Monday, 21 February 2011

Arsenal Only Manage to Draw With Orient In The FA Cup.

Before the start of yesterday's FA Cup fifth round trip to Leyton Orient took place the draw for the quarter finals was made. The result of that draw was a potential trip to Old Trafford to play "Manure", as long as Arsenal could overcome their lower league opponents. It brought back memories of the FA Cup defeat to "Manure" a couple of seasons ago which led to Arsenal's season falling apart in a matter of days. In that game Arsenal played a weakened team, and were well and truly beaten 4-0.

In the FA Cup so far this season Arsene Wenger has played varying degrees of weakened teams in every game, and it has led to struggles in every round. I had hoped that the second string would step up yesterday, and put in a display to banish those struggles in the previous rounds from the mind, but alas it was not so. I spoke yesterday of the need for some drive in the team, and the player in the pivotal role was Tomas Rosicky. He did manage to score Arsenal's only goal, and he almost got another one too, but he didn't control the game in the manner that Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri or Jack Wilshere would have done in my opinion.With one or two changes in personell yesterday I am sure Arsenal would have strolled through the game, and won at ease.

Arsene Wenger picked the team that was more or less expected, with the exception of the inclusion of Ignasi Miquel at centre back. The young Spaniard was making his full debut alongside Sebastien Squillaci, as both Johan Djourou, and Laurent Koscielny enjoyed a well earned break. The only first team regulars to be included were Bacary Sagna and Alex Song, which meant that the front three consisted of Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh. I don't think that Bendtner and Chamakh can play particularly well together, and it's not fair to expect Bendtner to play in a wide right role.

The first half was hardly inspiring, as Arsenal had by far the majority of possession, but they created very little in front of goal. The best chance fell to Chamakh when a Kieran Gibbs shot/pass went across the face of the goal, but he failed to make any proper contact with the goal gaping. His form has been very poor since the return of Robin Van Persie to the team, and he needs a goal or two to turn things around for him, but it wasn't to be on this occasion. Half time came with no goals for either team, and I hoped for some better fare in the second half.

The second half started in much the same vein, and I wondered how long Orient could continue to work so hard to keep Arsenal at bay. It turned out that their resilience didn't last too long, as Rosicky broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute. The manner of the goal was a surprise to me and judging by his reaction it was a surprise to Rosicky too. After a couple of blocked shots Bendtner put a cross into the Orient box, and it was met by the head of Rosicky 10 yards out. The ball went off his head, and into the corner of the net for the lead Arsenal wanted.

At that stage it was obvious to me that Arsenal only needed one more goal to finish the game off, but they just couldn't get it. Rosicky almost scored again from an Arshavin cut-back, but the Orient keeper made a good save. Orient gradually began to commit more men forward to try to get an equaliser, and Arsenal had a little more space to attack in. I thought Arsenal needed somebody to play in a wide right role, as there seemed to be acres of space in that position every time they attacked. Bendtner was supposed to be playing there, but as I said it's not his favoured position, or his best one either. 

With only a few minutes left it looked like Arshavin would wrap the game up for Arsenal, as he broke away from the Orient defence, but his shot hit the post and went wide. He could possibly have squared the  ball for Rosicky who had made a great run through the middle, but he chose to shoot instead. I had a funny feeling Arsenal might just pay for that miss, and so it proved almost immediately.

After a little bit of ping pong in front of the Arsenal defence the ball was taken down by Orient sub Jonathan Tehoue. He broke through poor attempted tackles by Gibbs and Miquel, and from just inside the box he blasted a shot under the despairing attempt to stop it by Manuel Almunia.  Neither of the two defenders who missed the tackle did particularly well, and I thought Almunia was a bit slow to get down to the shot too. It was a well taken goal though, and the player deserves plenty of credit for that.

Suddenly Arsenal started to show the urgency that wasn't apparent when they were 1-0 up, but it was too late, and Orient managed to see out the four added minutes with relative ease. It means Arsenal won't have the six day break they looked like getting after the Carling Cup final next week, as they will have to play the replay at home on Wednesday March 2nd. I'm sure Arsenal will play a very similar team in that game, and it won't mean any extra work for most of the first team players, but it is another game they could have done without.

The reaction of some fans was a little over the top after the game, as they slated the players and the manager for the result and the performance. It wasn't a good performance, but without that defensive lapse at the end, it would have given the boss he wanted without troubling any of the players on the bench that he wanted to rest. I still think Arsenal will win the replay, and progress to the next round without too much trouble, but it was disappointing that the team chosen on the day didn't put in enough effort to win a game that was there for the taking.

Arsenal have a far more important game on Wednesday night at home to Stoke RFC in the Premier League, and it was vital that no first team players picked up injuries before that game. A win would see the gap at the top closed to just one point ahead of three tough away league games in a row for "Manure". If the boss had played a few of his first team players, won the game, but picked up an injury or two he would have been slated by the same people who have slated him for not picking a strong enough team. Some Arsenal fans enjoy slating the boss, and the players too, and any game they don't win is seen as an excuse to do just that. 

As it stands Arsenal are joint second favourites to win the FA Cup, second favourites to win the Premier League, favourites to win the Carling Cup, and fifth favourites to win the Champions League. They can still win all four trophies, and within a week the outcome of the first of those trophies will be known. In only six days from now Arsenal will play Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final, and it's a game they will need to have all of their best players available for in my opinion. The Orient replay three days later will be just a sideshow, and the league game against Sunderland three days after that will be far more important in my opinion. 

Some fans are entitled to feel that the team should have won yesterday, but at least they didn't lose. The earlier poor performances in cup games by the second string team has not affected the confidence of the first team, and I'm sure yesterday's game will be no different. It means that Arsenal will play in all four competitions in successive games starting with the game against Birmingham, and it could be a season defining run of games. Hopefully it will bring Arsenal's first trophy in almost six years, a place at the top of the Premier League, and progress to the next round of the FA Cup, and the Champions League also. It's an awful lot to expect of the Arsenal players, but if they can do it the rewards could be enormous.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.

See You Tomorrow.


  1. I'm annoyed we didn't win when we had so many chances, but almost more annoyed that if we get through against them, we'd have to face Man Utd at Old Trafford. They're such spawny gits - drawing non-league opposition at home, then only just beating them - they continue to get all the luck. My fear then is that if we get through, we'd send the same 2nd string side up to face them at Old Trafford, and that's not going to end well. As bad as Man Utd are playing, they know how to grind out results.

  2. As long as we beat Orient the boss has to play whatever first team players are still standing after the Barca game. There's a week before the next game after that which is away to West Brom and then an interlull. If we can beat them at Old Trafford in the Cup it will make a real statement.