It was one of those days again for Arsenal. Despite the raft of changes, this was still a side with 10 full internationals plus Denilson that came out to face Leeds United in the FA Cup Third Round. That the opposition was a Championship side only served to show the kind of insipid performance from our squad players.
Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Eboue, Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin were given a chance to shine against what were supposed to be inferior opponents. Yet, of those who played, perhaps only Bendtner put in half a decent performance. It did not help that the fans were more than willing to turn against these players when the passes went astray or the dribbling did not work.
Arsene Wenger summed it up perfectly when he mentioned that our momentum was not there. There were simply no drive from these players and there was a major lack of wanting to win the game. Could it be that the opponent did not inspire our players to put in their 100% effort or were they looking down at those across the field. Either way, these are not the type of effort you would want to see from players who wants to get into the first team.
Johan Djourou kept his place in the squad in spite of Wenger’s preference not to overplay him following his long absence with injury. He was easily the best player we had on the field. Winning tackles and strong in whatever Leeds threw at him. The same cannot be said of Squillaci. His performance belies his wealth of experience. Too many times, he got on the wrong side of the attacker which left him no chance to make a tackle. This from the one whom we expected to do a job when required, albeit without the fireworks. On another note, it was also good to see Kieran Gibbs complete 90 minutes without getting injured.
For me, the worst performance has to go to Denilson. Heartbeat of Arsenal’s midfield of last season, this match further strengthened the clamour for Jack Wilshere to retain his place in the starting line-up when fit. Pace is not one of Denilson’s better attributes but it could easily be compensated with good concentration and positional awareness. He struggled in those latter departments as well. It was him who gave away the penalty, something which Cesc Fabregas did not mince his words when asked about the foul.
Arshavin should have put us 1-0 up going into half time when he was put through by Rosicky. However the Russian’s first touch was horrible and in the end, hit the shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel. It was another listless 90 minutes from Arshavin. Something is clearly not right with him. Twice Bendtner played a pass to him and twice he stopped and gave up. Perhaps he did not anticipate the pass or the pass was too strong, but I did not like the fact that he just gave up without chasing after the ball.
Bendtner won a couple of headers in the box but his accuracy was off. It was left to 2 substitutes to get us back into the game. Fabregas and Theo Walcott was introduced to add creativity and pace to our game, thankfully it worked. Walcott had 2 penalty claims, of which he admitted a dive on the first and the referee correctly signalled to the spot for the second. Fabregas slotted in the ensuing spot kick to take the game to Elland Road for a replay.
An extra match is not what Wenger and his players wanted. The fixtures already looks congested as it is. Now, we have to play every 3 days till the end of the month. Wenger will probably look at the game once again to decide whether these players deserve another chance against another Championship side on Wednesday. But for now, I’m thankful we are still in the FA Cup.