Arsenal made the long hard trip to play Shakhtar Donetsk away from home last night and came home empty handed after a 2-1 defeat. There some good points and some bad points to the team's performance and I'll do my best to run through them here.
The team was more or less as expected with Johan Dlourou and Emmanuel Eboue coming into the defence and Jack Wilshere, Craig Eastmond, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner coming into the midfield and attack. That's a total of seven changes from the team that just about beat West Ham on Saturday. Some of those changes were not optional as a few players stayed at home due to injuries.
Any team in the world would miss Cesc Fabregas and with quite a few of the first team regulars also injured it was quite close to a second string team. I had my doubts about how Eastmond would manage in the holding role but it was good to see Walcott and Bendtner start after their recent goalscoring exploits as they have returned from their injuries.
Arsenal came out of the traps and played with power and purpose early on. Samir Nasri hit the post with a 20 yard effort and after then only nine minutes Theo Walcott opened the scoring. Arsenal cleared a Shakhtar corner to Walcott just outside his own box and he played it to Wilshere. His pass from the left over the top of the Shakhtar defence was raced onto by Walcott and the home team could not keep pace with him.
He knocked the ball in front of himself with his first touch and then passed it beyond the keeper from 25 yards out with his second touch. I think he took thekeeper by surprise by shooting so early and it looked like the keeper should have done better. It was Walcott's seventh goal of the season and he is now the joint top scorer along with Nasri. At that stage it was looking good for Arsenal but as Shakhtar pushed forward Arsenal's defending left a lot to be desired.
Shakhtar missed a few chances, hit the woodwork and then came the equalising goal in the 28th minute. A free kick from about 40 yards out was met by the head of one of their players whose name could not be pronounced and from there it hit Eastmond's head and flew past Lukasz Fabianski. There was nothing Fabianski could do about it and Eastmond didn't know too much about it either.
Shakhtar continued to press but as half time got closer the scores were still tied. A ball was played towards the sideline on Arsenal's left and Gael Clichy won but he then dallied in possession and the ball was stolen from him. As the Shakhtar player headed towards Arsenal's goal he squared the ball for the perfectly positioned Eduardo to finish very neatly from no more than 12 yards out. It had to be the ex Arsenal player who scored and he showed his class yet again when he didn't celebrate his goal.
All that Clichy had to do was put his foot through the ball and clear it and Arsenal would have gone in even at half time. Unfortunately he chose to neither play the ball or clear it as he dithered yet again and Arsenal paid the price for his mistake. It's such a shame that Kieran Gibbs is so injury prone because he genuinely deserves a chance to show what he can do in the left back position. I do feel for Clichy though as it seems that he pays a heavy price whenever he makes a mistake.
At half time the boss obviously had a few words to say as the players came out with a better attitude and looked to get themselves back in the game. In the first half Walcott had done little but score but he certainly got more involved in the second half. Despite managing four shots on target in the second half he never really looked likely to score again in my opinion.
The best chances fell to Wilshere and Sebastien Squillaci but neither of them managed to get that elusive equaliser. Wilshere's chance was gilt edged after he won the ball in the Shakhtar box and somehow managed to put his shot wide from 15 yards out. He had the whole goal at his mercy and it looked like he wanted to put the ball in the top corner rather than just make sure he scored. Squillaci's chance came when he met a cross eight yards out and connected perfectly with a header. Unfortunately he headed the ball straight at the keeper and the chance was gone.
Carlos Vela had come on for the last half hour and despite a few bad touches he almost scored the equaliser late on when he turned and shot from a Jay Emmanuel Thomas header down to him. JET himself only got nine minutes of action and I would like to see him get some more game time as he looks like he is ready to burst on to the scene. The other substitute was Maraoune Chamakh who came on for the ineffectual Bendtner for the last fifteen minutes. Chamakh got involved in play very well but I still have my doubts about his goalscoring abilities with his feet.
As the game neared it's end Shakhtar wasted as much time as possible and with six substitutions and a couple of injuries there should have been plenty of time added. Bizzarely the referee added only three minutes which was only enough time to cover the substitutions and no more. They managed to run the clock down and got the win that they so desperately needed to give them a real chance of qualifying from their Champions League group for the first time ever, at the sixth attempt.
The defeat can be viewed in a few ways and I see it as a gamble the boss took to try to ensure he has as many players as possible fit for a schedule of three league games in a week. The gamble didn't pay off but a draw away to Braga in the next Champions League game should be enough to ensure qualification for the knockout stages for Arsenal. If the worst happens away to Braga Arsenal will still qualify by beating Partizan Belgrade at home in their last group game. I'm sure that qualification will be achieved and those three league games are very important if Arsenal are to keep pace with Chelsea in the Premier League.
In other news it would appear that Robin Van Persie has been called up for his country for their game in two weeks time. I can only assume it's a sick joke when you consider the fact that he missed about five months of last season after picking up an injury in an international friendly. He has only started one game for Arsenal this season and he is only due to join the rest of the first team squad for training this week as he picks up his recovery schedule. Arsenal need to tell Holland and their manager where to go as his selection is bang out of order in my opinion.
Young Thomas Cruise has joined Carlisle United on loan for a month and hopefully the experience of playing in league one will do his career some good. Like so many of our young players he looks like he might have a very bright future but getting a chance in the Arsenal team is never easy for a young player.
Finally for today I won't be surprised to see the four players from Saturday's line up who were unavailable for last night in the squad for Sunday's game. I'm sure they stayed at home to protect their slight knocks from the long journey to Donetsk and back and it will be seen to be a good thing if we can get plenty of points in the upcoming three league games.
Finally, finally Jack Wilshere was in excellent form again last night despie missing that very good chance n the second half. In my opinion he just has to be included in the team on Sunday and the manager has some real headaches about who to pick. Imagine how difficult those decisions will become if we can just get our injury list down
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.