Thursday, 4 November 2010

Shakhtar v Arsenal report: It wasn't all Clichy's fault with their second

Shakhtar Donetsk 2 v Arsenal 1
Champions League Group H
At the Donbass Arena, Donetsk

Arsenal: Fabianski, Eboue, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy, Eastmond [Vela - 58], Wilshere, Walcott [Emmanuel Thomas - 81], Rosicky, Nasri, Bendtner [Chamakh - 73]

Goals: Walcott (9)
Conceded: Eastmond o.g. (27); Eduardo (45)

The warnings had been given. Arsenal's route to the knock out stages of the Champions League were no means guaranteed. A win here would have made progression a lot easier but a poor display meant we travelled home with what we deserved, no points.

Arsene Wenger made seven changes from the side which narrowly defeated West Ham on Saturday. Rather than play Bacray Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh from the start, he left the trio on the bench.

There replacements were Emmanuel Eboue, Johan Djourou and Nicklas Bendtner.

Also called into the side were Craig Eastmond, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, and Theo Walcott due to injuries to Denilson, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Andrey Arshavin.

An English team has never won on this ground and it wasn't a record Arsenal were going to break with the kind of performance you would hate to see as a traveling Gooner, spending hundreds of pounds for the pleasure.

Shakhtar started the brighter of the two sides but it was Arsenal who had the first real effort on goal, a Samir Nasri shot from the edge of the box which hit the outside of the post on eight minutes.

Moments later a close-range header at the other end by Chygrynskiy was blocked by Sebastien Squillaci.

And then the Donbass Arena was stunned into silence as Theo Walcott ran the length of the pitch to score an excellent counter attacking goal to put Arsenal ahead on 10 minutes.

The returning Jack Wilshere - back after serving a three-match domestic ban - was the man with the foresight to play the ball to Walcott and the England forward showed there was no way the Shakhtar defence were going to keep up with him before breaking into the area and slotting a cool finish past Andriy Pyatov into the right-hand corner.

It is the kind of goal we used to score. A goal Thierry Henry would have been proud of. The way Walcott kept his composure and took his shot early, were exceptional. No footballing brain? I'd have to disagree.

The home side then came at Arsenal. It was this period after our goal and before half time which was one of the worst periods of football I've seen us play this season. The ball wasn't being passed well, ending up with the opposition. Our positional sense was awful and there was not any cohesion to our game.

We were given a huge let off just six minutes after we scored. Jadson's snapshot smashed into Djourou, and when the  Brazilian midfielder eventually got hold of the ball he hit it against the post.

A brilliant reaction save from the resulting corner by Lukasz Fabianski kept them out on this occasion but you could tell there was momentum building.

And it didn't help that the referee offered the home side a helping hand in their quest for a goal. The Swiss official allowed play to go on after Tomas Hubschman flattened Wilshere around the half way line, it was a clear booking and the Czech duly got a yellow card, but not before Emmanuel Eboue had fouled a Shakhtar player on the edge of our box.

Eboue was booked for his appalling challenge and from the resulting free-kick, Shakhtar equalised when Eastmond, making his Champions League debut, deflected Chygrynskiy's header into his own net on 29 minutes.

Harsh on the young Englishman.

The home side continued to dominate and should have been in the lead when Jadson was played into the penalty area, but his shot was straight at Fabianski.

Arsenal had their chances and Bendtner fed Walcott on the penalty spot after a surging run from Eastmond, but a saving tackle just as the England forward shaped to shot blocked his effort.

Just as we were heading for half time, with a 1-1 draw having not looked the better side, the home side added to their goal.

Gael Clichy hesitated with the ball on the nearside touchline as he looked to keep the ball in play and clear to a team mate.

Darijo Srna took the ball off the Frenchman, charged towards our goal and slotted the ball across the six-yard box, where Eduardo swept home - the Croatian again opting not to celebrate.

Yes it was Clichy's mistake. He should have done better. But he was trying to keep the ball alive and in our possession when he made the mistake of not just playing it long or even out for a throw.

However Shalhtar still had a lot to do. And where was our defensive cover? Which of our defenders was stood off Eduardo? We know what an excellent player he is from inside the six yard box.

So at half time we went in 2-1 down but came out after the break a better side.

Our passing was better and we looked more incisive going forward.

Wilshere had a perfect chance to equalise when he robbed Willian on the edge of the area, only to bend the ball wide.

Goal scorer Walcott then scuffed an effort following another scramble inside the Shakhtar box.

Eastmond was replaced by Vela and the Mexican brought a more uptempo performance to this game than his outing a week ago at Newcastle.

The home side called for a penalty when Jadson took a tumble inside the box, but the referee, who was in a perfect spot, was not interested. However he failed to book the Shakhtar player for a dive as there appeared to be minimal contact.

Sebastien Squillaci could have put us level from a free header but his effort was straight at the keeper from six-yards out after a Nasri cross found him at the far post.

Chamakh came on for Bendtner as we continued to try and find the equaliser and Walcott might have done better with a snapshot which was caught by the keeper.

The hosts also had their chances and Fabianski got behind Srna's curling, 20-yard free-kick.

Arsenal needed to find some inspiration and with eight minutes to go, Wenger brought on Jay Emmanuel-Thomas for Walcott.

However, there was little anyone could do in the closing stages to stop the hosts winning the game and moving level on nine points with Arsenal in the battle for Group H.

Disappointing but not unpredictable.

» Read Arsene Wenger and Theo Walcott's post match thoughts and also see my player ratings

Elsewhere this morning, Arsene Wenger is not happy with the Dutch FA for calling up Robin Van Persie despite being injured.

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