Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday December 3 2009
Arsenal sold 4,500 tickets for this tie. That is a very good number indeed (particularly given the empty seats visible in the Spurs section of Old Trafford on Tuesday evening). But I have to say that had Emmanuel Adebayor not mired the previous encounter in controversy, that the numbers might not have been so great. For all of the faux posturing and moralising that occurs from controversial events, the fact is that football fans love it when some players are wearing black hats and others are wearing white hats. That said, Adebayor had obviously been well versed to keep his behaviour to a minimum- as we were warned on the coach that the police would operate with a draconian hand on anyone heard singing the "elephant song." They needn`t have bothered; one of the biggest fallacies that has been allowed to grow up surrounding the match in September was that that song has ever been sung en masse by Arsenal fans. Largely, Adebayor was left alone, as he had really been in September until the goal celebration, bar one particular moron who decided to throw a lighter at him. Hopefully the idiot responsible won`t have the opportunity to repeat those actions in a football ground anytime soon. We were made aware of the squad en route to the game and whilst the inclusion of Rosicky didn`t surprise me, I was tentative at the inclusions of Song and Eboue. The kids always perform when they have the chance to take ownership of the competition, a few unmotivated senior pros seems to taint the mix and so it proved last evening.
The first half was a fairly even encounter with the home side perhaps just edging it. The first chance of note came after seven minutes when Gareth Barry`s flighted corner saw Adebayor easily rise above Song and powered a header towards goal which was well held by Fabianski. City were beginning to get on top and should have scored after twenty five minutes, Wright Phillips looked to have fouled Silvestre by the by line but the referee waved play to continue, Arsenal were guilty of stopping in their tracks, Wright Phillips pulled the ball back for Bellamy and he swept the ball inches wide. But Arsenal eventually felt their way back into the match with City`s very porous looking defence giving plenty of encouragement. Wilshere was able to negotiate the myriad of bodies in City`s midfield and sashayed through the centre, delivering a cute reverse pass to Vela; the Mexican outstripped Lescott for pace and stabbed the ball marginally over. It should have been the springboard for further opportunities, but all too often the Arsenal midfield lacked either the accuracy of pass or the courage to get forward and support Vela. Either that, or Mikael Silvestre received the ball from the keeper before punting it aimlessly upfield. I lost count of the amount of times that happened. Stephen Ireland played a neat pass to Carlos Tevez, the Argentine gestated his way between Eastmond and Silvestre but Fabianski beat out his near post effort. The Gunners counterposed with a slick move of their own, Rosicky played a pass to the onrushing Eboue, the Ivorian motored into the area, feinted inside footballer impersonator Wayne Bridge but shot straight at Shay Given on his left foot. Hearts were a flutter one last time on the opening period when Traore, who had found Wright Phillips impossible to get to grips with, fouled the diminutive winger on City`s right. Barry`s free kick was headed narrowly over his own crossbar by Alex Song. Half time and a war of attrition had been fought largely on an even keel.
You had the feeling that the first goal would be all important in deciding the fate of the spoils and City assumed that stranglehold early in the second half. Rosicky was guilty of over elaboration in his defensive third, allowing Tevez to steal in, the Czech midfielder apparently playing for a contract couldn`t be arsed to even try and catch Tevez, the Argentine manoeuvring inside Eboue and Song, whose challenges were token gestures at best, before unleashing a delicious curling shot finding the net via the combination of bar and post. Two of Chelsea`s goals on Sunday were finished via that unholy marriage of bar and post and two of City`s goals last night did also. You`ve the distinct feeling that, at the moment, an Arsenal player would see the ball hit the bar and post before bouncing out. Arsenal briefly flickered as Rosicky headed over Merida`s corner, but heads notably drifted down towards chins. At this point, I don`t think it`s unreasonable to look towards the senior players- after all, what else had they been selected for? Eboue and Song played as though their selection was a punishment and an affront to their first team status. Rosicky flickered into action once or twice, but largely his body language echoed that of his fellow erstwhile senior colleagues, which screamed, in the words of Thom Yorke, "What the hell am I doing here? I don`t belong here." Vela was all too often isolated against a centre half pairing which I felt looked vulnerable to runs from midfield. But Vela`s confidence too was visibly shot. The manager had chosen the day of this game to announce that he definitely intends to buy a striker in January, so one can probably explain why figures such as Eduardo and Vela have looked so brow beaten of late. We have no choice to persist with them for at least another six weeks so one must question Wenger`s judgement with those quotes.
City might have ended the contest before the hour mark, Bellamy sauntered down the left with Eboue and Song looking on as passive bystanders on the horizon, Bellamy`s low cross found Adebayor but Fabianski`s presence was enough to force the ex Arsenal striker to poke the ball over the bar. The goalkeeper showing his senior colleagues that even if you can`t necessarily get the ball, sometimes giving chase is enough to put doubt into an opponent`s mind. It was a lesson not heeded as Traore was dispossessed on Arsenal`s left, again Song watched on uninterested as Wright Phillips bore down on the penalty area. Silvestre thought it was a grand idea to peddle backwards and then show him onto his stronger right foot, an invitation Wright Phillips was not shy about taking with an exocet of a right foot shot which cannoned into the top corner. Arsenal were well and truly beaten now and as visiting supporters, we just wanted the final whistle and the warm embrace of our various methods of transport back to London. Song, who looked like he too was eyeing up the quickest possible route home, was lucky to stay on the pitch when he hauled down Stephen Ireland cynically with the City midfielder otherwise unimpeded en route to goal. Indeed, Song had already begun walking off the pitch when the referee beckoned him over and showed him a yellow card. You`ve the impression Song was disappointed not to receive his marching orders, for the previous seventy minutes he looked as though he would rather have been at home in a warm bath.
As the motivation of the older players ebbed into an insulting nothingness, the physicality of the younger players unused to competition at this level also began to drop. City might have had a third when Bellamy went rushing through on the left, again with Eboue looking on disinterested, but Fabianski rushed out to save at his feet. A third did arrive when Bellamy sauntered past Eboue on the left again, again Eboue`s "efforts" in retrieving the ball were barely token, the Welshman pulled the ball back to substitute Weiss and his finish again cannoned in off the woodwork. Arsenal had an injury time flirtation with the woodwork when Merida`s dipping volley hit the crossbar. In the end, the exit from a competition such as the Carling Cup isn`t heartbreaking and hopefully the younger players will have gleaned something from the experience. Set against two dispiriting league defeats, it perhaps feels more maudlin than it should. Whilst the confidence of the side is at rock bottom, it is difficult to see how Arsenal can engineer results. Our style of play clings heavily to the idea of confidence and conviction and when those bedfellows are missing, Arsenal`s entire game plan goes asunder. The refusal to press opposition and retrieve the ball when they do lose it is non existent. Chelsea gave us a schooling in how effective it can be to hassle opponents and to break your neck to win the ball back if you are less than economical in possession. That two of City`s goals emanated from an Arsenal player losing possession in their own half and not bothering to try and win it back is lamentable and the key difference I can see between us and the likes of Chelsea and United. On the ball we can be devastating, off it we are amateur. It was a long journey home and arriving back at my flat at 03.30 before an 08.00 start at work did little to lighten my mood. Some of our senior players obviously felt the game was an affront to them, I felt in the second half that they were an affront to me to watch. Song`s suspension ensures he misses the pivotal visit of Stoke on Saturday, I would hope Eboue and Rosicky have no involvement in that game and I would hope that, with the Carling Cup campaign over, the sight of Silvestre browning his Arsenal shorts every time the ball gets within spitting distance of him is not a pain I will have to endure too many more times.LD.
Team: 21.FABIANSKI, 27.EBOUE, 17.SONG, 18.SILVESTRE, 30.TRAORE, 37.EASTMOND (54.Watt `57), 16.RAMSEY, 7.ROSICKY, 19.WILSHERE, 32.MERIDA, 12.VELA. Unused: 24.Mannone, 34.Bartley, 35.Coquelin, 41.Frimpong, 48.Randall, 51.Sunu.
Date:Thursday December 3 2009
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