Braga 2 Arsenal 0
The first thing to say, is that in spite of a terrible week, nothing has changed.
Last Friday we were two points off the top of the League with a chance to go top on Saturday lunchtime; in spite of the defeat to Spurs, remarkably if we beat Villa tomorrow we go top. Last Friday we were in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup and we still are.
And there is a dodgy argument which I’ve come up with that losing to Braga may actually help us. See, if we’d won, Wenger would have played a real scratch team against Partizan – with Tom Cruise et al – and we might have lost the game. First, it will be good to win before we play United (and I’m convinced we will). But more to the point, if we’d beaten Braga but lost to Partizan, we might still have come second in the group; on the other hand, if Braga beat Shakhtar – something which is very possible – we’ll top the group. I accept this is unlikely, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. It’s not even that fantastical at all.
More to the point, anybody who complains about having to play good teams earlier is missing the point. You have to play someone good at some point, so why not sooner rather than later? And two of our best victories in the Champions League have come in the Round of 16, when playing good teams – Real Madrid and AC Milan.
That’s not to say that the performance in Braga was a good one. Let me be unequivocal in saying it wasn’t. But while the week just gone has been disappointing, it is far from the disaster it has been portrayed as in some quarters; and any suggestion that the manager should go on the basis of two results is really very misguided.
That said, the performance in Portugal was wretched. Once again, I think it’s impossible not to question the manager’s team selection. Why play Cesc Fabregas, a man who clearly needs rest and recuperation and rest Robin Van Persie, a man who needs to play? Considering how poor RVP has been, giving him 90 minutes in a relatively unimportant game would have been a good idea and might have even let him get back amongst the goals against a very average Braga defence.
More to the point, we created practically nothing from open play in the course of the match. The only save I can remember their keeper making is from a Fabregas free-kick, although Theo nearly did get onto a through ball after a few minutes.
It’s true to say that if the referee gave us the penalty when Vela was brought down in the most clear-cut penalty decision of the season it would have been a different result but that’s football. The ref had a generally poor game but that doesn’t excuse the lack of creativity from our front players.
People talk about our strength in depth in attack, but how many chances did Rosicky, Walcott, Nasri, Fabregas, Bendtner, Chamakh and Wilshere create between them? Walcott was characteristically poor, but none of them really made anything. A plethora of attacking players who don’t do much is no use to anyone.
To be honest, I’m not going to slate the team for conceding the two goals. Partly, because the second goal was somewhat moot considering it’s time in the game and the number of players we had up the field.
But more, because criticising how the first goal was defended is just going over old ground. It’s disappointing, but Arsenal are a team particularly susceptible to the counter-attack and I don’t see that changing in the short-term. More pacey defenders would certainly help but I can’t see Wenger buying anyone in January unless Tommy Vermaelen is definitely crocked.
The big question is where do we go from here. The facetious answer is Birmingham, or more precisely, Aston. The realistic answer is that nobody quite knows. We’ve played better away this season, but if we spurn yet another chance to go top of the table, I can quickly see a sense of despondency settling in. It seems pointless to set targets to this ridiculously inconsistent team, but they really need to win every game between now and United. That’s only four matches, and yet it appears as if that is asking a lot. And that, is incredibly worrying.
Keep the faith.