Well that was all a little bit embarrassing wasn’t it? It all seemed so routine until Nasri pulled his hamstring (meaning two to three weeks out and missing the Barca first leg). Then we just fell apart.
It was all going so well. Sure, we weren’t looking perfect, we never do when we play Arshbend Denboue, but Arshavin was working his ass off, and Nik had given us the lead after a deflected shot bent in to the bottom corner. We had the game under control.
Cue one long ball from Almunia, Nasri on the chase and pop – there goes his hamstring. We brought on TR7 (who I thought had a decent game, was busy and effective after a long illness layoff) but the entire team looked like they had never seen a ball before.
Then Squillaci got a straight red for being the last man. At first glance I thought it was harsh, but on viewing the replays at half time the ball wasn’t as far away from the Huddersfield player as I’d initially thought. Off he trod, back dropped Denilson to see us through to half-time.
We just about managed that.
At halftime we brought Song on for Chamakh and continued to play awfully. Huddersfield upped their game, started pressing and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before they got the break through. Predictably, it was from a set piece.
It was terrible defending. People were pointing at the defenders for not picking up the runner, but look at Almunia’s starting position. He then sees the ball coming in, and instead of continuing on towards the ball seeing as he is as far out of his goal as you’re likely to find him, he backtracks on to his line. The result? He is unable to react.
Yes, yes, I know that prior to that Almunia had managed to pull off a great save, well done, he did his job. He also consistently dived AFTER the ball was passed him, refused to come off his line to help the defence (have a look at the Squill red card, was he anywhere to be seen?) managed to completely miss the ball and injure Arshavin and come for a ball he had to just catch, let it roll across him and end up giving a corner away. That is not good goalkeeping by anyone’s standards and the nervousness that he brings to this team spread throughout the defence.
It was simply chaos.
By this point, we had one substitute left, so it was down to Cesc to save us once again and his introduction had a marked effect on the entire team. Suddenly, we remembered who we were, how to pass the ball, and how to move forward.
As with Leeds, it was a penalty which saved our asses once again, and it has to be said it was a very soft one. Having said that, once Clattenburg points to the spot, he simply has no choice but to give the Huddersfield player a red card – he was last man, Nik was central to goal and about 10 yards out. The referee decided to book him. An unreal decision.
We made it through – just – and Huddersfield can feel very unlucky. They were beaten by a deflected goal and a soft penalty. They played very well and took advantage of us playing like we can when the so-called lesser lights roll in to town.
So how did the players do?
Almunia – What can I say that I haven’t said already? He is simply not even close to being good enough for Arsenal. You can point to him being rusty, but he looked like he has always done – asleep. He can’t make a decision to save his life, he has no communication skills, and one good save is not enough to make up for the fundamental problems in his game. He is Arsenal’s number three, and I’m sure I could make a case that he’s not even good enough to be that, especially if Mannone was still at the club. Stop making excuses for him – it was the defence, it’s the transfer speculation, it’s because he hasn’t played. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It’s because he’s rubbish. This is not a hard concept to grasp.
Eboue - Why is Eboue never found at right-back? Why does he go down as if he’s been hit by a two-ton truck when there’s nothing wrong with him? Why does he just swing wildly at balls? Why is he reverting to the form which saw him booed off the pitch against Wigan? I don’t know, but he needs to sort it out.
Squillaci – played like a player just returning from injury. He’s our fourth choice centre-back, and we saw why today. Has had far better games in an Arsenal shirt, and will have more. This was a game to forget. One game ban, maybe not a bad thing.
Kos – did what he could, especially as he was out only defender who seemed to have a clue today. Is a far better player when alongside Johann.
Gibbs – had a game to forget. Like Eboue, was less likely to be found in the full-back position than inside cuddling up to the centre-backs. Not his usual self by any stretch of the imagination.
Denilson – Awful. Gave the ball away far too much, fell over far too easily, and contributed nothing going forward. Collapsed in a heap when we were in their box with what looked like a hamstring injury only to recover miraculously when told we had no more subs left. Very strange.
Diaby – a few stray passes, but for the whole looked less like he was returning from injury than some of the others who weren’t. Made a few great tackles, and while he was rusty, more worked than didn’t.
Nasri – I didn’t overly notice Sami until he went off and we fell apart. That he will now be out two to three weeks and miss the Barca first leg is a massive blow, but we can cover his position and he will be back for the second leg which will be far more important.
Arshavin – Worked his ass of in this match and is getting closer with his shooting. If he keeps this up he will be back on top in no time and I have enormous respect for his trying so hard when so much is going wrong for him,
Chamakh – couldn’t really get in to the match and was sacrificed for Song when Squillaci was taken off.
Bendtner – Created one, should have had a few more, had an air-shot, missed a header or two, but generally worked very hard, and you know me, that’s all I ever ask.
Song – Playing him at centreback breaks my heart, but what other choice did we have when we had no other defenders on the bench? Better than Squillaci at centre-back? He was today, but should only be used there ‘in case of emergencies’ – which could be more frequent than we think given how often our centrebacks are getting sent off this season.
Rosicky – came on for Nasri in the first half and played well. He worked hard and played some lovely balls. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to play as much due to only returning from illness, but he did well.
Cesc – came on for Diaby after 69 minutes and changed the game. His presence lifts the entire team and from the moment he was introduced we looked more settled and more threatening. Scored the penalty with a stop-start run up and got Man of the Match from ESPN despite only being on the pitch 20 minutes. Says it all really.
So, we are through. Just. Maybe our name is on the cup this year, after all, you really couldn’t argue if we’d failed to win either of the last two matches (Leeds first match, not replay). We were handed a second chance after the first match against Leeds and we looked like we didn’t really know what to do with it.
Must do better Arsenal.
Must do better.
[UPDATE - view the goals, incidents and intevriews from today's match here]
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