FA Cup 5th Round
Leyton Orient 1 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Rosicky (53)
1 – 1 Téhoué (89)
Leyton Orient showed the spirit of the FA Cup is alive and kicking, snatching a late equaliser at Brisbane Road to gain a finanically lucrative replay at The Emirates next week. For Arsenal, it is no doubt a game that they could do without as it robs the squad of any chance of a rest in this hectic spell of fixtures.
Uncomfortable questions are being asked after another below-par performance by the ‘second string’ in this competition. The previous rounds have seen them rescued at home and away by sufficient numbers of the normal starting XI to get the club this far.
Even so, the makeshift team had the better of the majority of the match and were within minutes of achieving their objective, a win at the first time of asking. The lead which could not be established in the first half arrived courtesy of Tomàš Rosický’s first goal in over a year, not piledriver from distance for which he is perhaps more noted, instead a deftly guided header inside the far post from the edge of the area.
That it took until the 53rd minute for the first goal to arrive sums up some of the wretched luck that the forwards are suffering from. Chamakh might have had a hat-trick if he had arrived to connect with the ball a second earlier following good work on the left by Keiran Gibbs. Or if he had been able to connect more completely with a shot. Or if his header in the opening minutes had been directed more powerfully than looping into the arms of the Orient goalkeeper. It was that sort of afternoon for Chamakh; everything was a second out of sync.
He was not the only one. Bendtner snatched at an early shot, driving wide rather than on target. Arshavin had an effort which was not held onto but no-one could capitalise on the mishap. It all summed the first half up; lots of effort, control and possession for Arsenal; no goals scored but then none conceded to counter that.
Rosický provided the breakthrough eight minutes into second half. Bendtner had a shot blocked, regathered possession and forged his way to a decent position by moving to the right of the area. The cross came back and the diminutive Czech international provided much needed guile in his finish.
At that point, the thought must have been towards a quarter-final date at Old Trafford, the chance to relive some beautiful FA Cup memories and erase the nightmare of the last visit at that stage of the competition.
Orient would not let Arsenal minds wander. The desire for an equaliser and the same prize drove them on, the hosts becoming more threatening than before Arsenal scored, the introduction of the lively Téhoué a catalyst for the Eastenders.
And yet Arsenal could have secured victory around that time. Arshavin strode purposefully down the Arsenal right and as lone striker took on shooting responsibility, glancing the outside of the post with the goalkeeper beaten.
The first warnings of a frenetic closing phase of the game came when Téhoué fed Revell whose shot inched wide of the post with Almunia scrambling. Orient then claimed a penalty, the referee had a good view that Squillaci had put his face in the way of Téhoué’s ferocious drive.
It seemed that Arsenal might hold on. That proved false hope as Téhoué shuffled between two defenders with sublime close control and drilled his shot under Almunia. The equaliser arrived and credit to the French player is being lost in criticism of Almunia and Miquel for not stopping a thunderous drive or being beaten in the first instance, forgetting that Sagna also missed his tackle if that is the case with the young Spaniard.
The reaction to the draw has been almost one of defeat. Blame is being cast around individually, forgetting that this is a collective sport. Moments of brillance and madness impact the outcome but teams win and lose together. Instead old prejudices are surfacing against individuals which bear little or no semblance to the truth of yesterday’s performance.
Quite simply Arsenal missed a creative spark. Rosický, before injury robbed him of prime playing years, might have been able to fulfil that role. Now he is marginalised too often to be a major influence in such fixtures, better suited to the wider midfield positions.
Crucially though this is a side that rarely plays together and it shows. A lot of the questions being asked can be answered by a team not playing together much, understandings not being forged with a lack of time spent on the pitch together.
The result and performance are not a condemnation of the lack of depth of the squad, most if not all could seemlessly integrate into the first Xi. The impact of that is not the player coming in but the one dropping out.
It is also becoming more apparent that the three-pronged attack does not work as effectively with Bendtner and Chamakh; the Dane dislikes playing on the right and the Moroccan is surrounded by same fug which obscured Andrey Arshavin’s footballing world until a few weeks ago.
With the replay three days after the Carling Cup Final, Arsène will look to rotate once more. It is a relatively quick chance of redemption for this XI and with home advantage, they ought to take that chance comprehensively.
In the meantime, the rather important matter of a Premier League fixture with Stoke City on Wednesday is to the fore. Even before that, there is a live blog at 8pm tonight with Real Social Dad joined by myself, Arseblog and Arsespeak. Click here to join the chatter.