Sunderland vs Arsenal, Stadium of Light, FA Cup 5th Round
Kickoff – 17:15 GMT (22:45 IST), 18th February 2012
Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!
Ten thousand thundering typhoons!
Were Captain Haddock an Arsenal fan, I am pretty much sure, this would have been his reaction to Arsenal’s capitulation at the San Siro. Infact, these were the same reactions that I had.
Having been so excited all week about the clash, probably every minute spent pondering over the game, walking nervously around the hall minutes before kick off, wondering ‘It is just 1 goal’, when Kevin Prince-Boateng scored a scorcher, calming myself ‘Now we just need an away goal’, when Robinho scored the second, messaging all my friends ‘It’s all over man 😦 ‘ , when Robinho scored the third, and heaping insults on Djourou after he conceded the fourth; next day roaming around with an unshaven glum face all round my office, with colleagues trying to console me saying ‘Don’t kill yourself dude’, it is time finally to try and narrow down some issues on the match and investigating how Arsenal got mauled so emphatically.
First, the pitch. Whatever the Arsenal fans might say about the Gunners not performing up to the mark, the Milan pitch was a disgrace to the competition. How the Italian side get away with all this, I have no idea. Now, Milan play a very narrow formation, with minimal wingplay. Even their full-backs, namely Luca Antonini and Ignazio Abate, are more defensive minded, and rarely go forward. They started with 4 central midfielders on the night., ‘the ‘grand old man of football’ Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Antonio Nocerino. Arsenal have a completely different style to Milan, and rely on wingplay. This entire season Arsene Wenger has deployed wingers, Gervinho, Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Even our full-backs are proper full-backs. Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna all love going forward.
Now, by disintegrating the pitch, it was pretty evident Milan had spotted Arsenal’s strength and decided to turn it into a weakness. Considering the fact that the flanks on the San Siro pitch were laid out just about 24 hours before kick-off is a clear pointer of that claim. Moreover, Robin van Persie decided to change his boots, going for a harder studded boot, so as to facilitate his wing play on the horror of a pitch. Arsene Wenger decided to drop Chamberlain on the bench and started with Tomas Rosicky, who is more adept a central role, than on the left. Had the pitch been perfect, or at least had a semblance of normalcy about it, Wenger would have started with the pacy Chamberlain who would have wreaked havoc with the Milan defence. None of the players looked comfortable on the night. The ball was rolling so slowly around the flanks that at one time, Vermaelen had to back-track his header, which he thought was heading for a corner.
Second, I don’t want to be too critical of how the Milan groundsmen prepared the pitch, as it was same for both side. Arsenal should have been prepared to adapt to it. Now, we go into an European game against the Italian champions, in their formidable home, and we can in the least expect a tough game on the cards. Unfortunately, Arsenal couldn’t adapt to the fact how Milan had taken the game by storm. Milan exploited the nervousness and fragility of the Arsenal rearguard, and swooped down like vultures would on a carcass. The Gunners failed to adapt, and got all their tactics wrong.
Alex Song was unable to contain the advances of both Nocerino and Boateng, and didn’t get too much help from Ramsey and Arteta. Sagna wasn’t helped by Walcott either as he tried to counter the threat of Ibrahimovic, Emmanuelson and Antonini.
Thirdly, Arsenal lost their best defender at the moment, Laurent Koscielny to an unfortunate injury. He picked up a strain, and it mean he would be replaced by Calamity Djourou, who ofcourse went on to concede a penalty. Thomas Vermaelen had an unfortunate slip on the horrendous playing surface, which lead to Milan’s third.
Finally, the Gunners fielded a very naive and relatively inexperienced side on the night, even though it was the best of the resources we had. Szczesny has looked nervous in recent games and he did so on Wednesday. His goalkicks, clearances and distribution was poor. Aaron Ramsey had a poor night too, and was well tracked by the menacing Mark van Bommel. Tomas Rosicky was good in patches, but honestly had no direction about his forward play. Theo Walcott, can best be described as ‘poor’ on the night, notwithstanding the poor condition of the ground.
Now, here we are, on the brink of exit in the Champions League. All my banter dished out to Manure supporters about them watching the Europa League has come back to haunt me.
Arsenal players and the manager have all had their say on the Milan game. Wojciech Szczesny was among the first Arsenal players to speak the media, saying Arsenal deserved the mauling.
It’s not impossible to come back but it’s going to be very difficult,Milan showed how good they are tonight and it’s going to be very difficult. We showed last week against Blackburn how good we can be if we are on the front foot and if we manage to score an early goal then anything can happen.We have quality attacking players and we can score goals so why not? But we have to realise that it’s going to be really, really difficult.It was a very difficult night and it’s hard to take right now. We have to admit that Milan were the better team and they completely deserved the victory. It’s hard to take but hopefully we can pick ourselves up.We’re full of belief that we can still have a successful season. It’s a big blow for us tonight but I’m confident we’ll pick ourselves up and do our best in all the games we have coming up.
Thomas Vermaelen had one of his worst nights in an Arsenal jersey.
We have another game and the only thing we can do is show our pride and give 100 per cent,We have to give something back to the fans who came all the way here, we disappointed them. The only thing we can do is try to get a good result in the home game.The fans supported us all the way to Milan and we disappointed them, which is not good. We will try to give them something back when we next play at home.It was not a good evening for us, they scored four times and we did not play well. It’s simple – we conceded too many chances and too many goals and it was just a bad evening.They played well, they were aggressive – more than us I think and you can see that from the result. It’s difficult to give an explanation so soon after the game because I am disappointed. The result was really bad.What happened, we have to forget now. We have to learn from it and just keep going to the next game.
Surprisingly, the harshest criticism on the team came from their own manager, Arsene Wenger, who launched a scathing attack on the team, for probably the first time in his Arsenal managerial career.
We were never in the game,We were very poor offensively and defensively. It was shocking to see how we were beaten everywhere. It was our worst performance in Europe by far.Not once in the 90 minutes were we in the game. You question everything on a night like that but it’s difficult to analyse and it’s better not to talk too much, analyse it with a cooler head and to regroup for the next game.We don’t live in a dream world. There is may be 2% or 5% chance statistically, but realistically we are out of this competition. We made mistake after mistake and we were punished.It is too big a deficit to turn over, we certainly will try, but it will be very difficult. We will give it our best and we certainly cannot be worse than we were tonight.We left ourselves in a position where we had to chase the game from early on and we continued to lose the ball in positions where you cannot afford to lose it at this level and we left ourselves exposed. It was a big problem for us and we were slow to respond all evening.We will not talk too much tonight − we will take our punishment and get over this. The season isn’t finished.We have a big game on Saturday to show character & spirit. We have to regroup, but there’s not a lot of time.
Call me optimistic or crazy or whatever, I think we have a great chance of putting things right in the second leg. Of course, it is going to be an uphill task, the hill being Mount Everest in the case. But, this is football. What would it be, if scores were decided before the ball was kicked. Anything is possible in this sport. Remember Deportivo la Coruna in the 2003/04 season of the Champions League? They were 4-1 down after the first leg at the San Siro, but came back in emphatic fashion in the second leg, to wipe out Milan 4-0. So, all is not over yet, folks.
Arsenal have come in for quite a fair share of criticism from club greats such as Dennis Bergkamp, Martin Keown, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira etc.
Here is what legendary right-back Lee Dixon had to say.
Everything that could go wrong in the game did and it was a really, really poor performance – It was a good performance from Milan, I thought they did ever so well. (Kevin Prince) Boateng, Robinho and (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic tore Arsenal to pieces, simple as that.There are not a lot of positives to be honest with you. It’ll be difficult for Arsene to pick the players up before a massive FA Cup tie at Sunderland this weekend. He’s got his work cut out.
And, World Cup winner, and former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit, said the following words.
I asked myself what has become of the team that I knew.It’s a gulf which is confirmed weekend after weekend and what is perhaps the most worrying thing is the club won’t do anything this summer to reverse the trend. They don’t want to go back to overspending in the transfer market, and I think they’re right. But for two seasons, the level of the team has only gone down.Certain young players haven’t done enough to justify the confidence that Arsene has in them. Walcott – somehow he’s going to have to reach the next stage. It’s been years that he’s been at the same level. Ramsey, against Milan, I got the impression it was his (twin) brother on the pitch. In the way they behave, in their body language, we see they’re not there anymore.We shouldn’t hesitate to talk about the end of the cycle. Regardless of age, we have to look seriously at certain players. Right now you have to send out a strong signal.You have to say to Arshavin, and to Rosicky: ‘Gentlemen, thank you, but goodbye’. And soon.’
Dennis Bergkamp had an extensive discussion with another Arsenal great, Alan Smith, and shared the following views on a variety of issues like the squad, Wenger’s future and on the passing style employed by the club.
DB10 on the team:
I feel there are a lot of similar players there at the moment. It needs to be more diverse.You need a few strong characters who can get the team going, in training as well as matches.You also need a few players who can make a difference in terms of scoring goals. I don’t feel there are enough of them.You look at the midfield and compare it with ours. We had Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Ray Parlour – when it wasn’t working for one of the big names, one of these could step up.You can’t only depend on one or two players. When they’re having an off day, you need someone else.
DB10 on the style of play
Sometimes you need more of a winning mentality than a passing mentality.I’m not sure Arsenal have enough of that in their players, when the attitude becomes more important than the ability just to pass the ball.I don’t know if the English mentality is missing a little bit.We had it with the back four, of course, who had the mentality of thinking, ‘OK, this game is ours now.Sometimes I see their games and it’s always the same way of playing, a bit too predictable. They are all fantastic players, that must be said, but sometimes you need a bit more of the other side.
DB10 on Arsene Wenger
Yeah, I think so, because the way I know him, he’s a winner. He can’t just let go.He would think he hasn’t finished there yet. He would want to finish on a high or at least do something that makes the team successful again.So I think he will wait and push as hard as possible to achieve that before he leaves.I’ve worked with Arsène for 11 years and it goes up and down.You do well, then you need some time to rebuild, then you do well again. But the thing now is that he isn’t winning any trophies.That’s what I was talking about earlier. Sometimes you just need to win something by showing a certain attitude to get the team going again.That isn’t happening at the moment so it is a bit of a struggle.But I wouldn’t say that’s down to Wenger because he has been fantastic and he still is fantastic for the club.He brings in young players and sells them on for more money. Financially, he’s doing great.
DB10 on RVP
To be honest, I would still prefer to see Robin play a bit deeper behind the main striker so that he could pick his moments the way I used to.I think he could be even better in that role, but the way he’s playing now you can hardly blame the coach for putting him there.
Most would agree with Bergkamp here. The club ain’t in a doomsday like situation, like the kind Rangers or Portsmouth are in. The club has been inches away from silverware in recent seasons, and the fans should keep their faith in the manager and the team.
Phew that’s a lot of legends having their opinion their. Speaking of legends, there have been rumours that Pat Rice will finally retire from his stellar stint at Arsenal. He amassed 528 games for the club as a right-back from 1966 to 1980. He joined Arsenal as a youth coach in 1984, and even briefly became the manager in 1996, before Arsene Wenger took over. He has been Arsene Wenger’s trusted assistant, and though never in the spotlight, is said to be key to the team’s affairs. Here’s to 42 years of exemplary service.
Meanwhile, rumours are floating that the man touted for the job is none other than the present youth coach, Steve Bould. Bould was another memeber of the famous back four, and played in 11 seasons for the club. He has been the coach of the youth side since 2001. Another candidate is ofcourse, Dennis Bergkamp, who has been assistant coach at Ajax Amsterdam.
Moving on, we have another massive game on Saturday, which will decide if we have any shot at silverware this weekend. The Gunners will have to deal with a terrible pitch for the third time in a week. Phil Bardsley, the Sunderland right-back was quoted as saying, the pitch still looks terrible.
If that is the case, the Gunners should brace to having more players injured, after losing Per Mertesacker last week on the same ground, and Laurent Koscielny at the San Siro. Now, Arsenal’s team selection will be interesting to see. Whether Arsene Wenger will field his strongest side or whether he rests key players ahead of next week’s mammoth clash against Tottenham in the North London derby. Reports claim Mertesacker had an extensive ankle scan in London as well as Germany and he could be out for the rest of the season. This could be a major cause of concern for Arsene Wenger as Mertesacker, despite having a slow start has put in some really good displays recently. Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny seems to be available for selection for the Sunderland game, despite picking up a strain. That could be a massive boost. But, the Mertesacker injury means, one more injury/suspension and we will have Squillaci strutting his stuff. (Not a pretty sight). By the looks of it, Calamity Djourou would partner Vermaelen at the back, with Sagna and Gibbs continuing on the flanks.
I expect Arsene Wenger to give some of the other players a run out. Robin van Persie looks a bit jaggered, and could be on the bench, to be replaced by Morrocan Marrouane Chamakh. So will be Ramsey, Song, Rosicky and Arteta. I feel Coquelin, Arshavin and Benayoun could start the game. This will be ideal for the team. Lukasz Fabianski is expected to take his place in goal, as he did against Leeds and Aston Villa, in the earlier FA Cup games. Gervinho, who returns from the Africa Cup of Nations, will take his place on the left, while Chamberlain replaces the under performing Walcott on the right. Such a squad rotation will bode well, for the entire team, who need a bit of rest. But, then again this is my prediction. Wenger certainly will have different ideas.
Arshavin, Benayoun, Chamakh and Coquelin all deserve a run in the first team. And the fact that they are completely fresh, having been used sparsely this year. Sunderland actually put in a commendable game last week, and under Martin O’Neill are a completely different proposition. I wouldn’t be too dissapointed if the tie goes to a replay.
Sunderland will be waiting for the Gunners, knowing fully well that they will be tired and mentally down after the midweek exertions. They have had a good week to rest and prepare well for the FA Cup clash. They will, in all probability field the same side that took to the pitch last week in the Premier League game.
Thierry Henry scored the winner last time around. It will require a completely different performance this week around to win the game. Henry, despite comments that he could damage his reputation by resigning for the Gunners, certainly proved all of them wrong. Touted as a PR move by an under-pressure manager, Henry has scored two goals, that could be decisive for the rest of the season. His late goal against Leeds was a piece of magic, and the winner against a dodgy opposition, which resulted in progress in the Cup. His goal against Blackburn was just the cherry on top of a tasty cake, while his poked goal against Sunderland was massive. An extra-time winner is always cherished, but this was special as it was Henry’s last goal in the Premier League, and it moved the Gunners to 4th spot. However, he would like to quickly forget his last game for the club. Henry came on as a second half replacement for Walcott. He tried hard to inspire a goal, but was ultimately succesfull. Supposedly, he has been vocal with the team, giving them pep talks before games, and was influential in the 3-2 comeback against Aston Villa. And he says, he could be back next year. Now, that would be a story!
Anyways, hoping for a win on Saturday, and progress in the Cup!
Jai Arsenal 🙂