Thursday, 12 December 2013

Defeated in Italy but we're through -Walcott's non-inclusion raises questions

Morning Gooners.

A reason to be cheerful: We're through to the knock out stage of the Champions League for the 14th consecutive season.
A reason to be disappointed: We finished second in our group which means we've got either Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern or Atletico Madrid in the next round.

On a night when we were defeated 2-0 in Italy, I thought we got our game plan wrong. The manager made several changes to his line up, but we didn't go for Napoli, put ourselves on the front foot by scoring a goal and instead controlled the ball as much as we could in order to stop the Italians from scoring.

And while that worked in the first half, which was a foul fest and that slowed the game down, we only had two tame shots on goal.

Rafa Benitez fired up his side at half time and they came out ready to go for the jugular. The home side were good and certainly attempting to create goal scoring opportunities while we were sitting back and soaking up the pressure.

Mikel Arteta was booked for going through the back of one of the players. And then minutes later Olivier Giroud's name was taken by the referee for time wasting.

Arsene Wenger made his first change of the night bringing on Aaron Ramsey for Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard had an ok game. He seemed to always be free for a pass on the left but he does seem to be suffering from second season syndrome.

And then it came. With 73-minutes gone Gonzalo Higuain finding the back of the net as we always expected him to do. It was the run of the left back, who had been previously been occupied by Rosicky, who made the goal. But after Cazorla's substitution the Czech international had switched to the left and no one seemed to track the player's run.

Napoli still needed two more goals to knock us out. But Wenger decided to go even more defensive bringing on Nacho Monreal for Rosicky after the goal went in. However two minutes later we were down to ten men after a nothing challenge from Arteta earned him a second booking and we were down to ten men.

We held on until the third minute of time added on at the end of the game to concede the second goal of the night. Jose Callejon lifting the ball over Wojciech Szczesny. But it was too little, too late.

Afterwards Wenger told Sky Sports:
"We're happy to be through. We took the game very seriously, prepared well, were well-focused. In the second half we dropped physically a lot with the game on Sunday [the 1-1 draw against Everton] but Napoli played very well tonight.  
"We were a little but on the edge for some minutes but in the end we got through.  
"When you win the group you feel you have done very well, when you come second you think you have just done the job and you hope for a good draw."
We could have made lives easier for ourselves last night had we got our noses in front. I would have liked us to have finished top of the group because we would have hopefully landed an easier draw in the next round. It would have only have delayed us facing one of Europe's elite teams by one round of the competition but it would have shorted the possibilities of us winning it as seven teams would have been knocked out by the time the quarter-finals draw was made.

In the event the defeat at home to Dortmund has cost us. Had we drawn with the German side we'd have gone through as group winners. But it's now a case of what might of been. We've got to face one of Europe's biggest sides now, without Mikel Arteta for the home leg.

Hopefully whatever is up with Theo Walcott will be resolved sooner rather than later. Many had expected him to start last night but the manager said pre-match that his involvement would have been a "gamble". I'm told that his non inclusion in the starting line up is more than meets the eye.

Now the players must prepare themselves for Saturday's game with Manchester City. It's going to be tough given we played the final 18 minutes with ten men and a defeat always saps energy. Plus City have an extra days rest after their win in Germany.

We can win there but it's not going to be easy.

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