Arsenal went into last night's Campions League group game away to Braga knowing that a draw would qualify them for the knockout stages. After the dreadful result at the weekend it would have been a perfect way to get things back on track, but it didn't work out that way.
The team showed seven changes from the one that started against The Spuds, but crucially two of the players who should have been replaced started. I thought that both Denilson and Sebastien Squillaci didn't exactly cover themselves in glory on Saturday, but they both played last night anyway.
At the back Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou and Emmanuel Eboue came into the team. The only change in midfield was Jack Wilshere for Alex Song, which meant that Denilson filled the defensive role. Personally I don't think that it's a role that he's capable of filling. The front three was all change as it consisted of Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky.
There was very little to report from the first half, as Braga seemed afraid to open up in case Arsenal punished them on the break. For their part Arsenal created very little in that first half, and quite a few players seemed to be having a poor game or generally disinterested. It was hard to tell that Bendtner was on the pitch at times, as he was so ineffectual. Wilshere was trying hard in midfield, but his passing was nowhere near it's usual level and Cesc Fabregas did very little to impress.
The second half started off in a similar fashion, but then the news that Shakhtar Donetsk were winning away to Partizan Belgrade came through. That meant that Braga were going out, and they needed a win to save themselves. They picked up the pace, and Arsenal struggled a little for a while. However, they soon got back on top again, and when Marouane Chamakh and Samir Nasri came on I thought they looked the more likely to score.
Nasri came on for Cesc, who had again injured himself stretching for a ball over the top. It looked like a recurrance of his hamstring injury, and he immediately looked to be substituted. Hopefully he realised early enough to mean that he won't be out for too long, but until he sorts the injury out once and for all this will keep happening.
Carlos Vela then came on for Walcott, and almost immediately he was in the thick of the action. He ran on to a knockdown from Chamakh in the box, and pushed the ball past the Braga defender. The Braga player was committed to the challenge, and he took Vela down for what looked like a certain penalty. The referee was perfectly positioned to give the penalty, but amazingly he gave Vela a yellow card for diving. The extra official behind the goal didn't say anything at all, but you will rarely see such a certain penalty not given.
The referee had an absolute stinker of a game, as he constantly ignored fouls on Arsenal players throughout the game. The yellow cards continued to build up throughout the game for Arsenal, but he allowed Braga away with challenges that should have got yellow cards. With less than 10 minutes left Eboue was taken from behind, and the perpatrator didn't receive a yellow card. Eboue was stretchered off, and played no further part in the game, which left Arsenal with only 10 men on the pitch, as all the substitutions had been made.
Both Arsenal centre backs pushed up for a free kick in the 83rd minute, and the ball was cleared for what looked likely to be an Arsenal throw in. However a Braga player kept the ball in, and a quick ball was played over the top. Denilson was the Arsenal player trusted with minding the fort, and he was found wanting. Instead of sticking with his man he looked to me like he tried to play him offside. Gibbs was five yards behind him, but out near the touchline, so that didn't work, and the Braga player was left with only Lukasz Fabianski to beat. He went through and finished with ease, as Fabianski came out very quickly, and went down very early.
Suddenly Arsenal found themselves 1-0 down with very little time left, and only 10 players on the pitch. They created virtually nothing in the remaining minutes, and with only three minutes added it didn't look good. Quite how the referee came up with that figure I'm not sure, as there were six substitutions, as well as Eboue being stretchered off.
In the very last minute of that injury time Arsenal were undone on the break yet again. A ball down the middle was taken on by a Braga player, who shook off a foul on him by an Arsenal player. He raced towards the Arsenal goal, but three Arsenal players got back around him. Unfortunately they somehow managed not to tackle him, and he finished off the bar into the top corner. I don't think the game even restarted after the Braga celebrations, as it finished 2-0 to them.
On Saturday Arsenal were caught on the break at 2-0 up, and again last night they were caught on the break at 0-0 when a draw was good enough to ensure qualification. That is simply not good enough, and it has to be addressed by the manager. Denilson is clearly not the player to be left in the defensive role when Arsenal have an attacking set piece, as he is clueless at best. He failed to track Bale's run on Saturday for The Spuds first goal, and he was caught in no man's land for the first Braga goal last night. The boss continues to show confidence and faith in him that are unjustified in my opinion. He is a good player, but he's simply not good enough to play for a top club at the level Arsenal play at.
November started off very badly for Arsenal with defeats against Shakhtar Donetsk and Newcastle before it picked up with the away wins over Wolves and Everton. It seemed that Arsenal may have exorcised the ghost of November's past when they had suffered very badly, but it has come back to gain it's own vengeance. There are now two games left in November, and they have both got to be won. First of all there is the early kick off away to Aston Villa in the league on Saturday morning, followed by a Carling Cup quarter final at home to Wigan on Tuesday night.
The early injury news is that Cesc has actually injured his other hamstring, and will miss Saturday's game for sure. After that it's not known when exactly he will return, but Arsenal have to make sure he is fully fit before he does. Eboue will be out for a few weeks after being stretchered off, and how the player who committed the foul wasn't booked is still a mystery to me.
It means that Arsenal will have to play their strongest team possible at home to Partizan Belgrade on December 8th, as they will need a win to guarantee qualification for the last 16. First place in the group looks almost impossible now, as they will need Braga to win away to Shakhtar Donetsk to help them achieve that aim. It could leave Arsenal with a very tough last 16 draw, but you have to beat them all to win the trophy I suppose.
I though Walcott tried last night, but he got little or no help from Bendtner who was hapless at best. As a centre forward his job should have been to give Arsenal a presence in the Braga box at times, but he continually dropped off to take up the ball, and lose it all too often. After his recent statement about wanting to play more often last night was a chance for Bendtner to show what he can do, and he failed miserably.
For me Rosicky tried his best as well, even though things didn't always work out for him, which was similar to how things worked out for Wilshere. I thought Cesc should not have played with his hamstring problem, and as it turned out it was a big risk and a wrong decision to play him. I didn't think he looked overly interested in the proceedings, but then again he wasn't the only one.
As a unit the defence are still not working well, and the inability to assess situations as they happen is absolutely killing Arsenal at the moment. There has to be a way the boss can instill the basics of good defending as a unit into them, before it's too late, and the season collapses. I don't want to be overly negative, as Arsenal are still very much in the title hunt, and the Champions League is still not beyond them either. However, if they play like they did last night they will win absolutely nothing.
In other news Aaron Ramsey managed 45 minutes for the reserves at home to Wolves yesterday in his comeback game. Manuel Almunia also returned in that game, and Arsenal won 2-1 with goals from Roarie Deacon and Gilles Sunu. It's great to see Ramsey back, but I'm sure it will be a long hard road for him before he can contemplate playing for the first team again.
Henri Lansbury has joined Norwich City on loan for 28 days, and he's a player who has had a few loan moves previously. He has only played for the first team once this season, but I thought that he was very impressive in the 4-1 Carling Cup victory away to The Spuds. I hope he gets plenty of game time for Norwich, and comes back ready to fight for a first team place.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
That's the lot for today.
See You Tomorrow.