Arsene Wenger called it the worst ever performance from his Arsenal side in the Champions League. I may not agree entirely as there’s a couple of games in this competition in the past which I thought are far worse but that’s not exactly the point. The manager is right in calling it a shambolic performance and we will all be looking for a response tonight.
For players, they always like to get a bad result immediately out of the way. No better chance to do that than to in tonight’s 5th Round FA Cup away to Sunderland. With both Manchester clubs out of this competition, it doesn’t make the competition ours to win but it certainly made it slightly easier. If we take off our rose-tinted glasses, this is really the competition in which we have the most chance to finally get rid of those trophy-less years comment.
We of course won here last week in the league fixture courtesy of a last minute winner from the now departed Thierry Henry. That was such a high compared to the disappointment in midweek. For Henry himself, it doesn’t exactly taint his short stint back with us but I’m sure many of us would have wanted him to leave on a high. I’m not sure if he will return again in a playing capacity in the future (even if Henry himself have not ruled that out completely), I’m happy that he finally got a proper send off from the fans.
Sunderland do not have any recovery from those who were out injured last week, therefore Martin O’Neill has the same set of players to select from 7 days ago. From what we saw during that game and what we’ve seen of them this season, the obvious danger man remains to be Stephane Sessegnon. Though, let’s not forget the decent performance from their wide left in James McClean. Oh, and if we could, let’s not give any away freekick in and around the box. We know what Sebastien Larsson could do with those.
From our part, we have lost Laurent Koscielny to a knee injury obtained in the Milan trip. With Per Mertesacker staring at an even longer lay-off, it’s not the most promising news to find out. There are choices for Wenger to make, the most obvious one being selecting Johan Djourou as the replacement to partner Thomas Vermaelen in the centre of defence. I’m certain that Wenger will opt for this choice but I believe a different option would be better.
Djourou has not been in the best of form lately. One can put it to him playing in the unfamiliar position of right back but we can’t exactly attribute all the faults to the are that he has to play. Some of the basic defending and decision making are also costing fans valuation of him. Which is why I would prefer to see Alex Song being slotted back in defence and Francis Coquelin coming in as the defensive midfielder.
Song provides a more composed presence than his Swiss counterpart. Song’s ability to play the ball out of defence to launch us to quick counter attacks would also be crucial to our hope of winning the tie. That and the fact that the impressive Coquelin must be chomping at the bits to get some game time. The young French midfielder has not let us down every time that he has been called into action. His all action style will give us a little more zip in the middle.
Out of all the disappointments on Wednesday, there was at least one bright spot in Kieran Gibbs. No, I’m not talking about his performance which was shaky to say the least. Which is to be expected when one has been out for so long and been asked to play his first game in San Siro. The plus point is that he hasn’t suffered any form of set back and looks likely to start this game.
Wenger went for Tomas Rosicky as the wide left attacking option on Wednesday but perhaps mindful of Gibbs’ return and wanted someone who could offer more protection to the left back. But that robbed us of any attacking impetus down the left side. Gervinho is back and will surely get that role today. I don’t know if the Ivorian is still feeling down after his missed the penultimate spot kick for Ivory Coast in the final of the African Cup of Nations. Hopefully he’s pump up to do something today to get over that loss.
Some are calling for changes to be made to freshen up the team. While I accept the point, I’d rather hope that we don’t. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions this season, our second team lacks the necessary quality to substitute the first choice ones. Also, our next game after this is a full 7 days away, a home tie against our neighbours up the road.
More importantly, after what had transpired in Milan, this is an opportunity for Wenger and the team in particular to show a response. In recent seasons, once we get knocked out of a competition (not exactly out of Champions League yet but it’s remarkably slim), we tend to slip up in the other competitions in consecutive fashion.
Hopefully something changes this season.
Up The Arsenal.