Monday, 23 January 2012

Wenger was right to substitute AOC -Crowd reaction unacceptable -Manager must spend

Morning Gooners.

Having played two of the top seven at the Grove this season already, we've come away with no points. This was where we were meant to catch up on the league leaders and ensure we finished in the top four.

Against Liverpool we lost after going down to ten men in the final 20 minutes. We were playing Samir Nasri in his final game. None of the deals for the five players we signed in the final days of the window had been completed. We lost to an ordinary Liverpool side which had seen millions of pounds invested in it.

Fast forward to yesterday, in the middle of the January transfer window, we were playing without our first and second choice full backs, the key member of our central midfield and one of the manager's most promising summer signings in Gervinho.

When you looked at our bench for the game, you knew the starting 11 had to win their game, because it was very unlikely any substitute would come on and make a differnce.

The manager made a brave decision in dropping the Russian captain Andrey Arshavin and handing a Premier League debut to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. It was a call I was surprised by. The 18-year-old has only featured in 41 minutes of league since joining the club in the summer.

True, Arshavin has not performed on a consistant basis for a long time. His star has fallen at the club, but even so, it was sending a clear message that the manager was prepared to give The Ox a chance to shine in a game of this magnitude.

As I've said previously, I would have taken a point from the game before kick off. The first half was awful. If the manager had said post match the handbrake had been on, I would have believed him. We lacked energy, movement and guile. We had a few shots on target, but nothing that troubled Anders Lindegaard.

Even with the visitors losing Phil Jones early on, we weren't able to capitalise. We seem to pass sideways when a more direct game would have probably see us benefit more from the stifling game Ferguson's team were playing against us. Why we bother to hit the ball long to van Persie is anyone's guess. If no player is willing to get close to the Dutchman to recieve his knock-downs, there is little point in us attempting this.

I didn't think any player really shone in the first 45. Oxlade Chamberlain had a three passes which he didn't seem to read and we lost posession but overall was a positive, Walcott was missing in action and Van Persie was a frustrated figure as our lone striker.

The visitors seemed to find their game half way through the half and it was back the walls stuff as they exploited Johan Djourou at right back. Walcott's lack of covering was clear to see and it was down the left which many dangerous ssituations began.

Ferguson's men created their goal down this flank. Giggs crossed from the left handside to find Valencia storming through to head the ball into the back of the net. It was a body blow. But the pressure had been mounting and we weren't able to string any serious numbers of passes together to retain possession.

Even before the referee was to blow up for half time, we carves open an opportunity to go into the dressing rooms level. Rosicky capitalised on a Smalling slip and ran clear on goal. Instead of shooting himself, the Czech squared the ball to van Persie who somehow managed to miss the target all together and the ball went wide.

It was a golden opportunity for the Gunners to respond. But it wasn't taken.

Wenger made another bold decision at the break, bringing on Niko Yennaris for Djourou. It was clear to see the Swiss international hadn't had his best game at the right hand side of our defence.

The Gunners came out the fired up of the two sides. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the catalyst to our chances. Setting up Ramsey who fired over and then van Persie teed up Rosicky who had his shot blocked.

Even with an 18-year-old making his Premier League debut at right back, we were much more solid.

It was the Ox who nearly got us back into the game. His shot going wide. Had it been on target it would have been our equaliser. But at the other end, the visitors threatened to add to their lead, Mertesacker getting back just in time to hook Welbeck's shot off the line.

But Arsenal found a way back into the game with the debutant being the catalyst. Oxlade-Chamberlain raced away and played in van Persie. The Dutchman didn't make the same mistake and found the target, his left food shot found the bottom right hand corner of Lindegaard's goal.

The eruption in the crowd was certainly of the same level as of those scenes witnessed when Thierry Henry scored in his come back match against Leeds. We'd worked hard in the second half to get ourselves back into the game and van Persie's goal was reward for that.

Moments before the Gunner's leveling the scores, the manager was planning a double substitution - introducing Andrey Ashavin and Ju Young Park. That was postponed but two minutes after the goal, Arshavin made his entrance in place of the Ox.

It was a decision which was greeted by boos from the terraces. A chant of "you don't know what you're doing" was aimed at Wenger. It was a reaction that shocked me. Never in my time following Arsenal have I seen or heard a reaction like it. (More on this later).

The Russian didn't do his cause any good as Valencia ran free from the right into the box. The ball was cut back and Welbeck found the back of the net. Park was thrown on for his first taste of the Premier League as we chased the game. But it was too little, too late. Mertesacker ended up playing centre forward for the final periods - it shows how badly things have become.

We could find an equaliser and the game ended in defeat. Our third league defeat on the bounce and a set of result we've not seen since 2007.

Post match Arsene Wenger said:
"I am really disappointed because we had a difficult first half, a nervous first half. [It was] technically not at the level we want and we came back well with a fantastic fighting spirit in the second half.  
"I thought we had the chances to win the game quite comfortably in the second half but you feel the Manchester United team is a bit more mature in every position than we are."
Personally I thought we very looked ordinary. But our opposition didn't look very special either. We really should have taken something from the game. I think a draw would have been a fair result. However they were playing two strikers who could put the ball in the back of the net. We have one... RVP.

As for the substitution, the manager said:
"I can understand that the fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn’t work, but I made the right decision at the start of the game [in starting Oxlade-Chamberlain].  
"He had started fatigue, stretched his calf and he was sick in the week."
I was shocked by the booing which greeted the substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain. I was surprised that he'd started and we must remember that yesterday was his first ever Premier League start. Who are we as supporters to question the manager's decision. We have no inside knowledge as to what had been going on in the previous week. The manager points out that the Ox was sick. Did anyone have any idea that was the case prior to the match?

On these calls, I think the manager has to make a decision which is best for the team... He doesn't want us to lose, does he? It is up to him how he runs his team. Results will dictate whether he is successful or not. And in his 15 years at the club, I don't think he's got too much wrong.

What we really lack is recognized full backs. Vermaelen and Djourou/Yennaris were playing out of position. They can only do there best and you can argue that they were at fault (not Yennaris) for us being in a position to concede goals.

Even when Gibbs is back in the team, what's to say he doesn't have a reaction to his injury and then we are back to playing Vermaelen out of position. I think the manager should buy/loan and worry about where people fit into his team later. We need to ensure of fourth place and we're not going to do that with a large majority of our team on the treatment table.

Henry's loan signing was papering over the cracks that we really need a top class player who can play as either a central striker or on the wing. It's clear that Park doesn't have the manager's 100 per cent backing and we need someone who can score. The difference yesterday was that the visitors two strikers and two wide players are goal threats. We don't have that in our team.

The manager has said it will be a disaster if we don't finish in the top four. He has seen we're not able to beat an average Manchester United team with the players he has in his squad. He has the means to buy and the time available. He really needs to act now to avoid the worst happening come the end of the season, or he'll only have himself to blame.

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