In his post-match interview Arsene Wenger revealed that he had a very difficult time picking his team up after the defeat on Sunday to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final. You would be forgiven if you didn’t believe him when you saw the 5-0 lashing that Arsenal doled out to Leyton Orient last night in the FA Cup.
One of the truths about this Arsenal side is that they can be wildly inconsistent and yesterday was no different. Having been beaten 2-1 on the precipice of cup glory to a team that they thrashed twice in the Premier League, Arsenal bounced back, answered prayers, and scored a fiver while keeping a clean sheet.
It was an impressive victory not just for the score but also for the fact that Arsene was forced to make 10 changes from the starting lineup against Birmingham due to injury and rotation with just Thomas Rosicky getting the nod in both games. The lineup also included two reserve team players in Connor Henderson and Ignasi Miquel with the former getting his first team debut and the latter reprising his role from the first leg.
The changes didn’t affect Arsenal though as they play their game the same no matter who the new cogs are in their machine. On their immaculately manicured home pitch Arsenal reached record levels for passing with OptaJoe reporting that both teams combined for 1254, 140 more passes than when Arsenal played Barcelona. The passing was so slick that Diaby was reportedly 100% perfect in his 70 minute cameo, completing all 69 of his attempts.
But for all their slick passing, Arsenal didn’t take nearly as many shots as they normally do only having 8 total where they average 20 shots per game at home. Of course, shots don’t matter if you don’t make them count and whereas they had 11 shots on goal in the Carling Cup final and scored just once, Arsenal had 5 shots on goal against Leyton Orient and scored 5 times. For much of the game Arsenal were content to simply pass the ball around and wait for their chances but when those chances came they took them with aplomb.
It always helps Arsenal when they get an early goal as it forces their opponents to come out and play a bit. Every team now sits back and tries to destroy Arsenal’s pretty game while waiting for the moment that their huge lump of a player can score off a header. If Arsenal can score first, they will usually ruin that plan as we saw when Chamakh opened the scoring in the 7th minute off a wonderfully placed pass from Thomas Rosicky. Many people complain about Arsenal’s lack of directness and claim that Arsenal have no one who will attack balls in the box but that is exactly what Arsene Wenger brought Marouane Chamakh in to do. He’s struggled a bit with form after November but getting on the score sheet today will hopefully give him confidence going into the next two weeks.
Bendtner is another player who divides opinion but both of his goals in the first half were quintessentially Nicklas Bendtner. The first came off a Gibbs cross as the Dane simply out muscled his marker to the ball to win a looping header that was unstoppable.
The second goal is becoming something of a trade mark as well as he dribbles to his right and rather than going for power as is customary for most strikers outside the box, goes instead for placement. His curled shot was the type of audacious attempt than only the Great Dane himself could dream up.
In defense, the freshman Miquel did well again and along with Squillaci managed to stifle Leyton’s attack. There were a few moments where Arsenal looked to be opened up, most coming when former number one Manuel Almunia showed the type of judgment that has seen him dropped in favor of 20 year old Wojciech Szczesny. Almunia seemed incapable of making up his mind at times, allowing Leyton to get their heads on the end of a few delicious corners. When he did decide to come out the result was nearly disastrous. Moments before half time, Almunia went chasing out after the ball and the Orient player’s curling shot went past his flapping hand only to be cleared off the line by Squillaci. One wonders how the game could have changed if that glaring error let Orient back into the game.
But it Orient didn’t get back into the game and 17 minutes into the second half, Nicklas Bendtner score the third of his hat trick that put the score well and truly out of sight. It was Bendtner’s second hat trick in a year and sees the Dane in a bit of good form at the perfect time with hree goals and two assists in his last five games.
Clichy would add the fifth, a daisy cutter off a broken play, and nab his second goal in his Arsenal career.
Arsenal are two weeks away from a two week international break and enter a period where they will play Sunderland in the Premier League, Barcelona in the Champions League, and Manchester United in the FA Cup. Meanwhile, iInjuries are rocking the team right now with six first team players out — Cesc, Robin, Theo, Song, Koz, and Vermaelen.
Cesc is being managed on a “day to day” basis according to the manager and could return to fitness in time to face Barcelona. Theo is certainly out for that match though he might be back for Man U — if I were to guess I’d say he’ll be back in April after the International break. Song and Kozzer’s injuries are reportedly minor and should both be back for the vital clash against Sunderland. And Vermaelen has been out all season so we can’t expect much from him either.
The one that has Arsenal supporters really down is the injury to Robin van Persie. Arsene revealed that it’s a tear to the ligaments in the back of his knee caused when he hyperextended the knee scoring the equalizer on Sunday. Three weeks is the minimum he will be out and again since there’s a International break until April I would say four. That said, I’ve torn those ligaments before and I would say four weeks is highly optimistic. I’m not a doctor nor have I seen the scans but ligaments don’t heal the same way as other injuries and more often than not any tear requires surgery. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his season is done.
That makes the goals from Chamakh and Bendtner all that much more important. Arsenal are pushing on three fronts still and will have a serious test on all three of those fronts in the next two weeks. If they have the character they could come through with all three cups still alive. If not, we could be looking at another early end of the season.
Quick rundown of the blogs this weekend, I have some thoughts on the idea that the grass is always greener when it comes to English center halves, I have an idea that I won’t publish here or one of the 600 other bloggers who read this will steal it, there will Match preview late tomorrow (after work), and then on Saturday after the game Chary will be doing his man at the match report.
It’s a crucial weekend for Arsenal and every time I’ve come back from England that has been the case. Also every time I’ve come back from England they have fallen flat. Let’s hope this week is different, for once.