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Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 1

The F.A. Cup felt like a really good chance for Arsenal to banish the trophy drought and to perhaps really build the sort of momentum silverware can bring. Barnsley and Millwall went through to the Quarter Finals yesterday, one of Huddersfield or Wigan will be joining them. The chances of a generous draw in the Quarter Final were good too. One of the reasons we are spoiled as Arsenal fans is because we know that every season, we stand a reasonable chance of winning a cup. We can dare to dream. At least, we used to be able to! Champions League qualification and participation is important, we all know the reasons why and most of us accept that. It just seems that the club have built it up to the point that it`s become a paralysing crescendo.

The club conducted a poll on arsenal.com this week asking supporters whether they`d prefer to finish in the top 4 trophyless or to win a cup and finish 5th. Now, I wouldn`t venture that a fairly superficial and not hugely important piece of interface on Arsenal Media dictates the policy of a whole club. But the listless performance yesterday, with the spectre of Bayern Munich and another tight, nerve shredding race for 4th, makes it hard not to believe that the players, the whole club in fact, are just so in its thrall that they are unable to conceive pursuing any other objective in tandem. Bradford ought to have inoculated this lot from complacency for life. Apparently not.

I have no issues whatsoever with the team selection. In fact, I remarked pre match that it was stronger than I thought it would be. I did not expect to see Giroud, Koscielny or Arteta starting. It was plenty strong enough to beat Blackburn in terms of quality. But if your mind is elsewhere and you turn up believing that less than 100% focus is good enough, it really doesn`t matter who`s playing. Blackburn`s tactics were pretty obvious; they played a flat back 8 and hacked everything clear they could. They were right to do it, because it`s a very successful tactic to use against Arsenal. Appleton spoke after the game about deliberately forcing Arsenal into wide areas so that they would have to cross the ball. Even on the rare occasions that the cross didn`t float out of play or into Jake Kean`s midriff, there were usually 6 Blackburn defenders surrounding the isolated figure of Giroud.

Rovers actually created the first half chance when Pedersen`s free kick was grazed Vermaelen`s head and flew to the back post. Fortunately, Marcus Olsson elected to try and use his left foot instead of his right and he sliced his volley wide. Given how heavily Blackburn were squeezing the centre of the pitch and the walking pace tempo Arsenal elected to play with, set pieces quickly became Arsenal`s only obvious route to goal. Given that we played with no attacking left footers, most of our corners from the right were rather pathetic. But if you throw enough sh*t, some sticks and given the enormous amount of corners we had, we created chances with one or two.

Rosicky`s delivery was met with a firm header by Diaby, but Jake Kean thrust the ball over the bar. It was just about the only thing Diaby did all day that was above strolling pace. His is a reputation that disintegrates with every game he plays. Every time he sits on the treatment table, we`re told that he`s the best midfielder this side of Johan Cruyff. The guy is 27 years old now and I think I`ve given up hope that he will ever grow a brain. Another Rosicky corner was floated into the area, Vermaelen connected with a looping header, that Kean batted out. But the real opportunity came two minutes before half time. For once, Arsenal were able to make two relatively simple passes through Blackburn`s lines of men. Diaby to Rosicky, the Czech threaded through to Gervinho who ran clear on goal. To this point, Gervinho had actually played quite well and even appeared to be winning a suspicious crowd over. But as soon as he rolled that easy chance wide, the patience snapped as forcefully as the crowd`s patience. It was a panicked finish and, in truth, not a difficult chance at all.

Profligacy was the only pockmark of last week`s performance against Sunderland. We got away with it then. We didn`t this time. Blackburn were able to stick to their simple game plan and Arsenal had no answer to it, a series of hopeful long shots were about as much as we could muster. The game was unwittingly summed up by an incident in the 49th minute when Thomas Vermaelen, oblivious to the pressing of Jordan Rhodes, nonchalantly rolled the ball to Francis Coquelin. Immediately, Coquelin was in trouble, but instead of releasing the ball quickly with two Rovers players on him, he tried to beat them both and lost the ball. Olsson robbed him of possession and Vermaelen was then forced into a panicked clearance for a Blackburn corner. Complacency personified.

Rosicky was pretty much Arsenal`s sole bright spark and he was desperately unlucky not to open to scoring on 65 minutes. He collected a pass from Arteta on the edge of Blackburn`s box, turned and thumped a swerving shot against the underside of the crossbar. Minutes later he rolled Gervinho free in the right channel, but Gervinho, the confidence sapped from his legs, did not accelerate and Hanley got back to block. He, Rosicky and the once again ineffective Chamberlain were removed for Wilshere, Walcott and Cazorla. I might have taken Diaby off instead of Rosicky myself, but I guess his fitness precludes him from playing 90 minutes at the moment. The substitution would, unintentionally, have dire defensive consequences.

Bradley Orr hit a raking long ball from right back to Pedersen on the left wing. He outleapt Coquelin to flick the ball to the edge of Arsenal`s area. Walcott stood and watched as Olsson strode forward and shot straight at Szczesny. The Pole has been criticised for not turning the ball wide, but the shot was hit at his midriff and it`s very difficult from that angle to do anything other than beat it out in front of you. But where Vermaelen had had to move out of position to cover Walcott and try to block Olsson`s shot, now Colin Kazim Richards was totally unmarked in the area and he hit a bouncing, scuffed effort which bounced comically in off the post. A quite ridiculous goal for a team of our level to concede.

As is usually the case nowadays, going a goal down is the only motivation that our players seem to understand. They finally began to play with some urgency. Wilshere`s free kick flicked off of Dann in the area and caught Giroud by surprise in the area, so he handled it six yards from goal with nobody marking him. Coquelin found Diaby`s run in the channel and he blasted a shot from the angle at Jake Kean. Wilshere injected some purpose into Arsenal`s attack. His aggression and work rate just make it so apparent how far those two ingredients had been missing from Arsenal`s play. He wedged a delicate pass to Monreal, who had overlapped forwards from left back, but he could only hack the ball over the bar from a narrow angle.

Theo Walcott ought to have done better after Cazorla and Wilshere combined, Jack clipped the ball into the area from the touchline and Walcott should have made amends for his earlier defensive negligence, but could only direct a free header straight at Jake Kean. The Gunners had one last effort in the 93rd minute. Wilshere again beavered his way to the touchline and cut the ball back for Giroud, his shot was blocked by Dann and ran to Arteta on the back post, but unusually, the Spaniard panicked and blasted the ball into the side netting when, for once, there were a host of options in the area for him to pick out. It was a desperate end to a desperate afternoon.

The final whistle sounded to prolonged and sustained booing. The team the manager picked should have had more than enough to beat Blackburn. Indeed, on chances created we should have beaten them anyway. But what`s alarming is that, once again, Arsenal lacked focus against lower opposition. You can draw a line right back to the Hull defeat in 2008. Complacent, below par performance, several interviews from the players, saying they`re sorry and they`ve learned their lesson, improving for 6-8 weeks before it happens again and we get the "ver` sorr` sur" interviews again. Minds were clearly on Bayern on Tuesday, which is strange because many of the players were out there precisely because they`re not going to be f*****g well playing against Bayern. But it sums the club up, they`ve paralysed themselves into believing that the Champions League is the only thing worth a damn. Qualifying for it that is.

You have to ask big questions as to why, time and again, motivation lets this team down. Even if you don`t think the manager is a great motivator, surely professionals of this standard should be self motivated enough to do the job? Arsene is a manager that puts a lot of trust and liberty into his players and it has seen him bring the best out of players many, many times before. Perhaps that approach only works with a certain level of player though. Perhaps with the quality of player we have now, they do need to be told, "This IS important today. DON`T let, me or yourselves down. This opposition WILL be tough and you`ll only beat them if you give it 100%. The F.A. Cup IS important. Forget ranking your priorities, you`re playing for something that IS important today." The likes of Wilshere and Rosicky, who I would class as two of our highest quality players (a fit Rosicky might be a rarity, but a fit Rosicky is one of our best footballers), didn`t need that message transmitting. They played appropriately.

Many of the others? I`m not so sure. We`re a club stuck in an infinite loop and the trophy draught will go on. We`re in a horrible catch 22. We`re not good enough to beat the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City or United if we draw them. When we do get a plum draw, we`re not focussed enough. In that respect, perhaps Swansea was the perfect draw for the 3rd Round. A team that we could beat but we were forced to take seriously. Maybe we`d be in the hat for the 6th Round if we had drawn Everton or someone of that ilk. I don`t really know. I do know that there are far too many games occurring far too regularly where the manager can`t seem to get his team to focus. He needs to take a very long and serious look at why that is. We`ve had new captains. We`ve had new coaching staff. We`ve had new owners. We`ve had new players. Nothing changes. But there`s one common denominator. LD.

ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 22.COQUELIN, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 17.MONREAL, 8.ARTETA, 2.DIABY, 7.ROSICKY (10.Wilshere `68), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (19.S.Cazorla `68), 27.GERVINHO (14.Walcott `68), 12.GIROUD. Unused: 3.Sagna, 9.Podolski, 16.Ramsey, 24.Mannone.

BLACKBURN ROVERS: 34.KEAN, 2.ORR, 16.DANN(c), 31.G.HANLEY, 3.MARTIN OLSSON, 6.LOWE, 7.WILLIAMSON, 12.PEDERSEN, 14.MARCUS OLSSON (35.Bentley `64), 39.KAZIM RICHARDS, 11.RHODES (25.Goodwillie `82). Unused: 5.Givet, 7.Nunes, 21.Nuno Gomes, 23.Rekik, 30.Usai.





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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday February 17 2013

Time: 12:54PM

Your Comments

16 corner kicks that produced exactly nothing. give other top 6 teams that amount & i'm sure they would have converted at least one. this is how others beat teams that park the bus in front of the goal. we are never good with corners, both offensive & defensive under wenger. he is just not bothered. in fact, we are never good with set-pieces. the only times we were good was when we had brilliant individuals like henry & rvp who were good with direct free-kick. do we ever have any strategy with set-pieces? any top team would not ignore and omit this essential part from their game
Joe_@**
I'm not sure what the stats tell us, but I agree with Joe, we seem to be totally wasteful from set pieces. I was distraught after yesterday's result, it's just so damn frustrating. The worse thing about it is I wouldn't be at all surprised if we beat Munich and I'm not really sure if that would make me feel better or worse! This team is driving me nuts!
flv
On the matter of wastefulness from corner kicks, I would like to see variations, just as Pires and Henry would do. Sometimes, play it short, other times long, but with a rehearsed routine. Not just cross in hope all the time. Then there is the matter of determination in the players. When you want to win. You will win, somehow.
Naijagunner
Please finish outside top 4.
Sajit
Very good report LD. Going along with your "maybe" riposte, I feel maybe we would be in the hat for the 6th round draw had the game been away from the Emirates. It would be a lot more open and given us room to work with than we had the way they set up at our home ground. Winger has to fix whatever seems to be the problem with his teams or, unfortunately, we can only look forward to when he steps aside for someone who can.
Naijagunner
Sajit, I am not sure what you think that will achieve seeing as the board are not going to be sacking Wenger. We can only wait for him to run down his contract or Wenger himself calling time on his stay (not very likely). I feel the team is good enough for 1st 4.
Naijagunner
I don't think it is a matter of a lack of focus. I'm not even sure what, in this context at least, that would entail but I do think that a three pronged strike force doesn't work well enough often enough even when we have our first choice starting line up of midfielders and forwards. The risk that we wouldn't create clear enough chances against an unambitious side with such tactic with this team selection, though individually strong enough, was always pretty high. It was the sort of game when a miskicked shot or a deflection was more likely to find it's way into the net. You can't really plan to win a domestic cup if you have other priorities. You can hope to get a decent draw and the bounce of the ball to carry you through to the next round that's all. Disappointing result but put it down to tactics and team selection. Whether it matters that much in the scale of things I'm less sure.
Amos.
Amos as a fan, what do you prefer a) trip to Wembley b) Olympiakos in group stages of a comp we won't win?
shewore
You don't know for sure, that we won't win that comp, Shewore ;-)
Naijagunner
Yes I do unfortunately. I understand the mindset of a club who want to earn as mich dosh as poss. But as a fan, surely you wanna chance to go to Wembley and see us lift a trophy?
shewore
Do we also put the Birmingham and Bradford results down to tactics and team selection? I thought we were paying someone a lot of money to get these things right.
Wyn Mills
Amos wrote "Disappointing result but put it down to tactics and team selection." That is worth repeating, absolutely right on. Sadly, like so many other times this season, Wenger got it wrong. At least he seems to have sorted out the problem he was having with the zipper on that ridiculous coat he wears.
elbondo
In response to the article, the team wasn't really weak - the only reason team selection was facing criticism was that it's the FA Cup and we didn't play our English players. There's a media perception out there that the foreign contingent of teams do not care much about domestic cup competitions like the FA Cup, whereas the English ones do. Players like Diaby don't do much to shake that perception.
Arsenales F.C
"At least he seems to have sorted out the problem he was having with the zipper on that ridiculous coat he wears." For now. The club have advised that flapping his arms so frequently causes stress to the zip mechanism.
Wyn Mills
I don't agree with team selection being wrong for this game. If the players on the pitch were the wrong players to beat Blackburn, then they're the wrong players for a club trying to progress in the Champions League. These are decent players we have, they're not bad at all (with the exception of a couple), the problem is the tactics and motivation. We can't keep bemoaning the rub of the green.
Rocky7
Indeed. No issue with the selection from me. I read yesterday that Arsenal have 3 goals from their last 70 shots. That's a pretty woeful conversion rate. Focus isn't something you can measure statistically but that doesn't make it fictitious. It's subjective of course, but I didn't think we were focused until we went 1-0 down. Only then did we play at a tempo that was fitting, but by then it was too late.
Little Dutch
Agreed LD - It's kinda scary how often we've not seen the boys start playing with any urgency until we go a goal down. It's like they don't believe they can actually lose to these teams until it goes from becoming a theoretical possibility to an probability.
Rocky7
Millwall away! Cheers again Arsene. Fecks sake.
shewore
Good points LD. Wenger even made the point that the players were told (at half time) that this game was important, don't lose focus defensively and it was critical to get the 1st goal. The issues at this club are clearly not caused only by the transfer market. Clearly Wenger's approach is not working with this set of players, so either change the coaching approach, change the players (which has already been done), or if neither work, change the manager (I would only advocate that as the last resort). Although qualifying for the CL is critical (and I certainly do not think that finishing outside the top 4 will benefit the club in the long run, so I do not agree with gooners who say that finishing 5th will be good for us), it has been given far too much importance recently.
prits
I'm not sure that we're necessarily more focused when chasing a game as more desperate. We created a few chances before we went a goal down too. I'm not sure that we created better ones after we went behind. I'm not saying that lack of focus is a fiction but whether we did or not isn't possible to prove or disprove. Did we focus more on trying to score once we went a goal behind? Individually there was nothing wrong with the team selection. Collectively it didn't seem the right blend to play 4-3-3 with those three forwards.
Amos.
Also, there was no intelligence in the play. Corner after corner was lumped into the box in the same manner, even though it was not working. Players were trying 1-2s in a crowded penalty area, instead of taking more shots from outside, the tempo was too slow and no one (bar Rosicky) was trying to increase it.
prits
The forwards is just one issue - we have one striker
shewore
I suspect you mean one forward that fits a generic description of a centre forward.
Amos.
A striker, yes. Of which we have one.
shewore
That's what I thought you'd think.
Amos.
Ah, too superficial again, eh?
shewore
I think Amos is right about the front 3 because Chamberlain is a midfielder for me. He has all the qualities of a midfielder rather than a winger. Yes he's skillful, but I think he's only there because Wenger is trying to mould his play in some way. Giroud is a hard worker. When there's talent in and around him I think he'll capitalise because of his hard work, but I don't think he's the kind of guy that will make a difference on his own. Gervinho started well, then seemed to lose all confidence after his miss. I know it's a cliche, but he's a confidence player. As such I propose he cuts his hair - for the good of his play of course :). The cheer he'll get from the Arsenal fans would be immense if that happened.
Arsenales F.C
Sagna's is fine because he plays well - Gervinho needs an ultimatum. "Sorry this is not the image we wish to portray at Arsenal FC." Might give Sagna a laugh as well, assure him of his place in the club hierarchy.
Arsenales F.C
Arsenales, apparently, you have failed to notice that the hairdo is intended to disguise the sheer enormity of his forehead. Trust me, you don't want to it any other way:-)
Naijagunner
http://twitpic.com/bxetrw Definitely has a five head, but looks otherwise normal.
Arsenales F.C
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/football/4799889/Bayern-are-just-like-Arsenal-except-they-are-sorting-things-out.html good lesson on how to manage a club properly
Joe_@**
Amos, what's the difference between a centre forward and a striker?Agree with LD and others that team selection was strong enough to win. Its a red herring. Indeed, every player, bar Le Coq is first or second choice for position. Did anyone else notice the rather cavalier performance of Le Coq? LD makes a reference to one incident but his whole game was erratic endeavour. Lunging big slide tackles, trying to dribble 2 or more players. All very loose. Should have been dragged for Sagna when Walcott came on (who needs a bollocking after his stand and watch effort for the goal).
DeadwoodGooner
I actually though Coquelin had a decent game - he was full of energy, and defended well in the 1st half. Also linked up well with Chamberlain on the right.
prits
I'm sorry Joe_@, but that was a crap article. There is no doubt that Bayern is managed well, but the article compares 2 clubs without comparing the competitive environment in the 2 leagues. Bayern does not have any financial competition in the Bundesliga (no club comes close to matching their revenue of 368M, Schalke is 2nd on 175M, less than half of Bayern!!) as Arsenal do in the Premiership. Any other comparison is meaningless. The entire league is run in a very different way - the Bundesliga overall is run better than the Premiership - from fan ownership, to cheaper tickets, to standing tickets. Comparing Bayern to Arsenal misses the point entirely.
prits
A centre forward would usually be considered a striker Deadwood but you don't have to be a centre forward to be a striker. It is of course possible to play without a conventional centre forward at all but still have a few strikers on the pitch.
Amos.
We definitely only have one striker who is capable of leading the line in the set up of 4-3-3, i'd be surprised if that was up for debate.
shewore
prit, your point on relative competitiveness among clubs within the league is valid. nevertheless, the competitive nature of epl has also translated to much more lucrative broadcasting deals compared to other leagues. as you acknowledged, "the bundesliga overall is run better than the premiership". that's why i recommended the link. there's something that we can learn i.e. reinvesting and giving something back to the fans for the price the club is charging
Joe_@**
So far this season we've used 4 different forwards in the 'central' role so there's a debate going on somewhere. At different times that has included the question of whether we play with 3 or 2 forwards (it could even be 1) but that we have 5 forwards (or strikers) from which to make that selection is less of a debate.
Amos.
No, we have one striker to lead in a front 3 - the experiments with Gervinho and Podolski just didn't work. Walcott and Podolski could play in a front 2 though, but definitely not lead the line, we have one striker who is suited to that role.
shewore
We've played in the past without any such conventional centre forward leading the line. It wasn't Henry's game and we had plenty of fevered debate on these forums as to whether it was a failing experiment using RvP there until the experiment solved the issue for us.
Amos.
I'm not saying we haven't, I'm saying the only person capable of doing it for us is Giroud, and he's not exactly setting the world alight but then again he does have scraps to feed on a lot of the time.
shewore
So we've done well enough without a conventional 'target man' centre forward in the past but it is essential we play with one now?
Amos.
He's not saying traiditonal target man, just someone capable of playing through the middle as a centre forward. Doesn't have to be a big lump and I don't think shewore has tried to suggest it needs to be. Someone capable of playing at the point of the 4-3-3, whether they be a target man, a nippy Henry type, or a prolific penalty area type. I happen to agree with shewore that, whatever mould this central striker takes, Giroud is the only player in the squad that can play it in a manner approaching convincing.
Little Dutch
We were certainly in the market for David Villa because, at a guess, he is capable of leading the line in the system we play, but he's certainly no target man.
Little Dutch
why does wenger always wait till the 69th to 70th minute to bring in reinforcement. It was clear some of our lads were not performing to the tempo. Is he a cult?
mykalls
To varying degrees of success I think Walcott, Podolski, Giroud and Gervinho can all play through the middle but only Giroud can play as a target man. How successful anyone of them can be playing centrally depends entirely on what else is going on around them. Playing with 3 strikers is probably less successful with Giroud who seems more comfortable with someone playing close to and off him. Having said that I'm not sure we have any three strikers that play together that well. The system seems to suit an RvP, Henry or even a Bergkamp type that can play more of a midfield role. Were we in the market for Villa? Wenger seemed to suggest he wasn't but I can imagine a loan deal for a few months might have made sense. I can't see that anything longer would have been sensible.
Amos.
He was. When he said "we were close to signing one more" the day after the deadline, Villa was who he was referring to.
Little Dutch
I thought Wenger had made it clear enough often enough that he wasn't 'on the case' concerning Villa even seeming to mock the questioners at one stage. Not necessarily true of course but if it wasn't we dodged a bullet there. In the end he wasn't even worth a few months loan though I rather doubt there was any serious intent to do more than that.
Amos.
Wenger also said he had no interest in Arteta :) Can tell you 100% he tried to buy David Villa. Not a loan, he wanted him outright.
Little Dutch
100%? That sounds pretty convincing. Seems most unlike a Wenger signing - too old and knackered - not really even worth a punt unless we could get him for next to nothing. I'd heard that claim about Wenger and Arteta but though I can find links that Arsenal were interested 2 weeks before we signed him I can't find any specific denial of interest at any time.
Amos.
28th August, 2011, manager's press conference, "There is no truth in the links with Mikel Arteta." But yes, I can tell you for surety that we tried to sign Villa, Barca weren't interested though. I imagine (though I don't know the nuts and bolts for certain) the fee would have involved waiving a lot of what they owe us for past transfers.
Little Dutch
There y'are http://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/arsenal-boss-wenger-denies-move-everton-playmaker-arteta-1846521#.USM-9Fq9W4c If we could've got Villa it would've been a fantastic coup, he's an outstanding footballer - how can 'avoiding' him be something to we can be happy with?! Fair enough if he was 15m but we don't really know as fans, do we? As football fans we want to see the best players on the football pitch we possibly can.... Villa would've slotted right in
shewore
28th August 2011 - that was the post match conference following the 8-2 whipping at ManU. Watching that back the question asked was "is there any substance in that link with Arteta?" repeated and ignored a few times before Wenger finally hesitates says "No" and then laughs with everyone else. Not a denial that convinced anyone it seems. We don't know the terms of any interest there might have been in Villa but we do know that he was a good player in the past but now passed his best and pretty close to the end of his career. He just doesn't fit the profile of a Wenger signing on anything other than a very short term deal though he did sign Suker as a bit part player after Anelka left. As it turned out Villa's kidney stones problem would have limited his appearances in the short term had we signed him.
Amos.
I do know, for fact, we tried to sign Villa on a permanent basis. 100,000%. That's not a guess based on press reports, not quite horse's mouth, but someone close enough to the stable to know for sure :)
Little Dutch
100,000% ! It already sounded pretty certain at 100%! It's always useful to have someone in the know.
Amos.
Can't pretend it's a regular avenue by any means, sometimes I hear stuff that's 2nd hand (literally second hand, as opposed to fourth or fifth hand). This is one rare occasion when it was first hand.
Little Dutch
First hand presumably means someone directly involved in the negotiations. Useful contact.
Amos.
Not quite involved directly as in around the table when it's being thrashed out, but definitely in the loop. Like I say, not a regular contact by any means. As much by chance as anything on this occasion.
Little Dutch
 

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