ESPNSoccernet: Sol Campbell endured a miserable return to the Arsenal ranks as Stoke clinched a memorable 3-1 FA Cup win at the Britannia Stadium.
Man of the Match
The broad that kept handing Delap his ball towel, she’s the most important person on that team. If the FA decides to outlaw towels on the sidelines, they will be putting that poor girl out of a job, while surely dooming Stoke to relegation, and Delap to retirement.
When Vermaelen came in to the team every player seemed to get a boost to their heading ability; I think I even saw Cesc win a few headers in defense early in the season. Just practicing with someone who is really adept at a skill can cause a bit of that skill to rub off.
Yesterday, apart from the first goal which was a lapse of concentration by one of any three players (Coquelin, Sol, and/or Fabianski) I thought the whole team headed the ball extremely well. Sol in particular was a monster at the back and deserves a ton of credit for keeping Stoke quiet. By my tally, Sol won 173 headers by himself.
In fact, the whole Arsenal team dealt very well with Stoke’s “direct play” and won a total of 231 headers while Stoke won a paltry 7 headers.*
Unfortunately, 2 of the 7 headers they won led to goals.
I think that for all of Sol’s benefits, his two weaknesses were glaringly exposed yesterday: his lack of pace and his lack of match fitness. It’s not a criticism, I’m not saying he’s crap. In fact, Arsene said something similar about Sol after the game.
Rather, I’d like to point out he makes up for his lack of pace with his experience and this is tremendously useful. He saved several crosses with his tactical nous. In addition, he knows all the tricks to keep attacking players from winning the ball with their back to goal. He won pretty much every one of those headers. A lot of our young defenders could learn from this and in a pinch I think that Sol could come in and do a job, as long as he’s not being asked to play 90 minutes week in week out.
As for that match fitness, that was exposed when Fuller scored the second goal. Sol was in front of the man and just didn’t have the leg strength to get to the ball. The mind was willing by the body just let him down.
I don’t want to read too much into one performance but with Sol and Silvestre in the game it meant that there were no probing runs by the central defenders and the back line was not nearly as high as I’m used to seeing. Not really all that bad, but it was part of the reason that we were struggling in midfield. It’s a tactical change and something that I’m sure the boss is going to work on.
If Sol is suffering from lack of pace due to his old age then perhaps Denilson is lacking pace for his, erm, young age. Le Boss pointed out that around the age of 21 to 22 young players get a power boost. We’ve clearly seen that in both Cesc and Song who have added a lot of pace to their game this year and who are both 22 years old. Denilson turns 22 on February 16th, will he “level up” as it were on that day? I hope so, because getting beat by Sidibe is pretty embarrassing. What’s strange about Denilson is that while many have seen this month as a nightmare month for him, he has scored twice in three games.
Of course, many have faulted Traore on that goal and to an extent he’s had as bad a month as Denilson. He’s a tremendous talent but he’s got a lot of learning to do if he’s going to play full back at the top level. I have no doubt that Arsene can get the very best out of him. Either that or convert him to a striker: he’ll be the “Next Thierry Henry!”
You could single out a few others for having a poor game as well; Theo cut a lonely figure too often, Vela is really struggling and his cult following must surely be ready to jump on another band-wagon at any moment, and clearly we are dependent on the central defensive partnership of Gallas and Vermaelen.
The thing that gets me about yesterday’s game is the number of times that the announcers went on about Arsene’s team selection. This spiteful rhetoric was followed up by an afterbirth of a truncheon of articles decrying Wenger’s team selection and thus “disregard” for the FA Cup.
This was as obvious a pre-meditated assault on Arsenal as I have seen in a while and something you should be looking for over the next few months now that Arsenal are legitimate title contenders. Arsenal have 10 injuries at the moment and are headed into a run of 4 crucial games in a 17 day period. Make no mistake, Arsene Wenger had no choice but to play the guys he played yesterday. Would he have rotated anyway? You bet your ass. Instead of Eastmond, he would have gladly played Song or Diaby in central midfield. Instead of changing his entire back line he would probably have put in Eboue and one other player. Wenger felt the need to defend his team selection and said:
No, I had not much choice I must say. Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Gael Clichy could not play and I think Sol Campbell had a good game overall. If you look at our schedule you cannot always play with the same XI that is for sure. If you rotate and you don’t win it is your fault so I can only stand up and say that is the team I picked. We have 10 injuries and we are going into a period where we cannot rotate a lot in the big games
The fact is that we’re dealing with a lot of injuries at the moment and it’s not like Arsene didn’t play a competitive team, ala. Wolves against Man U. The fact that he played Arshavin, Eduardo, and risked Ramsey (who is coming back off an injury) when the score was 1-1 is almost all the proof you need to point to to shut these morons up. Arsene went for the win, plain and simple.
If you wanted to bolster your position you could point to the fact that we played Cesc for 90 minutes and basically risked his career as Stoke continuously tackled his Achilles for 90 minutes. Wenger knew that Stoke was going to try to cripple Cesc and he played him anyway.
Wolves’ forfeit against Man U was a disgrace on the game, Wenger risking his captain and remaining star players against a pack of ball washing shit kickers was the best team that he could field.
I’m not going to lie, I’m sanguine about this cup exit. On the one hand, we are knocked out of a competition for silverware. On the other hand, Stoke drew Manciti in Manchester and that would have been another very difficult game right in the middle of our 17 day difficult patch. Oh, and meanwhile Chelsea got their traditional easy draw in Cardiff City.
On the one hand, we got knocked out of the cup with a pretty spectacular 3-1 loss, Arsene’s first loss in this round in some 7 years. On the other hand, we didn’t draw level and don’t have replay next week, again right in the middle of a crucial run of games.
On the one hand winning cups like the FA Cup can be a springboard to greater success. On the other hand, winning the Champions League and Premier League double would be a HUGE feat and an even greater springboard.
And finally, on the one hand I like the FA Cup and hate to lose. On the other hand getting knocked out of the FA Cup means that the home game against Burnley on March 6th and the game against Porto on March 9th are pretty much set in stone. I’m booking my flight for that today!
So, as much as I hate to lose and see Arsenal lose, it’s not all bad
*This number is made up, I’m surprised I have to tell you this. (sigh)