For me this match was not merely about reaching the quarter final of the FA Cup. Today there was something far bigger and more important at stake, for this was a crucial test of Wenger’s ability to elicit a response from his under-performing stars. Could he motivate them to bounce back after that unacceptable performance in Milan? Or were we about to see that the players have lost faith in him and the direction he is taking the club?
Well, I think the answer is pretty clear. After another abject performance lacking desire, tempo and spirit, Wenger seems unable to coax them into doing even the basics right. He had criticised them openly in the media, given them the hairdryer treatment at training on Thursday and still we were outfought and outwitted by an average, well organised team.
I really wasn’t too bothered about going through, I just wanted to see some desire, drive and spirit from the boys. Some evidence that Wednesday’s match had hurt them as much as it hurt us fans. It was a real chance to make some sort of amends, but after a promising opening five minutes we reverted to type.
There was no tempo to our forward play, it was all sideways passes and no penetration. Apart from Arteta’s early free kick we had one decent chance in the entire match when van Persie played in Gervinho and his snapshot was tipped over by Mignolet. To be honest we didn’t create much last Saturday either, but Henry’s predatory instincts had papered over those cracks.
As for the defending, I’ll admit our cause wasn’t helped when Coquelin limped off so early on but we had a decent back four in Milan and they didn’t do any better, so I don’t think personnel problems is the issue here. The issue is a lack of awareness and common sense that seems to blight most of our defenders. Wenger apologists will instead point to the fact we were down to the bare bones in defence and had to play the likes of Squillaci and Djourou with Vermaelen out of position.
Well, consider this — at the other end of the pitch a back four of Bardsley, Turner, Richardson and O’Shea gave a perfect example of textbook defending, working hard as a unit to keep us out. Would you consider those journeyman pros good enough to play for Arsenal? I wouldn’t. So if average Premiership players like that can perform competently as a result of decent organisation and coaching, why can’t the likes of Djourou and Squillaci who are deemed good enough to play for a big club like ours?
The first goal highlighted our ineptitude perfectly as Djourou dwelt on the ball and brought down Gardner for a silly free kick after the Sunderland midfielder dispossessed him. The result was a scrappy goal, but it could, and should, have been avoided.
Wenger had no effect from the touchline as usual
Sunderland owed their lead as much to the determination and desire of Gardner to close Djourou down as they did to Richardson’s sweet shot. They did it well all game, forming two banks of four to press us in all areas of the pitch, working their nuts off to deny us time and space in which to play our football.
It’s something we don’t feel the need to do for some reason. Such hard work seems to be beneath our arrogant players. If we had defended as collectively well as Sunderland in the San Siro we might’ve got a decent result, but there was no willingness to track back or do the ‘dirty work’ for the team on Wednesday and there wasn’t much this evening either.
Disappointingly, we didn’t even threaten to equalise after falling behind. Wenger made a couple of changes but they had no effect and we deservedly went out of the cup with a whimper. Even van Persie couldn’t muster anything of note and he looked forlorn and disillusioned long before the end. Sunderland held out with embarrassing ease and were handed a killer second via the unfortunate Ox.
Here’s something to think about. Djourou was responsible for the first goal and for me epitomises everything wrong about Wenger’s strategy. The centre back is now 25 and has been at the club since 2003. He would be a first team regular by now if he had the talent, but he finds himself fourth choice and is clearly not good enough. Apart from a purple patch for a few months last season he has done very little to impress in those nine years, so surely Wenger will be dispensing with his services in the summer when he starts the much vaunted clear out of players who he is supposed to be losing patience with?
Erm, no actually. Djourou has just been handed a three year contract extension by our wise old manager.
Yes, you read that right, Djourou’s mediocrity has seen him rewarded, not shown the door. Think Wenger is going to change his ways and stop putting his faith in youngsters who never seem to realise their potential? No way. Our deluded leader is still convinced Djourou will come good and for me that speaks volumes. Our strategy of buying cheap kids and persisting with them in the hope they will turn into Fabregas is going to continue for as long as our stubborn, out of touch leader is in charge, so get used to more nights like tonight.
So that’ll be another year without a trophy then and we now have a battle with Chelsea for fourth place to concentrate on. The only piece of good news is that they are just as woeful as us at the moment, so if we can be less crap than them over the next three months we might just scrape it.
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