Arsenal 1 – 0 Doncaster Rovers
The worst football match I’ve yet seen came during the mid-80s when Birmingham City visited Highbury. David Seaman was in goal for the visitors and it finished 0 – 0. Last night’s second half is right up there with that, saved by Doncaster hitting the bar and Walcott missing a sitter.
Post-match, Arsène felt we started well but lost cohesion after the opening twenty-five minutes. It wasn’t so much as losing our way as getting the map out only to find we’d left our reading glasses at home. We stumbled, fumbled and were almost humbled when Rovers hit the bar.
Theo Walcott went from hero to zero during his hour or so on the pitch, and was unhappy at being substituted. A well-taken finish from Alexis beautifully weighted pass and then a sitter missed shortly before he exited, stage right.
It might have been a different story had Giroud’s overhead kick not thundered onto the bar, or if he’d kept his header lower. Up to the point Theo scored, it was a night proceeding to plan; largely encamped in and around the Doncaster box, offering the visitors few opportunities to escape the incessant pressure.
Then it went to pot. Hardly surprising when you ring the changes to give youth a chance and then play youth out of position. If you thought two left-backs in the centre was peak Wenger banter, Nelson at right wing-back and Maitland-Niles on the left is right up there with it.
It’s an issue because the first team is playing a formation for which the squad is ill-equipped. I understand the logic of making all teams play the same way; the path to the first team is less fraught in those circumstances. However, when the squad is built to a 4-2-3-1 template, the weaknesses are soon highlighted quicker than the bookmakers change their odds in the Cox Plate Betting.
They Couldn’t Prevent Jack From Feeling Happy
The one beam of light, a ray of hope was Jack Wilshere’s first ninety minutes in an Arsenal shirt since the Emirates opened, or at least that’s how it feels. A spritely opening, followed by an hour of good work prompting and inspiring; the drop off in energy was to be expected but a good performance overall.
Per Mertesacker was upbeat about Wilshere afterwards,
“It was very good to have him back out there.
“You can see that he’s getting more comfortable with his position now. He’s brave now and he trusts his body. That’s the most important thing, that he’s capable of playing 90 minutes.”
Wenger agreed about getting Wilshere match fit. I wouldn’t expect him to take Ramsey’s place in the Premier League or Özil’s for that matter but the option is there as cover for injuries and cup matches. And I do expect the German to suffer more injuries as the season goes on; we’ve been here before with other players in similar circumstances.
Alexis seems to be in the same boat. Left out at Chelsea, Wenger claimed it’s down to fitness issues. It’s funny but he seemed fine when playing for Chile a couple of weeks ago. Maybe our standards are more exacting? I’ll be generous; this is the manager preparing the team for a January sale as opposed to punishing the player for wanting to leave. Whatever the case, I’d expect him to replace Danny Welbeck in the starting line-up on Monday rather than Alex Iwobi.
The rumour mill already has Yoolian Draxler arriving to replace him, Raheem Sterling too. But not Karim Benzema; he’s signed a new deal with Real Madrid and remains in the ‘Almost Signed XI’. The longest running pantomime is still selling tickets.
Happy Jack Wasn’t Old But He Was A Man
The object of the exercise was to win but the manner of victory is hardly likely to entice big crowds to these matches. We’re not quite thinking about moving them to Borehamwood but something needs to give the competition. United’s crowd was 20,000 below capacity, ours the same and despite claims to the contrary, I’d be amazed if Spurs attracted more than 20,000 to Wembley.
Suffice to say, it’s not popular with the home fans of the big clubs. With the pricing as it is, would lower division clubs benefit more financially from hosting these fixtures at home? Maybe the rules ought to change to force Premier League clubs to play their ties away from home if drawn against clubs from the Championship and below?
I don’t know but some life needs to be breathed into the League Cup; it’s no more than the EFL Trophy to the top clubs. All things must come to an end and we feel like we’re hammering more nails into the coffin lid with every passing season.
Last night’s reward? A home tie against Norwich who will frankly be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of facing that XI after last night’s performance. Still, we won and that’s all that matters in the League Cup at the end of the day.