Arsenal Progress To Next Round – Mission Accomplished

obwfat2SSC Napoli 2 – 0 Arsenal

1 – 0 Higuain (74)
2 – 0 Callejón (90)

Sent Off: Arteta (76)

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A pastiche of Bjørge Lillelien’s commentary, evoking the spirit of famous Neapolitans, a city famous for its poets, composers, politicians and revolutionaries. Its footballers and other cultural icons such as Sophia Loren but from the darkness emerged the name that at once provoked amusement, bewilderment and the likelihood that this wasn’t such a good idea after all. I had entirely forgotten that Bud Spencer was Italian but never knew he was a Neapolitan. When your trip through names takes you from Fabio Canavaro to Sophia Loren to Pope Urban VI and ends at Bud Spencer, it is probably a good time to let that notion float into the ether.

That’s before you consider that Arsenal did not win. And by Christ it was a painful last ten seconds or so.

But does it matter? After all, the objective was to qualify, first and foremost. The second objective was to win the group. We can argue all we like about a goal more at home to avoid defeat to Dortmund but what of one more away? Having achieved the first and continued the European campaign into 2014, are there really any grounds for complaint, especially when failure to qualify was a predicted outcome as soon as the draw was made? That disappointment is registering reflects expectations, of the improvement in Arsenal this season over last.

Ultimately, we can think what we want now – and Monday’s draw for the knockout round allows plenty of time to ponder – but February and March are a long time away. Form now means nothing then; a dip here and now will rarely impact then – if form drops that long it is a slump or worse. If there is anything worse than a slump in form, of course.

So to last night. To be honest there was little between the two sides in the San Paulo. Did Napoli want it more or was necessity greater? The latter is closer to the truth and Arsenal were reluctant to engage in an expansive game, understandably since the onus was upon their hosts to deliver victory. And all the while Dortmund were being held, little incentive existed for Arsenal to become more open in their game.

And then Dortmund took the lead, challenging Arsenal and winding Napoli, upon the realisation dawned that one goal was not enough. More traumatising was to score a second only to hear the referee signal the final whistle almost immediately the game had restarted. It was the moment relief coursed through the veins, no joyous rapture at finishing top of the group but a sense of disappointment founded in the knowledge that a trip to the tournament’s top seeds awaited. Or, as Arsène forlornly hoped afterwards, a touch of luck and the ball of Atletico Madrid is drawn immediately after Arsenal’s.

Post-match, the manager did not hide the reasons for the lack of adventure on the pitch,

We prepared well and were concentrated but we were a bit in between ‘do we attack or do we defend’. It is difficult to cope with that problem. In the second half, I felt that our legs went a little bit and Napoli were sharper physically than us.

Arsenal defended well for the first hour without offering much by way of attack, the only real chance came with Olivier Giroud drawing a good save from Rafael Cabral; the resultant rebound came quickly and at a difficult height for Özil to capitalise on. Replays suggest that a cross from Giroud would have left a simple tap-in for Flamini; ifs, buts and maybes.

At the other end, Mertesacker and Koscielny marshalled the troops and contained the home side for more than an hour, Napoli rarely troubling Wojciech Szczesny. They had their moments, Pandev in the first half  and Armero in the second drew saves from the Pole. He will reflect on a slice of luck that he enjoyed as the ball flashed across the goal without an attacking foot applying the finishing touch but Higuain and his cohorts invariably lifted efforts high and wide, occasionally both. All the while Arsenal remained in top place and in truth not particularly in danger of failing to qualify.

That changed as the match entered the final fifteen minutes; Higuain spun and hit a low drive past Szczesny. The match changed with that goal yet surprisingly Napoli did not become more adventurous; perhaps they needed more encouragement? That came with the dubious decision to dismiss Arteta for his second yellow card of the game. An exaggerated reaction from Callejón ensured the referee paid more attention to the incident. That the Arsenal player made the challenge from behind, no matter how innocuous the contact, in this competition, it is the type of challenge which elicits a yellow card. Arteta is experienced enough to know that and in that sense, the dismissal was disappointing, the Spaniard lured into and springing the trap. Which is easy to say for the watching public; for players it must drive them to distraction – another inconsistent interpretation from referees around the world.

And still you sensed Napoli were listening too intently to events on the Côte d’Azur, too driven by Dortmund’s failure to take the lead against the group’s poorest side. And when that happened, they had left themselves too little time to become adventurous or make their numerical advantage count. Arsenal were shepherding the game into its single goal outcome when Callejón got to the ball to lift it over the onrushing Szczesny and into the net.

There is little argument that Napoli deserved to win, they were the better team in the second half with Benitez responding to the stalemate. It is hard (harsh?) to criticise Wenger for his approach to the game. His defence held firm in the first half, carrying out orders as the midfield passed the ball around quickly but without real attacking intent. The difficulty in that balancing act became evident when Higuain scored but in truth, had you been in Wenger’s shoes why would you change anything until that point when the point was all that was needed.

Ultimately, that is inconsequential as Arsenal progressed and move onto Saturday’s trip to Manchester. The Champions League can wait, the Premier League takes precedence for the next couple of months, the small matter of the FA Cup’s North London Derby a distraction between now and February’s knockout stage.

’til Tomorrow.

97 thoughts on “Arsenal Progress To Next Round – Mission Accomplished

  1. on point.MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.whoever you meet,it depends on their and our form in january and other factors like volcanic ash(ala inter vs barca),injuries,referees,fixture schedule,etc

  2. You are right YW. It is highly doubtful that anyone would have not accepted the position we find ourselves if asked when the Group draw was made. But good showings against Dortmund should give confidence that we can do well against whomever we play. This Saturday and next week will likewise demonstrate where the team is at (though you rightly point out that a few months between now and the round of 16 can change things dramatically.

    Whichever, team it is, it is going to be a great tie to be involved and something to look forward to – that is the joy of being in the Champions League. I am sure this team will be keen to show its qualities. Remember Cesc coming of age against Milan and Barca? This year it could be Ramsey or Kos or Shezzer? Maybe Ozil will get a chance to shut Ancelotti up! Indeed, it will be something to look forward to..

  3. For those couple of minutes prior to Dortmund scoring their second goal (about 85 minutes into our game), it as quite surreal to have Napoli passing the ball sideways across their back four at the half way line and our defence 15 yards away and no desire to move forward… Had Dortmund not scored again, that could have gone on for the next 5 minutes. It is amazing how quickly things changes for all three teams when BVB scored.

    And did Mertens really try a blatant off the ball dive without contact with Monreal as the incident preceding the Ramsey push and yellow card? I would like to see another angle on it but it looked to me like there was no contact and he jut dropped to the floor – there should be retrospective punishment if that is the case because it is a blight on the game. I mean he rolled around on the floor for 2 or 3 minutes…

  4. Agreed Chyke why did Theo not appear is a mystery, overall you have to say although we are through a very concerning performance last night.
    Easy to say in hindsight but if we could have gone all out and scored early, that game would have been put to bed and much easier opposition awaiting us in the next phase.
    Mentally not there with Per admitting that after the game, i just hope we can get ourselves together for the weekend as another defeat could seriously dent our confidence. With fatigue taking its toll we seriously have to recover quickly as City are on a real high after their win and will be really up for it.
    Come on you Gunners !

  5. We qualified out of a very tough group, so no complaints!! But I am really worried about Saturday’s match..Mainly because some of our players looked very tired by the end of the match, especially Giroud!

  6. An odd game to watch and an even odder game to play in, I suspect.

    We played very comfortably in the first half despite the odd alarum, but without ever looking like playing with our usual momentum up front. This continued in the second half until the wheels almost came off in the later stages of the game, particularly after the ridiculous sending off of Arteta, although as Yogi pointed out he should have known better to leave himself exposed to a refereeing decision.

    During this so far successful season we have been fantastic at ‘pressing’ the opposition, but what has been noticeable in the last couple of games is the lack of this hunting in packs pressing.

    Hopefully this will be addressed at the weekend.

  7. I thought Cazorla took a step in the right direction. Some of the passes that have been a bit wayward since returning from injury were absent. And he put in a shift in defending too.

    And Giroud was tireless as usual. For those that criticise his place in the team, how many strikers have his all round game? When we are dominating possession he offers something and when our backs are to the wall he does the same. I know Higuian scored a great goal tonight but in a game where we were being dominated as much as in this game Giroud constantly provided an outlet.

  8. As Wenger admitted after the match,he didn’t know whether to attack or defend so that left him with the option of just knocking the ball around. I like Girouds many qualities as a target man like winning headers and aerial duels,flicks ons and the likes,but its just that footwork,pace and that final drive some strikers have that he lacks. If he can improve that side of his game, he would be better than Henry. In summary, we didn’t come to Naples to win the game rather we came to win the group via a draw

  9. The lesson from the game: if you come for a draw you might lose but if you come for a win you won’t lose. That’s easy to say

  10. In the Marselle game a player was sent off for diving which in my opinion was a poor decision by the ref as the player wasn’t even calling for the pen. Arteta gets sent off even though napoli were rougher

  11. When Arteta got his red card the Ref clearly showed him two fingers as explanation, I think indicating the red was for multiple fouling, yet the Napoli midfielders must have had six or seven fouls each. I thought it was very harsh.

  12. @Adam
    by his standards the ref should have sent off merten and behrami.they committed more fouls than arteta(i understand he committed just 2 fouls and got 2 yellows

  13. Only way I could rationalise Arteta’s second yellow was that the ref forgot he had booked him already. If he had known Arteta was already on a card that wouldn’t have been a red. Rediculous considering Arteta himself had been drawing identical fouls all night but received no intervention from the ref.

  14. Excellent Yogi.

    It was always a difficult scenario, trying to conserve energy with the prospect of such a huge game against one of our main rivals for the title just three days away. We attempted to control the game, come away with a draw, which is always a tightrope affair, and I actually thought we did that fairly successfully for the first 60-70 minutes, then it back-fired. Doesn’t matter though. We are through. Which was the objective all along. It’s easy to forget, precisely because we have been doing so well, that when this group was announced, the, umm, experts all said we would struggle to even qualify from it.

    Job’s a good ‘un

    Personally I don’t much care if we have to face a Barcelona or a Madrid next, makes the sense of occasion all that bigger. You want to play those teams (well, unless you get thoroughly tonked..) And as the prevailing consensus is that we don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of actually winning the thing, why worry too much. We can still beat anyone on our day, and over two legs. Bring it on. If we fall short, concentrate on the league. Arse.

    On to Saturday now, thanks to another travesty of TV scheduling, we have little time to recover, but I hope we have enough in the tank to give ’em a game. I’d take a draw 🙂

  15. Having a skim around the blogs I am quite saddened by the inference of some bloggers that the team were not trying or were too tired to put in the effort.

    I do not pretend to be a better supporter than anyone else and I do occasionally have a moan about this or that, but if I was as curmudgeonly as these guys are and lambast the lads for getting through to the next round, however disappointing the score, I would seriously have a think about why I support a football team, and what that support is worth.

  16. I don’t understand people being concerned about who we get in the next round? They will not want to play Arsenal but, more to the point, if we win and progress (whoever we play) do people think the next 3 games to win the cup will get easier? To win the CL you are going to have to go on and beat at least two of the do called big teams (real, barca, bayern or whoever) anyway. If we win the next tie then great as more fantastic European nights this season but we will still have to play the big boys anyway. If we don’t win, we will be better placed to push on in the Prem. no Europa league distractions – which would be infinitely worse than getting a tough draw next in the next round of CL!

  17. I agree, Mike,

    The next rounds of the CL are like any other knockout Cup competition, and whoever performs best on the night(s) will get through.

    It is not altogether a lottery, but even minnows cause upsets in the FA Cup and it is the same in the CL, and we are not minnows. So, all to play for methinks!

  18. Well that’s true Henry. You are braver man than I Gunga Din, to even read that stuff. I can almost sense the ripples of overreaction in some quarters.

    Five points clear at the top of the league and through to the knockout stages of the CL. If anyone had said after that opening day debacle, that’s where we’d be in December they’d have been routinely mocked as having their had in the clouds or firmly lodged up AW’s posterior. That’s where we are though. We’ve far exceeded expectations.

    One step at a time though. It’s not supposed to be easy, and the last two games have been a timely reminder of just how difficult it is.

  19. Morning YW a well expidited report. Yes I’ve concerns for Giroud. At the end of the game last he was virtually on his haunches,tired,fatigued was not the word.

  20. Good post YW. And I agree with Harry – we’d have ripped your arm off if you offered this situation in August. As it is there are some regrets about finishing second – but for me not focussed on last night but more on the inability to contain Dortmund for a draw in the home game… As things turned out that would have made last night irrelevant and we could have sent the under 21 team….. As it is we’re through and when the draw is made we can just look forward to it.

    The main worries about last night all look forward to Saturday’s game – for me mainly – what’s up with Theo? Nearly all Napoli’s threat was from overlapping fullback down the left – including the goals, and Theo pinning him back would have been a good defensive tactic, never mind the chances of winning the game. Is he still feeling delicate, is he being saved for Saturday???

  21. Top post Yogi and as you rightly point out, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

    Were we at are best last night, no obviously Arsene was caught between 2 minds, attack or defend. For me with the players that we have, we play our style on a night like last night and we probably score a goal or 2 and that would be that but at the same time I think the way Napoli went about the match from the start kind of threw Arsene off. I think the reason he started with a midfield of Flamini, Arteta, Ozil, Mozart and Santi was because he thought Napoli were going to go all out and try to score 3 goals so he would have his 2 most defensive pivots in and then his best technically gifted 3 midfielders in to absorb some of the pressure and then pass around and hit them on the counter. But Napoli almost didn’t want to win until they got that 1st goal.

    I know Giroud has said that he is more than capable of playing every min of the match but for the 1st time all season I am genuinely concerned about him being fatigued. He looked absolutely drained at the end of the match and I don’t know if it was due to just that match or the amount of mins that he has played for both club and country since the start of the campaign. I would venture to say that we will see Theo against Manshitty but I’m just not sure.

  22. HTL,

    You have rightly identified where the main threat came from last night. That is to say from their left side.

    I really want to see Corp Jenkinson do well as he has many attributes, not least that he is a real Gooner.

    However, although he played well overall, he was the weak link particularly in the second half, and did not get much protection, and if Theo had played he might have given the defence an out ball and his pace would have given Naples concerns, there is no doubt he would have given Jenks even less support in defence.

    Just an opinion but it is the other side of the coin where Theo is concerned.

  23. Great post Yogi:

    Disappointed and a little surprised that we conceded 2 but I remain confident about the solidarity of our team defense going into this tough run of game. I do think that not topping the group when we had the chance is a big deal given the list of teams we could potentially play in the round of 16 but such is life.

    I did like the idea of playing Flamini and Arteta and sitting deep and hitting on the counter for a game like that. Its a time tested and proven strategy. The problem was that you need a couple of goal scorers available to make you more of a threat on the counter attack. Santi has 1 goal this season. Giroud has only scored in 1 of our last 8 games and the 2 goals he scored in that game were a PK and the gift wrapped goal from the Southhampton GK. He seems to have lost the goal front mojo he developed in the preseason and earlier this season. Rosicky is unlikely to score and Ozil can score but is also more of a provider. If we are going to play with a striker who is a target man and facilitator rather then a our main finisher then we need to surround him with at least 2 other goal scorers. So far Aaron has been brilliant. However, the idea of midfield triangles and Oliver laying the ball off to 5 midfielders as our attack has been successful in terms of results so far but it is probably not going to work over the long term. The point of all of that is to ask, where the heck was Walcott. Theo was our best scorer last season and the only player in the squad who has double figures in goals for the last 2 seasons. We need him scoring and he often takes a while to get going so we should have had him in the line up a couple of games ago.

  24. @GA

    I think the thing with his 2nd yellow was that throughout the match the ref was giving a foul for that with Arteta himself baiting several Napoli players into fouling him in a similar fashion. I do think though that he had a momentary lapse as he is too experienced to make that foul already being on a yellow.

  25. @GA

    I caught your comments from yesterday this morning. You really believe that was our strongest 11 players?

    Job done may be the mantra this morning but it cannot hide an awful 2nd half performance. As I sat through that I wondered what was on the managers mind. Another game with no Theo in a tie that was probably begging to see his introduction. At one point there were 22 passes between the back 4 in the second half with us already down 1-0. I realize we didn’t need to crazy and attack at every avenue, but we basically failed to attack their half at all the entire game. The narrow play allowed their full backs to basically sit at the edge of the 18 yard box the entire game thereby squeezing more life out of us. It was a terrible performance. I worry about the weekend and the same mindset setting in about a draw being good enough and a similar pattern unfolding.

    Arteta’s 2nd card was bullshit, but in light of all that if Arteta is in effect booked for persistent fouling then how on earth did Merten’s avoid a 2nd in his 7 fouls given? I’m not trying to offer excuses for Arsenal, but seriously referee what game were you watching. Behrami and Maggio also managed to avoid bookings for cynical fouling.

  26. Where’s Wally? sorry, Walcott?

    I was surprised he didn’t make an appearance last night, but no doubt there was a valid reason. Could just be that Arsene was saving him ahead of Saturday. Maybe he had a slight niggle as well or something and AW didn’t want to risk him in a game that wasn’t really a necessity (to win). Maybe he just didn’t fit into Arsene’s game plan on the night. I dunno. Don’t see the big deal myself.

    I expect we’ll see Theo at some point against City. Mystery solved.

    We won’t see a similar pattern on Saturday. You can’t take last night out of context: The team was trying to do just enough, no point going hell for leather in that situation, with a massive game three days away, and to be fair to them it only really back-fired in the last 20 minutes or so. Man City are a different prospect altogether.

  27. I don’t think we were really intentionally just playing for a draw. The back 5 along with Giroud and Cazorla and Ozil are all our first team regulars. I think we set up to play as solid as possible defensively and hopefully get a goal or 2 on the counter. We won playing that way at Dortmund. My only concern was that without Ramsey in the line up we had no one who has been in decent form in front of goal in that team. Even bigger problem was that it looked like we had our first true mental off game of the season and just did not have much energy or drive. Even the defense conceded 2 which was a surprise. Hopefully the mental let down will be a one off.

  28. In truth, whilst we are all disappointed at the lack of attacking intent, it must be correct that AW decided it was safer to hold back, which is what they did.

    In the first half, we most probably did more attacking, but in the second half they pushed us back and we had no attacking force at all.

    The lack of wingers, which has been a problem all season, was clearly the problem, which is why so may of us thought that TW would be brought on.

    I do expect to see him on Saturday (actually not see him literally as I will not be watching the game) because having him there opens up more attacking possibilities.

    MA had committed a worse foul a few minutes before he was sent off, so the writing was on the wall.

    Meertens, on the other hand, got away with murder in the first half.

    WE will have to meet the seeded teams eventually, so if we have to do it now then so be it.

    In the last few years, we have been in that situation and, although we have gone out each time, we have been getting closer to passing through the gate. Last season we fell on away goals, so perhaps, this is the season to get through.

    I would be happy with any team other than Barca, as I think we have a mental block with them, having lost so many times. However, we are owed one as far as they are concerned, as I am convinced, had that idiot not sent RVP off, we would have won that game.

  29. We’ve had loads of European nights like that over the last 15 years or so, in the good times and not so good times. Nothing to worry about. Lots of strange psychology at play, but what’s important is that we went through.

    The only concern is heavy legs.

    I’d be looking at Monreal, Ramsey, Wilshere and Walcott for the weekend, and praying for surprise good news about Sagna. If they’re all raring to go then we’ll have a great chance. If not then we have to grin and bear it, knowing there’s a break after the weekend.

    The schedule and draws have messed us around this season. Two visits to Manchester right on the back of away trips to two of the best teams in Europe. That’s so uncool.

  30. Harry:

    Perhaps there was a slight niggle or some other reason Walcott didn’t play. Who knows. If he is not really ready why put him on the bench instead of Gnabry or someone who could have played. We really need Theo to find his shooting boots IMO and expecting him to be in form for a huge game like Man City when he has not played is not ideal strategy. He has been back for several games now and should have been getting more playing time before this weekend. No?

  31. I think the one thing that we have seen all season long even when we have been at our best is the need for Theo, Podolski, Ox, and Gnabry to be on the pitch for us to really be at our best. When we do play with 5 basically midfielders who long and love to play centrally it allows other teams fullbacks to go marauding forward freely with no cover from the wing or threat of a winger being played or occupying the space that they have left vacant. I truly do believe that for us to be at our absolute best, this Arsenal team has a need for one of Theo, Podolski, Ox, Gnabry to be on the pitch to exploit and push back 1 of the fullbacks so that they both can’t go marching forward.

    Just my thought but I could be wrong because we are currently through to the knockout stage of the CL and top of the PL!

  32. @Harry

    My concern for Theo is based on 5 bench appearances and 42 minutes over game time since his return. You may be correct that something was wrong or that he didn’t feature in the plans of the manager on the night. It is still a concern for me that we’ll follow similar fair come Saturday though I would dearly enjoy being wrong. Could just be my opinion, but we never seem to perform as well as we could when we try to not play and just defend a lead.

  33. I thought Jenkinson looked stronger again last evening, he needs games and is not a “massive” step down from Sagna. It bodes well if we can keep developing him in the position with more outings this season.

  34. @Big Al

    I agree with you on the changes. It will also be good to get Podolski back and hopefully Sagna as well. Our next 2 matches against Manshitty and the Chavs will be telling.

  35. I agree with Al. It was one of those strange Cl scenarios, which we because ended up losing on the night, is now in danger of being over analysed.

    And yes fatigue is the main concern about Saturday. We have been done up like a kipper with both the fixture list and tv schedule. So we’ll have to wait and see how what the energy levels are. Fingers crossed.

    Bill / MA, I don’t know if he should have been getting more playing time or not, I don’t know what’s up with him, or indeed if anything is. I trust Arsene knows his players, their fitness and whatever else is going on. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Theo in due course. Starting Saturday

    I’m back to “Arsene knows” 🙂

  36. Yeah, C, Podolski is another option. Great to have him back in time for the Xmas fixtures.

    I hope we can look at the City game with some kind of perspective though. It’s a big ask after the week we’ve had. I’m not a huge fan of arbitrary rotation like Moyes at ManU—I always like to see it when needed, but prefer a settled team, especially at the back.

    But we’ve been really unlucky with way these fixtures are sequenced. As if the group of death wasn’t enough. So the point is I think AW’s team selections has been spot on for the most part, but it means that Saturday is much more difficult as our big performers apart from Ramsey have done a lot of running over the last few days.

    Not for a second writing us off for the weekend. Just saying that the bottleneck that has occurred this week would be a decisive factor, and wouldn’t necessarily point to a long-term malaise. Especially with nine days to rest up going into Xmas.

  37. @Harry

    “I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Theo in due course. Starting Saturday”

    I hope so mate, of course everyone was saying that prior to the Napoli tie. It could really be as simple as Arsene not wanting to use wider players in his system now, I guess time will tell the full tale.

  38. @Bird

    If the intention was to defend the 3 goal lead then I still think it was questionable to have played Giroud and Ozil for 90 minutes. I’m not concerned about fatigue amongst the back 4 because they largely don’t do the same amount of leg work in a game.

    “Just saying that the bottleneck that has occurred this week would be a decisive factor, and wouldn’t necessarily point to a long-term malaise.”

    We cannot use this type of thing as an excuse for a performance however either, it is an easy out. All the top teams are going to have to sandwich games in to short time frames, it is a constant and not just one effecting Arsenal.

  39. Miami @ 12:14 – Pretty much it was. Ramsey would obvoiously normally play and Either Rosicky or Flamini/Arteta would drop out. Theo is another who could stake a claim, but that aside it was our first available 11. None of the back four were rested, our only striker played, our £42M man played. Ramsey aside, it was the best he had available

  40. Miami – Not picking on you mate 🙂

    I thought Jenkinson looked stronger again last evening, he needs games and is not a “massive” step down from Sagna.

    Really? I think the drop off between Jenks and Sagna is huge. I though Jenks struggled last night and was quite poor going forward. Plenty of our decent possesion came to an abrupt halt when the ball went right.

  41. @GA

    Certainly Arteta and Flamini playing together is not going to lend to our strongest line up. Theo is a must for me, we lack balance in attack without him. Would these two have made the side a different proposition? maybe, I guess I don’t have an answer for that. At this point in the game I’m not even sure I would have Cazorla in for Jack, the latters performances seemingly growing as the season has kicked on. Cazorla still looks like he is trying to figure things out (though he is supremely talented).

  42. There’s the rub- We have a huge encounter with City on Saturday or do we play balls to the wall against Napoli. In the end we made it to the knockout stage of The Champions League. Sure we could get Real or Barcelona or Bayern but what is the real focus The EPL. Playing at City’s hosue will not be an easy task. The Citizens kill all their opponents at home. We have to be on top of our game and the guys can’t be tired. A point is a point now it is time to get ready for City

  43. Harry @ 2:55:

    Fortunately you have not had to fall back on “Arsene knows best” very often this season.

    Miami @ 3:04:

    I agree. Man City had to play on Tues. Its not like we were really switched on mentally last night so hopefully we will be ready for Saturday.

  44. @GA

    “Miami – Not picking on you mate 🙂 ”

    I have no issues with it mate.

    “Really? I think the drop off between Jenks and Sagna is huge. I though Jenks struggled last night and was quite poor going forward. Plenty of our decent possession came to an abrupt halt when the ball went right.”

    I take your point. However if we break it down. ” Plenty of our decent possession came to an abrupt halt when the ball went right”, this is true. It is also true for the left side and the middle.

    “I though Jenks struggled last night and was quite poor going forward”. I thought the entire team was frankly poor going forward. It is difficult for me to judge the culpability of one player in his position for this situation, given the fact that the entire show barely any interest in getting in to the opposition half.

    “Really? I think the drop off between Jenks and Sagna is huge”. Make no mistake, Sagna in my eyes is a superior player to Jenkinson. I would expect it given his age and experience. That said, the performances of Jenkinson have improved as he plays more games. He is not a finished article, and he won’t be for some time but then we should expect this when introducing younger players (remember he is 21). His performance last night was by in far not the worst thing on display (at least IMO).

  45. Congratulations to the whole squad on qualifying (yet again!) from such a tough group. It’s a creditable achievement.

    Got to feel sorry for Napoli. Scooping 12 points and not qualifying must be heartbreaking (especially in the light of BD’s late goal). Perhaps if they’d been a bit more patient during the transfer window . . . . . . . . .

    As for Theo, if there ever were any plans to bring him on, I guess the timing of Napoli’s goal and the absurd sending-off put paid to them.

    Nothing to fear in the next round. No guarantee we’ll win – but we’re good enough to put the skids under any team in the competition.

  46. Miami – I don’t disagree. Like I said, with one of two exceptions, our strongest side. We definately did not go there to rest a few players and coast the game.

  47. @Big Al

    Agreed. I’m not as concerned about the LB spot and rotating there at times because we have seen that both Nacho and Gibbs can put in a brilliant shift and there is no drop off either way.

  48. Miami – Again, I don’t disagree. Not trying to sigle him out, as you said we we poor in most areas going forward. But, as we were on the subject of Jenks, that was my opinion.

    Put it this way, if Sagna does leave this year I would be really concerned if Jenks was the no1 right back next season. My point about him going forward was that if confronted on-on-one with a defender, his only real tactic is to push it past them (to the right) and try and beat them in a race to the ball. But he doesn’t not really use his body well when he does this and if faced with a decent defender, will struggle doing this every time.

  49. MA, Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime is a stitch up considering the opposition in both games. I just think it’s exceptionally difficult to have the toughest PL away trip of the season so close to the decisive match of the group of death. No other English side had a CL draw as tough as ours, and I don’t know how other teams would expect to fare, but it’s a big ask. Just thinking the response should be measured if we stumble at this hurdle, and I don’t think it would be a sign of anything more than short-term fatigue. Especially when you see that City didn’t take their game at Bayern too seriously and were able to rest some big names.

    Later in the season we may well have similar fixture congestion, but if we happen to play a title rival after a big European tie I’m pretty sure they’ll be in the same boat us, physically speaking. That just isn’t the case this time.

    That said, we could well show up looking bright. Ramsey and Wilshere are two energetic footballers who have had time to recover. If we play Walcott he’ll be fresh too.

  50. “Arsene knows best”

    Look, as dismayed as I was last night watching a shell of an Arsenal side, that seemed at least in my eyes to have shown zero ambition, I get what the purpose was and that was qualification. We did, therefore job done.

    To me however, it is to easy to walk away from this match and think it doesn’t matter. They all matter. We saw more tired players at the end of the game trudge off having wracked up another 90 minutes of football with more games this weekend. For me, and this is just my view, I thought the manager got it wrong. If we were to hang out for a goalless draw, then play Bendtner instead of Giroud. Why with draw Cazorla, who has seen less minutes than Ozil who completed yet another 90. I guess for me I just cannot wrap my simple mind around the goal of our game plan. Hey, not saying I’m right I just happen to understand what the manager was smoking last night. he is a great manager and has done extremely well this season with the side at hand and all the injuries that occurred.

  51. @GA

    I’m not sure that if Sagna is/was to leave that Jenkinson would get the nod either. I can see Arsene buying someone in, the question will be whether it is competition for the role or as a first choice. Bellerin has been loaned out to Watford for experience and the club obviously feel he has a chance to make the spot his own in the future. I would personally look for the an EPL loan next season for the then 20 year old to flourish.

    I know you aren’t picking on him mate. It is funny how we all see different things in a game. Jenkinson has speed to push past the final defender, he has the bulk to shoulder them off the ball, he needs more technique. He crosses very well but last night almost always failed to get it past the 1st defender. It was his cross (pin point) that gave Bendtner his only goal of the season. I guess for all of us time will be the great decided on his future.

  52. I think anything other than a very strong lineup would have handed the incentive to Napoli straight away, MA. Also seeing how the volume levels fluctuated throughout the match, the sight of us pulling off important players might have compounded an already difficult atmosphere. I most definitely would not have wanted to see us risk it.

    When that first goal went in the crowd exploded. Had we conceded early on with a makeshift team we could have been in deep shit before we knew it.

  53. The problem is not really a lack of wingers because Neither Theo, Cazorla or Podolski are wingers. They cut inside most of the time. What we lack currently is enough goal scorers in our front 3. Lack of wingers would not be an issue if Santi was scoring and Giroud was scoring. We were fine without wingers when Giroud and Ramsey were both scoring regularly early in the season. We need Walcott to find his shooting boots and/or Cazorla to regain his form from last year to go along with Ramsey.

  54. @Big Al

    If we lose in the weekend it won’t mean I’m about to put the boot in. I think this side has been tremendous and they deserve praise for what they have done to date during the course of the season. I just don’t want us to go in to the game with a mind set that a draw is a win and so lets make 200 passes in our own half between the back 4. As I said above, even with this improved defense I don’t think we do well holding out for a draw or defending a lead. Yes, it has improved but losing all our attacking ethos to do so just continually invites the opposition to attack us just as it was last night. Maybe Arsene’s translation of his tactics was not on display last evening and the side just plain struggle to get to grips with the game. It is possible. I personally just hope we are prepared to go down fighting on Saturday as opposed to a lemming like display of last night.

  55. @Bill

    To me it was a simple lack of pace 🙂

    @Al

    You may well be right. I’m merely expressing my views from what I saw. Giroud yet again worked his ass off, just feelings like for nothing.

  56. Oh, I’m not worried about the way the team will be prepared, MA. I think last night was a unique situation. AW always sends us out to attack, but the circumstances of last night made things tricky. I think we’ll take it to them, and unless we’re in sparkling form it will be tight. My big worry is whether we have enough in the tank to see the game out if we’re level going into the last half hour.

  57. The only real issue I can see with our current game plan is that it relies on runs from midfield. The majority of our midfield players are all naturally attracted to the ball. They play a pass and then follow the ball. Which is great, but not if they all do it.

    Runners away from the ball are vital as not only does it provide penetration, but also creates more space for the players on the ball to work with. When we are not playting well (for whatever reason), nobody makes runs ahead of the ball. This is why we can often look good in posseion, but not very threatening. Which is also why it is important to have players like Podolski and Theo in the squad as they will make the forward runs.

  58. Miami:

    Pace is certainly an asset and adding a pacey player up front won’t hurt but its not a magic bullet. Plenty of players with incredible pace who can’t score and plenty of players who are not pacey can. Theo was not very useful despite all his pace for many years. The ability to score goals is a difficult skill to master and even more difficult to do reasonably consistently, and that is the critical thing we are short on right now up front.

  59. Perhaps Arsene is struggling with the notion of where players fit in this team now. We have more players back from injury and yet how does he fit them in. We are generally of the view that Theo should be back in the side, but at the expense of who?

    Szcz
    Sagna–Merts–Kos–Gibbs
    Flamini–Ramsey
    Ozil–Cazorla
    Giroud

    Now we can all argue this of course, I’d have Arteta over Flamini in most cases but not all. I think Cazorla’s form brings in to question whether he is an automatic pick as well. But, the fact is that is 10 players that are probably by in large automatic names on the team sheet.

    Jack will feel aggrieved not to be named there given he has stepped up this year, certainly recently he has played well on the right and his quick rotation in the middle. Theo is back from injury and so it seems is Podolski now yet at best we have one spot to accommodate these returnees. If Theo pace is needed is Jack the automatic to come out? or Santi? What of Podolski? more over, what happens with Gnabry (perhaps the U21’s) and Oxlade on his return in January (apparently he is on course so could be fit for the start of the February fixtures). I mean it is interesting. Bill raised the point that Podolski and Theo offer more threat going forward and they do, what is more they are both capable of creating goals. Interesting times ahead, but what is apparent is that the side does need rotation because Ozil and Giroud are getting way to many minutes and are not being subbed even in games where we look comfortable seeing it out.

  60. @Bill

    I get that pace is not a magic bullet, nothing is. There simply is no magic bullet. It is about having the right bullet at the time for the task at hand.

  61. And it is not about fitting the best players into the side. It is getting the right balance of players in the side.

  62. “Koscielny – we did not play, we did nothing on the pitch at all”… sums it up nicely mate 🙂

  63. @GA

    “And it is not about fitting the best players into the side. It is getting the right balance of players in the side.” on that we can agree 🙂

  64. To be honest, it strikes me as a good thing that Koscielny looks so crest fallen after that match last night. It is apparent he is far from happy with the display. The video interview is on Arsenal.com.

  65. So, for Saturday:

    Szchezny

    Jenkinson
    Koscienly
    Mertesacker

    Arteta
    Flamini
    Ozil

    Ramsey
    Giroud
    Wilshere

    Is what i think we will see from AW. Personally I would start Theo at the expense of Arteta/Flamini, with Ramsey dropping into central midfield.

  66. @GA

    Another non-start for Theo is going to be questioned. I would as you point out, have Theo in for one of Arteta or Flamini. To be honest this tie, I would go Flamini.

  67. I do think the EPL needs to be down sized to 18 clubs, it is getting ridiculous. I would also agree that the Carling Cup should become the preserve of the lower tiers.

  68. I suspect Andy is correct although I would not be surprised if Cazorla started instead of either Flamini or Arteta and Ramsey moved back to midfield.

    I doubt Theo will start in this particular game since he has hardly played this season. If we were playing Crystal Palace at home it would be different. That’s why we should have been using him sooner. Will be interesting to see what the boss does.

  69. JD – I am that confident that we will beat them, I decided not to have a left back. 😉

    But, just to please you……we can play Gibbs. Happy now?

  70. @MA & GA

    You 2 are agreeing so much on things that both of you in your lineups for Saturday put us at a disadvantage and started us with 10 players. I know we have shit injury history but I think we have 11 healthy bodies first team bodies for Saturday.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAHA

  71. Since Ramsey and Wilshere were both rested I think they are certainly a lock to play along with Ozil, which means one of them will start on the wing most likely Wilshere, which probably means Theo will not start. Just my guess.

  72. I think come Saturday we could very well see:

    Sczny
    Sagna*—Mert—-Kos—-Nacho
    —–Flamini—–Ramsey——
    ———–Ozil————–
    Theo—–Giroud——Santi

    *if fit he starts if not then Jenks.

  73. oh so City cannot meet Bayern? Then we probably will.. For the record. it would be fun for us to meet someone els than Barcelona and Bayern all the time. PSG or Real Madrid for example.

    Now that would be a night to remember!

  74. ash hope we don’t see another Arteta/Flamini match. They are both great and doing good jobs, but without a poper winger we are so tame with them at the back….So easy to figure out, so easy to stop… As everyone says, a draw here and a win at Chelsea and we have done pretty well…

  75. Great post YW. Good discussion today. Nice to be in the position of having qualified for the next round whilst not playing anywhere near the potential of the team. I hope the rest of the team feels exactly like Kos and I hope Wenger gave them the hair dryer treatment in the dressing room after the match. They will need to play with fire and passion and control and focus this weekend. Personally I am happy the team qualified for the round of 16 and even more happy that they will come out this weekend with a chip on their shoulders for an absolutely vital EPL match.

  76. All teams reaching the Group stages of the CL are capable of progressing along the KO path. Whoever we play now will probably be a Group leader and must be considered favourite. A typical Arsenal win against the odds would do wonders for our confidence.

  77. Last night was clearly a `lets get it over with` game. Once we had negotiated the first half I think thoughts turned a little to Saturday.

    Having said that, there were a lot of tired legs late on. Giroud can`t be far off running on empty & one or two others appeared to have lead in their boots.

    I expect to see Ramsey , Wilshere, Walcott & maybe Monreal start on Saturday with Cazorla , Rosicky , Arteta & Gibbs making way.

    These two games are stretching the squad to the limit , particularly after the Cardiff, Hull & Everton games.

  78. I’m just thinking – what’s the fuss all about finishing second in the group. We had to do a job in the so called group of death, and the job was done as required.

    If we’re going to win the Champions League, we’ll have to beat the best in Europe. In 2006, we drew Real Madrid and Jeventus at this stage and beat both to progress to the semis and on to the final.

    I say, bring on Real, bring on Barca, Bring on PSG, bring on Bayern or Atletico. It’s two games and the better team will win over the 2 ties. We’ve already been given a group of death, why not continue with the macabre.

  79. Well, we’ve had a lovely day.

    Into Plymouth, down to ther Barbican for a potter around, couple of pints of ‘Betty Stoggs’ in my favourite Plymouth pub, the Dolphin and then lunch outdoors watching the fishing boats come and go with a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Bloody good.

  80. not reading too much into this group of death business and who are we getting next malarky..

    if we are going to be pedantic about it the only side we beat over two legs in the group of death was the shite french team..dortmund would have knocked us out and napoli would have taken us to extra time probably would have knocked us out…

    we only managed to score 8 goals..so i can see why ppl are worried about drawing a top top side next..i bet bayern and madrid are already shitting themselves at the thought of stopping the pacy giroud and an onrush of a million midfielders catching them by suprise running unprtedictably through the middle and hitting 5 or 6 passed their keeper..

    the chances are and going by recent seasons whoever we are going to get next will fuck us over in the first leg ending the tie and then we’ll take it seriously and put up a good fight but have too much to do in the second leg..

    so to be honest i couldnt care less already..its 3 months away..until then make sure we are still top of the league..and if we are still top of the league by 5 points come end of feb then bollox to the cl altogether,..weve had a million attempts at it and never won it coz we either get our tactics wrong or we dont turn up or both.. its just a sideshow..

    the only thing that bothers me about last night was are we going to be too fucked for saturday?

    in conclusion…just get it right in the league and im a happy chappy…

  81. How funny would it be for Chamakh to help us out on the weekend and push his goal scoring streak to 3 matches and get Crystal Palace a result.

  82. Cannot agree.

    I think it sent the wrong message the way we set up with Arteta and Flamini expecting to defend first.

    Also the way Napoli came at us, it would have been extremely useful to have had Walcott in the game (even before) the Arteta sending off. I mentioned this to a friend that we needed Walcott during the match at the break. Giroud (as good as his hold up play is) was ponderous chasing the ball behind the defense. Being that we were more or less 4-4-1-1 for most parts, it would have been useful to have Walcott’s pace play off Giroud (Theo floating off him)

    Also given Jenkinson was being exposed for our weakest link, could have done with Theo’s pace as well on occasion as cover on that flank.

    I think we were too timid. Granted we went 1 down and lost a man but I thought we could have been more adventurous and gone for the draw at very least rather than protect the one goal deficit.

    We almost paid the price as is. Highly unconvincing on our part and have to say I thought the gaffer got it wrong tactically.

    I hear all this stuff about having to play the best at some point anyway to win the contest all fair and square. But we do ourselves no favour heaping pressure unnecessarily on ourselves particularly if we draw(very likely, apart from in form Atheletico) a big name with the congestion of league games and FA cup to boot.

    That’s two games we haven’t entirely convinced in our test of four. hope we can respond with a bit more bravado against City and Chelsea. 6 points please.

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