Arsenal 1-0 Roma; The Could-a, Would-a, Should-a

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Match Reports

Telegraph.co.uk:  Arsenal were the only victors in Europe last night but while they won the battle, the war of this Champions League tie is far from over after their profligate attack squandered what may prove to be crucial chances.

ESPNSoccernet: The misfiring Gunners should have put the tie beyond the hosts – with Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eb*ue both spurning golden chances as Arsenal’s recent trend of poor finishing continued.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has both the hits and the misses.

Man of the Match

Rather than do player ratings, I’m just doing a man of the match: these blogs are already too damn long and don’t need me pontificating on every single player. With that said, with at least 6 takeaways and a breathtaking 73 passes (with an 85% completion rate) yesterday’s man of the match was Denilson. You could point to the formation that Wenger employed, you could point to the obvious paucity of match fitness on the part of Roma, you could point to a lot of things, but whatever the cause Denilson easily had his most effective match since I’ve been watching him.

Playing the purely defensive midfielder in Arsene’s brilliant 4-2-3-1, Denilson moved the ball from defense into attack, slowed the Roma attack very effectively, and patrolled the midfield cleaning up and distributing as needed. His effect in this role allowed the more creative Diaby to get forward and get the ball to Nasri who occupied the purely attacking midfield role.

It wasn’t all roses and lace, I did find myself yelling at him to track back once, but that could be forgiven since Roma didn’t punish Arsenal for that particular bit of play.

Plus, he had been fucking brilliant up till that point.

The Coulda

I’ll admit it: I was wrong, dead wrong. Wenger’s tactics have been transparent and predictable this season and I sincerely thought Wenger would play this match the way he’s played pretty much every other. So, huge kudos to Arsene Wenger for being brave enough to change the lineup and play Liverpool’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation. Can you imagine what Arsenal would look like if he played that formation and Cesc was in Diaby’s slot, Arshavin in Nasri’s slot, Nasri on the left, and Walcott on the right?

Indefensible!

Kudos too to van Persie who’s craft up front, tireless work rate tracking back, and incisive runs nearly shredded the Roma defense and Coulda resulted in more goals. His goal off the penalty kick was no less that he deserved.

The Woulda

As good as Arsenal was in the first half, they nearly threw away the match with a bit of insanity to start the second. As it turns out, Gallas was late getting back to the pitch because he was getting some treatment to his shin for the knock he took in the 10th minute.  Fair enough, we need our best defender patched up.

But what isn’t acceptable is that Arsenal’s captain let superstition garner him a yellow card. Toure has a match ritual where he is always the last one out on to the pitch and since the referee had decided (wrongly) to restart the match when Arsenal had only 9 men on the pitch Toure felt like he could just run out onto the pitch without checking in with the 4th official. Between the ref, the late treatment, and the Arsenal captain’s superstitions it was like amateur hour out there and Arsenal nearly let Roma equalize during the confusion.

How, the fuck, does Arsenal start the second half with no central defenders?

Comical, but thankfully it didn’t cost us.

Another Woulda goes to Bendtner and uhhh, whatshisname, who both contrived to miss chances that my 10 month old daughter would have put in the auld uniun bhag. Bendtner had a horrible match all around and I have to wonder if he isn’t on his way out in the off season. To be fair, the first ball Nasri played in to him (hard and behind him a bit) was difficult to control and I forgave him that bit of profligacy, but there’s just no forgiving him when his touch constantly lets him down. That performance yesterday solidified him as “Adebayor Lite” in my mind.

The other dude, ole whatshisname, he who cannot be named, The Pass Master, whatever you want to call him, actually had a tremendous match and had he scored that open goal would easily have been MotM for me. More than once his dribbles and vigor going forward gave Roma fits but in his typical style he missed an easy chance to put Arsenal safely through to the next round. Proof positive that he will never be an effective midfielder.

And a final Woulda to Alex Song, who came on for Diaby and immediately put the Arsenal attack in neutral. I think I see what the boss likes about him; he’s a bit of a “hard man” and did put himself about effectively. He also wins balls in the air which is almost a novelty on this particular team but that said, going forward he is crap.

More than any other player Song is the one guilty of passing sideways rather than picking out an attacker. Is it any wonder that he has never gotten an assist for the Arsenal? Past Arsenal hard men (Copping, Storey, Young, Adams, Petit and Vieira) all had some craft to them and more than once spurred Arsenal’s attack but Song seems incapable of looking forward.

Unfortunately I think this is what the boss likes about him.

The Shoulda

Claus Bo Larsen (the ref) Shoulda been substituted at half time. Hell, he shoulda been subbed after the first 10 minutes when he inexplicably played an “advantage” to Arsenal after Mexes upended The Pass Master 2 yards outside the box and the ball found its way to Sagna — at midfield. It was an atrocious decision, but it wasn’t his worst. How the hell does Mexes (on a yellow already) stay in the match after cynically hauling down van Persie in the box? And how in the name of Collina does he start the match when Arsenal have only 9 players on the pitch? Give a yellow to Wenger for delaying the match or something but you don’t kick off with less than 22 players on the pitch. It was a shocking display of refereeing and Arsenal were lucky he didn’t cost us the match.

Conclusions

A fifth consecutive clean sheet, the 14th match in the unbeaten run, and the manager flexing his mind a bit and shuffling the formation to what Shoulda been great effect all means that in a fortnight Arsenal travel to Roma and need another performance like yesterday to see them through to the next round. Regardless my negativity earlier, it was a magnificent performance and the kind of stuff that Arsenal supporters dream of.

Similar creativity will be needed on Saturday when Arsenal host a Fulham squad who have allowed fewer league goals than Arsenal and have beaten us already once this season using the tried and true “park the bus in front of the goal and hit them on the break” technique.

Until then, let’s just bask in the glory of our one-nil to the Arsenal.

11 Comments on Arsenal 1-0 Roma; The Could-a, Would-a, Should-a

  1. Tim,

    It’s amazing how 2 people can watch the same game and come up with totally different opinions about individual performances. I thought Denilson was decent but in no way MOTM. He was caught out of position on a few occasions, missed a few tackles and gave away a couple stupid free kicks in dangerous areas.

    And, I was sober (LOL)

    I have to watch it again to see if pre-ordained prejudice is blurring my vision.

    Nasri, Diaby and Eboue were my heroes and Sagna my unsung hero. Sagna was pushing so far up the pitch it was like he was a winger, and this forced the Roma LH and LB to stay at home all game. Like you said, it was a spirited performance in terms of spectacle, but 3-0 would have been more than fair.

    PS The link on your “Where To Watch Arsenal On TV” page referring to Setanta Premium outlets is no longer working.

  2. do you think this new 4-2-3-1 could be successful against the parked bus of fulham? i thought it was beautiful yesterday, and if nasri has the same kind of game (he was everywhere!) we could unlock a less capable defense than roma’s…which i believe fulham’s is…

  3. Carib Kid, the Telegraph.co.uk also gave him MotM so, while I’m probably in the minority at least I’m not alone!

    scruzgooner, no. i’m convinced that the only thing that will beat the parked bus is better set play. i have been looking at the stats and Arsenal are the worst of the top teams on scoring from set plays and when your opponents lock down the defense the only solution is to score from set plays.

  4. the thing i do not understand is when song plays with denilson, why is song the one that pushes forward and denilson sits back, it really confuses me since song can’t make a pass and has no vision and is predominantly a defensive midfielder where as denilson is not, although denilson is getting really good at breaking up the opponent plays

  5. This game exemplifies what I have been saying for the entire year – playing 2 CMs is a horrible idea!!! Look at the chances we created when ONLY one of Denilson or Song are on the field. You add another attacker, in this case Diaby, by taking away another defensive player, in this case Song. Mind you Bendtner was his usual horrible self but that aside if you have a player like Eddie playing instead with the same chances Nicky had, you’re looking at a 4-0 scoreline because that extra player going forward makes a huge difference. Our defense has tightened us and Sagna himself said that last week that they’ve been less adventurous so the backline has been fairly watertight, especially with Willy and Toure finding form so why did we ever need 2 players to protect the back four in the past 3 or 4 games? I hate to compare this team to The Invincibles but the old team had a 7 man attack with Henry, Bergy, Freddie, Vieira, Pires, Cole and Lauren all attacking in waves while Sol, Gilberto and Toure just sat back and protected the goal. This is how it should always be for Arsenal and how people have come to know Arsenal. I strongly believe we could have already be in the top 4 if we played without the double CM in the past 3 nil all draws in the league – that’s 6 points already that we’d have picked up. It’s good to know we have big game players but we have not had any problems competing with out typical top 4 rivals but rather have blown points against the lower opposition. The season is based on points from 38 games, not just 5 or 6 of beating the top four.

  6. The solution to the parked bus is long range shots the ones that Gerrard uses to open up the defense. Yes set plays are good but you can’t control where you will hit it from the pitch.

  7. The lead up to the match was “can Denilson handle Totti” + Totti did nothing = Denilson Man of the match

  8. JPG, long range shots didn’t help Liverpool against Everton, Stoke, and Wigan.

    Look at Man U’s scoring record: they score from a set piece in nearly every match. Someone recently said that Man U play like Arsenal, but only after they are up 2-0. If you keep tons of possession you’re going to have a ton of set piece opportunities and you must take advantage of them.

    I’m not saying that they should score from a set piece in every match just that Arsenal need more balance. Right now, they are only ever really threatening from the run of play and that is imbalanced. Also, yes, some long range shots help too, but Arsenal do shoot from outside quite often. It’s just not very productive for this team.

    No, I’m convinced that corners free kicks are what will break a team like Fulham open. Unfortunately, they have that covered since they have Brede the Giant patrolling the air. So, Arsenal are going to need to be crafty on the free kicks. Let’s hope the manager continues his trend of trying new things and puts the lads through some new routines.

    What am I saying? I just hope they figure out a way to clear the first defender!

  9. Is touch something that a player can learn from experience? Or is it something you are just born with?

    (Probably a little of both, of course).

    I ask because Bendter always seems to put himself in the right places at the right time. I like his work ethic and he seems generally comfortable playing behind the front man, but his touch is just god-awful.

    Time for him to go? Or give him more time to complete his skill-set?

    I also like that he is an egotistical whack-job. I like my strikers to be borderline bat-shit crazy.

  10. You answered your own question Matt, touch is both inborn and taught. However, from my years of footballing experience the greatest part of that asset is inborn and the rest is just refining the art.

    Problem with Bendtner is that sometimes his touch is good and at other times it’s just stinks. It could be a case of nerves by trying too hard instead of relaxing and letting the game come to him. This creates another problem because we have too many incomplete players who are getting on the job experience at the expense of winning trophies.

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