A stoppage time equaliser from Danny Welbeck changed an embarrassing result into a disappointing one as Assem Allam’s Tigers looked on course to snatch three undeserved points from Ashburton Grove.
Before I proceed further I will stress that what I say about the game is from a very tribal, Arsenal-centric point of view so if anyone has stumbled upon this report expecting an objective, balanced view, I politely suggest they “do one” (i.e. go elsewhere).
The overriding impression of Allam’s Tigers is of a team who waste time from five minutes into the game and then feign injury to halt opposition attacks. These tactics, combined with a pliant accomplice in the referee and a weakness in Arsenal’s defensive mind set led to two points being dropped when all three were needed.
We faced our FA Cup final victims for the first time since that epoch ending day in May on a mild October afternoon which whilst grey was far from as autumnal as you would expect and there seemed a closeness and humidity that seemed to stifle the air.
The Arsenal lined up as expected at the back with Bellerin replacing Chambers (suspended) who would have replaced Debuchy (injured) at right back and Monreal reprising his Emirates Cup role as centre back.
The midfield also picked itself as the fully fit players started( Wilshere, Flamini and Santi) with the three up top also being the only match fit/in form players, Welbeck, Alexis and The Ox. Arteta and Rosicky were on the bench as expected after their injury doubts but Rambo’s presence on the bench was a fillip as we’ve missed his dynamism when he is on form.
Early chants of
“Who are you ?”
from the HC Tigers fans were answered by:
“2 nil and you effed it up”
in a happy reference to our previous meeting.
An early shot from Santi, attacking the North Bank unusually in the first half, seemed sure to swerve into the top right hand corner but the first goalkeeper used by Ex Man United player coach Steven Bruce managed to palm the shot away.
The next significant action was early reward for a typically energetic and scintillating start to the game by Alexis, who controlled a high ball delivered and larruped a low drive to open the scoring.
Before the goal, and as noted earlier, Harper in goal for the Tigers was beginning the ritual of time wasting by approaching his goal kicks as if they were ticking bombs to be defused. Sadly the referee for the day marked his card by failing to stamp down on this gamesmanship by his inaction and as the game wore on more and more ludicrous lengths were went to in order to slow Arsenal’s attacks.
After the Alexis strike, surprise surprise, somehow the goal kicks were then taken quickly. Well, well !
It was a result of this that my main worry before the game, of our defence lacking the cohesion of a well-drilled back four that had played together regularly, came to fruition.
A foray down our left flank went virtually unchallenged and the Tigers first attack was rewarded by a goal – first shot, one goal, an infuriating characteristic of Arsenal sides for longer than I care to remember.
Even in the less rowdy upper tier I was in for the game there was fury about the validity of the goal as, after later enquiry, there seemed to be a foul on Flamini in the build up but what compounded this was the Arsenal defenders pausing to protest rather than playing to the whistle.
First test and the defence implode and a cheap equaliser conceded, albeit potentially wrongly allowed due to the foul. We just know that had it been us who’d fouled in the build up to the goal the lino would have gleefully flagged it as such and had it chalked off. Maybe it’s my Arsenal-centric view but it does feel we suffer disproportionately more than average from poor decisions.
Thankfully, the crowd still got behind the team from the restart and the half time jeering was directed at the referee.
The restart was calamitous as the defence and midfield showed a somnambulistic approach to dealing with Allam’s Tigers attack from the whistle. A dreamy, casual attitude in the midfield carried over to the defence as a cross came over from Arsenals left, again, and unfortunately the BFG’s leap was mistimed and allowed Hernandez to nod in to put Arsenal 2-1 down.
It seemed odd to me that I would be more worried about attacks down our right due to Bellerin’s inexperience and yet both goals conceded were from our left. It must be said that young Hector’s performance, his tenacity in the tackle and his good understanding of building an attack, got him many approving cheers all afternoon.
Now the Tiger’s were in front we got the “pooping on the pitch” my report is described as the time wasting went up another level and the tactic of “dying swans in the penalty area” was in full view.
As the Arsenal pushed forward, any chance possible one of the opposition defenders would hurl themselves to the ground and lay on the pitch, and then not move off the playing area as the referee should have ordered them too.
Dawson in particular, as you would expect from an ex-spudd, was guilty of this and when he was eventually made to walk off the pitch for treatment instead of taking the shortest route to the touchline he would take a long lazy arc across the pitch to maximise his meander to the more distant point on the touch line. All this was allowed to happen by the referee (even though Welbeck and Jack were pointing at the nearest touchline for Dawson to go to) who was beginning to lose control of the game.
And the Allam Tigers fans had the shamelessness to shout:
“Same old Arsenal, always cheating”
Their team were taking cheating and gamesmanship to a level only possible by the truly snide.
They were also keeping up their Cup Final habit of advancing six-ten yards further up the pitch on their throw ins and free kicks, but the Arsenal players seemed drilled on this part of the opposition play as they were quick to point out the encroachment and even the incompetent referee of the day had to act on that.
For the last twenty minutes the pattern of Arsenal attack-Tigers play acting-Arsenal chance continued into stoppage time of six minutes. The two bright spots in the Arsenal forward play, Alexis and Santi (who was his usual busy, creative/scuttling self, although a bit unlucky when it came to developing attacks) continued to put the opposition under pressure.
The introduction of Joel Campbell seemed to offer something different in our attacks and in the limited time available to him, gave a good account of himself. He seemed to be a bit of a provider/link-up player and not just the target man I thought he was.
Finally the Arsenal equalised when a clever bit of interplay between Alexis and Welbeck resulted in an equaliser that prevented the Arsenal faithful from suffering the hammer blow of a home defeat.
The reaction at the end of the match was muted relief with a tinge of exasperation as to why we allowed ourselves to get into a position where we have to claw back a late equaliser and also at a very late chance not quite going in for Gibbs when it looked like a repeat of the FA Cup Final result was about to happen.
If any satisfaction could be had from the game it was that Allam’s Tigers fans were minutes away from a famous win and that it was taken away from them. For the ethos of their play, and let’s be fair about it, they deserved nothing at all.
There did seem to be murmurs of discontent brewing in the feeling around the grounds after the game, not just with the performance but the squad deficiencies, and it will take a string of good displays to dispel these.
It is now down to the players, manager and club to do that in the coming games.
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)