Telegraph: There was a hot frisson of excitement on an afternoon of bitter coldness that Arsène Wenger may have had to contemplate something he has not had to contend before. An exit from the third round of the FA Cup.
ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal scored twice in five second-half minutes to come from behind to beat West Ham at Upton Park and secure their place in the FA Cup fourth round.
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I’m just going to go straight in and say Aaron Ramsey was my Man of the Match. Despite having a midfield partner in Merida who seemed to be miles away for the majority of the game (probably already planning a return to the plains in Spain) Rambo conducted himself admirably in midfield, doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the first half and trying to get Merida and Wilshere into the game.
It’s no criticism of the player to say that his game really opened up when Wenger put on Diaby and Nasri. Nasri was able to hold the ball up better than Wilshere (who was easily fouled off the ball by Mark Clattenburg, erm, I mean one of the West Ham players) and Diaby provided strength and touch in the midfield where Merida was simply a passenger. So naturally when they came on Aaron blossomed.
Many people are comparing Rambo to Cesc and I can see a bit of that I suppose, but where Cesc has eyes in the back of his head and can see openings that no one else sees, Ramsey is more of a power player ala Steven Gerrard. Well, that’s not fair, Ramsey has far better fundamentals than Gerrard ever dreamed of having. Oh and Ramsey’s only 19.
Either way, Rambo got his second left-footed goal in as many games and is really getting good run of games here. Wenger set a target of 15-20 matches for Rambo this season, and he’s already got 23. On his current form, I expect he will be the midfield starter in Cesc’s role until Jesus returns.
Meanwhile, up front Eduardo got a very, erm, Eduardo-esque goal heading a wonderful looping shot past Robert Green (who was no slouch). Dudu seemed to be moving a bit better than in the last few games so, let’s hope this signals a return to the form we’ve all been waiting for. I’ll readily admit that he is one of my favorites and I’d love to see him back to scoring goals for fun.
A lot of people blame Silvestre for yesterday’s goal, but in reality the whole back line was in tatters throughout the game and especially at the moment that Hammers scored. In fact, it looked like West Ham should have had a couple of goals and but for the lack of class that their players displayed they probably would have.
I’m not absolving Silvestre, he had a rather poor game and clearly doesn’t have the speed to play fullback in the Arsenal system. Either Arsenal need to change their system and basically play three defenders with Sagna as the lone wing-back and Silvestre holding a line with the two center backs or Arsenal need to not play Silvestre. Because pretty much every time he went forward Arsenal were exposed by his lack of pace getting back.
Considering Wenger’s pre-match comments about Senderos getting a start, I was also shocked to see Gallas and Vermaelen out there once again, though in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. At this point you have to think that Senderos moving somewhere is a real option this Winter and I know I’m not alone in hoping that Wenger finds a center half who can come in an do us service in a pinch. After all, we’re rotating the hell out of the midfield and I know it’s not as simple to rotate the central defenders but we really need to be wary of playing Gallas and Vermaelen in every match. So far, they lead the team in appearances with 25 each. That’s 25 appearances out of 31 matches and while I’m aware that guys like John Terry already have 30 games under their belts, Arsenal players tend to be more frail and I’m starting to worry.
The funny thing is Wenger mentioned as much when talking about why he rotated his squad, he has to know that Gallas and Vermaelen could suffer burnout, at the end of the season, when we need them most. Right? Unfortunately, instead of saying that he has a player or two in mind, Wenger said,
I have the money, I have the motivation, I just don’t have the player.
I know I’ve said that buying players isn’t like buying a loaf of bread but I also understand that it’s hugely frustrating for a lot of fans to hear that Wenger doesn’t even have a target.
More bad news (sorry) as Wenger talked about injuries to the team, saying that part of the reason he rotated so heavily was down to the fact that Arsenal had 9 (nine) players out with injury yesterday. Walcott was the buzz of the press, asking about whether he’ll get the string of games needed to see him included in the World Cup squad and Wenger said that Theo has a rib injury and could be out for a month. A month!
It’s a bit predictable I suppose but I really have to say that Mark Crapenburg is a disgrace. A huge disgrace, a Hunt even. How on earth is it that he sees Song’s tackle and gives him a yellow card but when 6’3″ Diaby is kicked IN THE FACE he gives Luis Jiminez a ticking off? What exactly did he have to explain to the player?
Right, Luis, I’m going to stand here, ok? And wave my hands around, as if to say ‘no more’ – shake your head now – and what I really mean is ‘go on, get stuck in.’ I mean, after all what’s a boot to an Arsenal boys face, eh?
There’s something seriously wrong here with Clatenburg and I’m just going to say it; I think he has an anti-Arsenal bias. This is the second time this season where he’s looked directly at a player put his studs on the face of an Arsenal player and given no card. The first was the infamous Adebayor stamp on van Persie and the Jiminez high boot yesterday. Frankly, it’s sickening what he lets Arsenal’s opponent’s get away with, Valon Behrami could have been booked half a dozen times for his dangerous play and yet somehow escaped censure despite committing dozens of fouls.
It was the same in the Citi game, the same in the Spurs game, the same in the Stoke game, and now it was the same in the West Ham game. Mark Clattenburg has now “refereed” 4 Arsenal matches this season, each one has seen serious dangerous play go unpunished, and though Arsenal have managed to win 3/4 of those games, I think we have been lucky to escape one of our players suffering a year ending injury.
Yesterday was Alex Song’s last game for Arsenal until after the ACN and he put in his usual huge performance in the middle of the park. Arsenal will have some big shoes to fill now and it’s a bit worrying that Wenger doesn’t know who he’s going to put in there.
Most folks point to Denilson, and the boss has said that if he’s fit he’ll play Denilson on Wednesday. Though whether that’s in the holding role or not is anyone’s guess. Diaby, for his part, is going to have a word with Wenger and try to secure the holding midfielder role for himself. I’m fine with that, Diaby is bigger and stronger than Denilson and can fill in at center back when Gallas and Vermaelen go marauding forward. Well, physically he could… mentally? I have to wonder. But if he’s up for the job and begging to do it, then I’d let him have a go at it in training and see if he really does have the restraint needed, and positional awareness necessary to do the job. He is our biggest midfielder by far and the one I think most physically capable of handling the job.
As for the other injuries, I think we saw that Fran Merida and Jack Wilshere are no where near ready for first team action yesterday and we have to keep our fingers crossed that Rosicky gets back in to shape and can get some games under his belt. If Merida was bossed off the park by West Ham, he will be utterly destroyed by Bolton.
Next up for Arsenal in the FA Cup is another away trip, this time to Stoke City on January 23rd. Meanwhile, Chelsea get another bye week in the FA Cup with the draw pulling Championship strugglers Preston North End. Chelsea really have the best luck when it comes to cup draws.
Irregardless, there’s a lot of football before then. In fact, next up we’ve got the famous game in hand against Bolton at home on Wednesday. Win that and we’re just one point off league leaders Chelsea and certainly giving all the doubters something to think about. Especially considering the toll that injuries have taken on Arsenal this season.