February 26, 2015

Rough Night In N5

By Michael Clements

On paper that looked like, arguably, our strongest starting eleven available. Certainly the front line of Sanchez, Giroud, Welbeck with Ozil tucked behind them gives you every reason to go into a game versus Monaco - a team with 5 injured first team players, and a summer that saw them lose their top players - with deserved confidence.

So, what the fuck happened Wednesday night? 

Arsenal came out guns blazing, closing Monaco down, making positive runs, keeping possession and with a great pace. Then came minutes 6 through 90. If you can't get motivated for a Champions League knockout game, then what are you doing? Perhaps hang your boots up and take up accounting.

Welbeck looked well up for it at first, then he looked to get a knock on the ankle half way through the first half and essentially disappeared for the remainder of the 90 minutes. Coquelin was one of the more positive performances, even if he gave the ball up a few times. Unfortunately for him, we played so narrow, down the center of the pitch, that we relied on him a lot more than usual. His feet and his vision are really surprising, something I didn't expect from such a physical bloke. The physical part is something I love about the Coq, and it's my favorite quality in a defensive midfielder - boss that center circle and punish anyone who breaks through the midfield. 

Cazorla, ahead of Coquelin, was great (just OK by his standards), although dropped off after we went 2-0 down. It's mesmerizing to watch Santi sometimes, the ball just seems to stick to his feet and he makes some of the best players look foolish. 

While Alexis Sanchez ran 10,000 miles throughout the match, he still struggled in the final third, and I think that's got a lot to do with Wenger's decision to put three players who like to play central up front. You look at the team sheet - Giroud in the middle, flanked by Welbeck and Sanchez - and it looks fantastic. Except that now you've got Sanchez and Welbeck, two players who always drift into the middle of the field and rarely make runs down the wing, crowding the top of the box with Giroud. It's not an ideal situation, and for some reason it continued into the second half. The manager has a job to order his wing men to play out on the wing, but instead you had Gibbs and Bellarin (who both did great jobs getting up field and getting crosses in) playing in what basically looked like a 2-3-5 formation at times. 

This unfortunately left Koscienly and Mertesacker rather lonely at the back, and Ospina even lonelier.  
As the first goal went in I think we all wondered what Ospina was doing, although when the replay showed an unforgiving deflection off the BFG it's hard to find fault with either player. My problem is how Kondogbia had the time to get that shot off in the first place. Shocking.

You know it's going to be a shit day when Berbatov gets himself on the scoresheet - a player that (I think) has scored against us for three teams now? Once again, awful midfield coverage and worse defending. After we went down 2-0, and having seen no improvement form the first half, it was clear a draw would be a miracle in this 1st leg. 

Then there's Olivier Giroud. Poor bastard had the worst game I think I've seen him play in an Arsenal shirt, and he knew it. He was pulled off the field early after attempting 7 shots, and missing them all. Some of his efforts were inexplicably awful, and while he's probably going to get destroyed in the media over the next few days. As Arsenal fans we have to hope this doesn't affect his confidence long-term. Giroud is an important player for this team, and he was in great form until Wednesday night. It doesn't benefit our football club in the slightest to berate him and crucify him for one terrible game. We need for him to pull himself together and get a goal as soon as possible, preferably against Everton this weekend.

This is one of those games where Monaco played well, but it was Arsenal that beat Arsenal Wednesday night. We've gone into the biggest tournament in Europe with no spark, little enthusiasm and not an ounce of professionalism. Very poor form from the boys in Red & White, but don't let those old men sitting on the bench off the hook either. It took every player, coach and manager to screw this one up as bad as we did. 

Certainly the worst performance we've seen by an Arsenal team at home in a long, long time. All we can do now is look toward our game against Everton on Saturday and hope that the manager can inspire a reaction from these lads. 

Most are saying our Champions League is over, and while I know we've got a 2nd leg in Monaco to play yet, I can almost guarantee it'll be one of those games where Arsenal have a great game, score a couple but are a goal away from winning the tie. It's Arsenal Football Club, that's how we roll. It's not over until Frank Lampard sings anyway.

Come On Arsenal!