, but don’t write this team off entirely”

  1. really good article, entirely agree
    cant believe how much people have blown the performance out of proportion, of course we werent going to play well after the 1st goal(s) went in, it was an impossible task really, and man utd wer fortunate to go ahead really
    ppl just want us to win win win, thers no understanding
    u win some, u lose some, and we already beat that man utd team this year, so we’re not That poor really

  2. I feel we don’t need a lot. Just a bit of tweaking & fine tuning. We, recently over the last few years, have been the bridesmaid & never the bride.
    Persisting with the youngsters when it comes to the death shows where the class is. Always with the opposition who can go the extra yard.
    But yet, Wenger is not to far away. We have no cutting edge up front. Forget Ade, of course he wants to stay, he’s been found out. A one season wonder & nobody wants him. Who would want him ahead Drogba, Torres, Rooney, Ronaldo, even Tevez. I would even have Anelka than have Ade pull on a shirt again.
    At the back, I would make one change. I would Toure out the backline & replacing him with Hangaland. Gallas plays better with a tall centre half beside him like he did at Chelsea. If I couldn’t get Flamini back then I’d move Toure into midfeild as defensive midfield, because a centre half he isn’t, never has been, & never will be.
    The midfield would consist of Fab & Toure in the middle, Rosicky & Sammy on the flanks.
    Up front I’d have Arshavin with Huntelaar. If we couldn’t get Huntelaar I’d put Eduardo in their. The rest of the players would have to wait on the bench, with the exception of Vela & Gibbs, but these two would have to prove that they are progressing.
    But even with the eleven I would choose, I’d tell them they were playing for their place in every game.
    I’d also get GG back to coach the defence.
    Just one more point, how many times do we lose possession with Ade continually getting caught offside & so therefore inviting pressure back on us. I’d be interested in how many times we’ve conceded because of him getting caught offside. Rant over.

  3. Very good article! However I would like to sell one player. That is Adebayor. I’m not going to even start moaning on about him because I’m sure most Arsenal fans understand how poor he is. A lot of people, like you said, want a clearance and for things to really change a lot. Well, if you start selling players you are only weakening your squad and is that what we want? No, because whenever Arsenal fans are asked why we don’t compete for trophies we say we don’t have the squad and the money that United and Chelsea have. So clearing the squad defeats the point of what this club needs.
    What we do need is some clever acquisitions in the summer. Preferably an established centre back and central midfielder. Players who have commitment, passion and real desire. Players who have a good engine and work rate. Someone like Flamini.
    Good luck Arsenal! I know we can build a super club which will once again challenge like the invicibles did.

  4. Mostly agree in that the big centre half is essential. Saw Fulham beat Stoke two weeks ago and Haangaland was awsome. Ideally we should get him and keep Kolo and Gallas to mix and match according to games.Adey is a problem but so is RVP whose style of play doesn’t really fit with the type of team Wenger is building.I’d sell the Dutchman and go with Ady\Bendtner up front with Asharvin or Nasri just behind.Bear in mind no one is going to buy Ady on 80 grand a week and current form. Separately and looking ahead Wenger needs to find a powerful runner up front in case Ady continues to flop, but I would give him and Bendtner 6 more moths

  5. can´t really see a lot of changes over the summer, provides we dont succumb to the plague of sales…
    up front, with eduardo coming back and bendtner with another season under his belt, you would think that we have enough fire power. Ade should probably go, but I dont see that happening for another year, when bendtner is ready to take on the reigns…
    midfield is looking pretty strong as well, really…rosicky coming back is a massive boost to the talent and depth, and I hope that he can stay fit…otherwise, I cant see anyone being bought unless there is a culling…
    and defence, yes, a massive power centre half would be wonderful, but that would mean replacing toure or gallas and I am not convinced wenger will do that…on top of that, djourou is coming along quite well, and there is always the possibility of senderos coming back…
    keeping the faith and hoping for a great next season

  6. Get off the PROZAC, you ponce!

  7. i do not agree at all…Wenger made a mistake in benching denilson and eboue for sami nastri and gibbs. He sent a boy to do a mans job. Wenger needs to be given an ultimatum by the club. Next season without a trophy and out he goes. Furthermore he needs to buy more players. Moreover Wenger does not adapt well to situations like the loss where he should have understood that there was no real threat to united in attack. How i look back at the days when viera, ray parlor and petit would shoot from outside the penalty box to deadly effect. In kenya a fan hanged himself…because of the loss..we are dumbstruck

  8. hahahaha this is jus tpical us isnt it us Artsenal fans…we so good at picking ourselves up and dusting off the shame and regret of our seasons that we atually turning out into a better version of the hopeless Tottenham.

    Quite frankly our managewer leaves things to chance,they maybe little things like deciding to blood players in make or break seasons so tha they gain experience only for them to establish themsleves and leave…

    Arsene,Arsenal and its fans are made for each other quite frankly we are all guilty on bein intent on making a statement than winning something…

    Condolences to the Kenyan guys family,deep down i really hope it wasnt all becoz of Arsenal

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