ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal sucker punched by late equalizer
Telegraph: Arsène Wenger had planned to mark his 60th birthday tomorrow with nothing more extravagant than watching Europa League football on television but, after Arsenal threw away victory last night, he might prefer to study DVDs of his team’s defending from set-pieces.
Despite a clear difference in class, Arsenal played to AZ Alkmaar’s level for most of the match. Proof of that argument comes in the form of both the goal we scored and the goal we conceded.
The goal we scored was perfect “Arsenal football” and made AZ look like rank amateurs; Arshavin steals the ball from their defender, slots in to RvP, who crosses perfectly to Chesk for the finish. Their defenders were everywhere on that play, losing their concentration and playing defense like an MLS team.
Then on the other end, it’s the 93rd minute, AZ have announced their intention to lob the ball forward and try to steal a point just a minute before, and Arshavin is caught offside. The long free kick comes in again, and again Diaby cannot get a head on the ball because he lets his marker get in front of him. Then both Song and Vermaelen allow Mendes to meander through the heart of the defense and power home a shot past a helpless Mannone. It was the kind of defense that I would expect from a club like, well, like AZ Alkmaar.
If you need any further proof of us playing to their level you need look no further than the pass completion percentage of the two central midfielders. Both Diaby and Cesc were only able to complete 68% of their passes and only combined for 92 passes on the night. Against Birmingham City, when Cesc was supposedly jaded from Nationalism duty, he made 91 passes on his own, completing 82%.
Arsenal weren’t tired, they played to AZ’s level.
Man of the Match
Hands down, hands up, hands all over, Romero was man of the match. Oh yeah, I will give MotM to the opponent, especially when the opponent is a keeper who makes 100% of the high claims, has 7 saves, and single-handedly keeps his team in the game. I’m not blaming Mannone for the goal that Arsenal conceded, that was a team effort. Rather, just suggesting that whoever Arsenal’s goalkeeping coach is takes a look at the tape of Romero’s match last night. We couldn’t get a single cross in on him, shots were parried from all over, and had it not been for the Naivete of his defense, he certainly would have kept a clean sheet.
Thankfully, Liverpool are in a tailspin and the sharks in the press are all over Benitez at the moment. The idea that he might lose his job is a bit mind boggling, but then again, you have to wonder how much longer he can live off the fumes of Istanbul. Especially since they look likely to be dumped out of the Champions League in the group stage and the Champions League is his one real claim to fame.
Even more shockingly, Barcelona lost to some Russian pub team at Camp Nou, while having 75% of the possession.
Thank the gods because if they hadn’t both lost, every single story in the British press would be about how Arsenal are not the invincibles any more. Obviously, it’s not a loss and Arsenal are still in charge of the group and will certainly qualify. But still you have to thank the other Champions League folks for conspiring to soak up all the negative press.
(This is the part where you go watch the video of the PSV game)
It seems like Ronald Koeman has Wenger’s number, a bit. They have met three times and each time Koeman has come off looking the better tactician. Before the game, Koeman even announced his intention to keep the ball and try to steal a goal. Amazingly, he did exactly what he wanted to do.
You can’t simply write Arsenal off as tired from the Nationalism break, we beat the Wigan cloggers on the weekend 3-1 and they gave us a lot more resistance in the midfield than AZ.
No, AZ were simply doggedly determined to keep the ball, at one point so much so that the keeper literally threw the ball backwards to a defender. That tactic is overcome by one of two options, work hard to win the ball back, or counter attack and take your chances. Arsenal did work hard in the first half and certainly looked like we were going to get the winner but the keeper came up aces.
After that, we sort of sat back and let the game come to us (they edged us in possession) and then at the 93rd minute relaxed and, oopsie! Another Ronald Koeman engineered set-piece goal.
It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a draw, but seriously, we knew what he was going to do, we knew how to counter it and we didn’t execute on either end.
As for the Vela penalty claim: yes, it was a penalty but the video I saw from the referee’s angle looks like the defender wins the ball first. So I don’t think we can be too angry about that, we have the benefit of instant replay from multiple angles, the ref does not.
A lot of folks were praising Diaby yesterday but honestly I didn’t see it. Yes, he put in a couple of tackles and won the ball once, but there was at least one tackle that should have been a yellow card because he was late and over the ball.
Moreover, he was ponderous with the ball at the back, and on one attack, which Cesc was calling for the ball in a wide open position, chose instead to take on three AZ defenders and subsequently the play died.
Those are just two examples of what I saw as a poor match from Diaby. That he also let Pelle get in front of him on the free kick is something that really frustrates me. Go back to the PSV video, who is it that lets Alex in front? Diaby. The Birmingham goal on Saturday? Diaby failed to clear the header. The Man U own goal? Diaby header.
He’s not a bad player, but his defensive instincts and defensive fundamentals are seriously lacking. In fact, they are downright ugly. I worry that teams are going to start taking notice of this and exploit it.
Given how important Song has been and the fact that he’s on his 4th yellow card yesterday looked like Diaby was auditioning for the holding midfielder role on Sunday against W-ham, in order to give Song a rest. Given that tape, I’m guessing that the starring role will go to Song on Sunday with the admonition to please, no matter what, don’t pick up a yellow card.
It’s also insanely frustrating that Arshavin was caught offside for the free kick. I’ve said it before and he’s admitted it, he’s a lazy player. Usually this doesn’t cost us but last night it did a bit.
A lot of folks are blaming the international break for our players looking tired but I don’t buy it. Arsenal footballers play twice a week pretty much all year round, traveling all over the world for Champions League matches and so I can’t see it as a legitimate excuse for us to get taken advantage of in the 93rd minute of a match that falls a full week after all the international players have returned. If the international breaks are to blame then the Sunderland test at the Stadium of Light on the 21st of November will be a stern test indeed. Judging by last night’s performance, if Internationals take such a huge toll, we’ll be beaten 6-0 by a rampaging Sunderland team.
This wasn’t a tired performance as much as it was Arsenal playing down to the level of their opponents. I think a lot of these guys got it into their heads that they could turn it on at any moment and pick AZ apart so they started coasting. Hopefully, this match is a reminder that ANY team, given a little organization, can nick a point off us. All the post match interviews suggest that the players are aware that they let slip and only time will tell if they take this lesson to heart.
They have 4 days to think about it.