It isn’t often that Arsenal are massive underdogs for a match at the Emirates, but our mixture of fringe players and kids weren’t given a prayer against Man City’s second string. It says everything about the differences in squad depth that they signed one of our best players in August and he is now scratching around for a game in their Carling Cup side.
I was expecting a backs to the wall performance and that’s what we got — except it was Man City who were defending in depth and looking to counter (especially in the second half) as Arsenal took hold of the game and made most of the running.
Coquelin and Frimpong bossed the midfield as the two central players in a 4-4-2 formation and often worked the ball wide to the game’s outstanding player, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Pablo Zabaleta has been capped 15 times by Argentina but was given a torrid time by AOC who created the best chance of the first half in the eleventh minute. After good build up play from Frimpong and Chamakh, AOC played a delicious ball low across the six yard box and Park’s bundled effort was pushed aside by Pantilimon. The South Korean might have scored if he’d attacked it with a little more conviction, but that set the tone for him as he came up short on a number of occasions and on this showing looks well off the pace.
Of course it would be foolish to judge Park already, but he’s played just four matches in three months and you have to wonder when his next chance will come. It’s a Catch 22 situation — he needs games to acclimatise, but he can’t play in the league because he’s not yet acclimatised. Now we’re out of the Carling Cup, he has the dead rubber in Olympiakos and that’s it. We really needed to sign a proven back-up for van Persie because on this showing Park isn’t ready for the job.
AOC looks a real star in the making
Anyway, back to the game. Adam Johnson hit a shot narrowly over but we generally had the better of things. In the 28th minute AOC played a lovely one-two with Chamakh and smacked a long range effort with his left foot which Pantilimon did well to tip away. His left foot! He can use both feet which is important because he was twisting Zabaleta both ways, leaving the full back guessing which way he was going to turn (unlike Theo who mostly knocks the ball outside his full back and down the line).
A minute later Fabianski showed what a liability he is when he came for (and completely missed) a corner which was thankfully headed wide of the open goal he’d left.
Arsenal may have shaded the first half but they dominated the second. Every player seemed confident and focused and were making up for their comparative lack of quality and experience with sheer determination. Man City were penned in their own half, looking to use their pace on the break and that’s what finally undid us.
With a few minutes remaining Dzeko collected the ball from an Arsenal corner and played a superb pass to Adam Johnson, who swivelled and laid it on a plate for Aguero to sidefoot past Fabianski. It was the only thing the Argentine had done all night but it proved to be the winner.
It was rough justice considering the numerous excellent performances from the Gunners, except for Fabianski who had nothing to do but still managed to look dodgy. Koscielny and Djourou were very good in defence and even Squillaci did OK. Young Miquel played out of position at left back but coped reasonably well, although his crossing was poor and he looks uncomfortable supporting the attack. Still, it’s great experience for him.
The three standout players were the midfielders I’ve already mentioned with Benayoun also showing plenty of willing out on the left. Up front Chamakh linked up play nicely in the first half but faded towards the end and might have done better with a wonderful cross late on which flashed across the goal. Park looks out of his depth right now and a foray into the market in January is a necessity.
So we exit the Carling Cup but with our heads held high. There was even a chant of ‘There’s only one Arsene Wenger’ which hasn’t been heard in a while, although the best songs were reserved for Nasri’s return. I’m glad he got the lack of respect he so richly deserved and well done to the fans for keeping up the booing throughout the 90 minutes.
One final thought to put things into context: Dzeko (£27m), Johnson (£7m) and Aguero (£35m) combined for the goal. We had Chamakh (free) and Park (£2.6m) to try and score for us.
Please stay fit Robin…
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