Saturday, 6 November 2010

Defeat in Donetsk actually really disappointing. Shakhtar match report.

Shakhtar 2 Arsenal 1

This might seem a little odd, but I really think the defeat in Donetsk was a dangerous result. Not in terms of qualification from the group. Yes, people can scaremonger that if we lose away to Braga then the last match against Partizan becomes crucial. But first, I don't expect us to lose away to Braga and even if we do, I'd bet the house we'd beat Partizan at home if we had to.

But I think it's all about the culture at the club. I still remember that stunned silence after Gibbs slipped in the Champions League semi-final against United. But when you tell the players that only some games matter, it creates a dangerous culture.

It creates a culture in which it's very difficult to win things because you end up only competing in two competitions. And it puts so much pressure on some very young shoulders, when they go out in matches like that one against United, knowing Arsenal's entire season rests on one match.

To me, there's no coincidence between one and the other. And there's also no coincidence that the performance seems to be poor when the manager indicates that matches don't matter.

Look at the matches in recent years where he's made it obvious: United in the FA Cup - we got spanked 4-0; Spurs in the Carling Cup - we got spanked 5-0; Burnley in the Carling Cup - we lost an eminently winnable match; Olympiacos in the Champions League - we may have only lost 1-0, but if the youngsters only senior experience is of defeat, that's hardly ideal. And if anyone thinks that Wenger's failure to pick Arshavin in that FA Cup semi-final back in 2009 didn't dampen the morale of the entire team pre-match, well, it might sound puerile, but they're wrong.

And so, I was disappointed with the team Wenger picked. Eastmond and Wilshere is not a sensible central midfield partnership in a difficult away game. I can't help but agree with Kevin Whitcher when he says that Wenger would have taken any result from this match as a bonus.

There was more too. Why was Bacary Sagna not playing? What happened to Wenger's (sensible) tactic of playing Eboue at home and Sagna away? Sure, Shakhtar created lots of chances before they equalised, but it was Eboue's defensive naivety which gave them the easy chance to do so.

The less said about Gael Clichy the better. The simple truth is that he makes far too many mistakes and that they are always costly can't be a coincidence. He's a busted flush, a good egg turned rotten. If Kieran Gibbs could stay fit, it would at the very least introduce some competition into the squad - and competition has clearly done Bendtner the world of good.

Theo took his goal well and long may his excellent form continue. But by and large, Arsenal were decidedly average. Eduardo showed his class, both in finishing clinically, and in not celebrating. But if it hadn't been Eduardo, it would have been somebody else. Sure, Shakhtar were hammered in the reverse game; but with Jadson, Eddie and Chygryinsky all playing from the start, and in the confines of their own stadium, they're a different proposition. People may say Arsenal have eight games in November, and they have to rotate. And this was certainly the most palatable of all the matches to lose. But I'd rather not lose any at all.

This game will not live long in the memory. Arsenal will qualify and the history books will mark it down as an aberration. And it is true to say that we have always struggled in Ukraine. But when we're struggling because of the manager's team selection, I think questions have to be asked. Particularly if we don't beat Newcastle tomorrow - I don't know when, but at some point Arsene stopped believing in momentum. And it certainly doesn't help Arsenal's chances.

Keep the faith.

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