Ah Zed Alkmaar 1-1 Arsenal; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Match Reports

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.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has two videos that you need to watch for today’s match; the AZ Alkmaar video from yesterday and the PSV Eindhoven video from 2007.


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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

(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.

The Ugly

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.


  1. I couldn’t find a working feed so I haven’t seen the game or the highlights yet.

    I was wondering how many of you guys out there played FIFA….I picked up FIFA10 yesterday and wanted to see if anyone might be interested in playing online or possibly setting up a tournament. Let me know!

    1. @615Gooner

      which platform do you use? i loved fifa 09 on my 360. can’t wait to get my hands on 10. i’ll probably get it this w/e

      Current score: 0

  2. It’s the age old arsenal disease of playing down to our opponents – no doubt about it. When I saw the lethargic movement of our players in the second half, I knew we were going to concede. Are we going to learn our lesson? I doubt it cos otherwise we would have learnt it by now.

    I have to admit that Diaby has looked much better this season but you are right in saying that he is defensive liability. His defending on set pieces is just awful and we can only be as strong as our weakest link. This is true specially in set pieces because you have the opponent throwing numbers at you and you need to be extremely alert. On the positive, I haven’t seen Diaby dribble himself into a hole this season (except for the play you mentioned from yesterday and I do remember groaning afterwards) and it seems like he has decided to play more as a team player and put in one or two good tackles every game.

    Disappointed as I am with the result, I will take an away draw over a home loss any day. My grief will be better assuaged today if the Mancs and Chelsea lose.

    1. @615Gooner

      which platform do you use? i loved fifa 09 on my 360. can’t wait to get my hands on 10. i’ll probably get it this w/e

  3. Nyc- I’m on xbox. 10 is a lot better than 09, the players seem to be a lot “smarter”

    As for diaby, does Nasri just slot right in his spot on his return? I heard him once say he’s willing to play a more holding role, but he is so damn small. Diaby did a strength training program all summer and his size and strength are superior to Nasri’s…but are his abilities?

    1. @615Gooner, No. Nasri has demonstrated a better football brain as well. Nasri is less likely to waste possession w/ errant shots, errant passes or picking the wrong pass.

    2. yeah i just read the reviews on gamespot. im psyched!

      as for nasri, i think i do see him on the holding midfield role despite his size. hell – he can’t be as bad as diaby. the key, i feel, is that song s/b playing with him in that role making it a 4-2-3-1 formation. as far as holding midfielders go, i know the consensus is to go for the big guy but if marcos senna is any example, i think skills are more important. more to the point, we did see nasri in a defensive role in a couple of games last season and he seemed pretty good out there with his tackels.

  4. I’m sick and tired of us not learning this lesson. “Playing down to the level of our opponents” is what cost us last year against lower table teams . It’s always what cost us. Maturity as a team (irregardless of individual ages) comes when we no longer lessen our intensity against any opponent.

    Ferguson had a hissy fit at his CL press conference when he refused to answer questions about the FA charge. Tsk, tsk.

    Juande Ramos is no longer the inanimate object on the bench compared to his Sp**s days.

    Man U-CSKA: Valencia gets the away goal.

    Can someone explain the logic of firing Southgate when Boro are in 2nd place despite a 1-3 record in their last 4. Boro will rue that decision.

    1. there is no logic. that’s why they are a shite team with shite management. if he were to be fired, why not do it last year when you were getting relegated? anyways.. that was two sentences too many on boro

  5. I remember Diaby could head a ball out of play without any challenge. This guy simply has no direction when he head, I think Song got to man mark Diaby when we concede a corner. lol

  6. Don’t tempt fate by dismissing Barca’s opponents as a pub team. They’re apparently pretty decent and look likely to qualify for the next round. If you think Moscow or Kiev would be a bad draw, given the travelling time and the climate, consider the possibility of Kazakstan, which is three times as far, almost in China, and as cold as the Arctic. Not sure what city that team is from but it could be at high altitude, which is also bad news. Let’s start praying NOW that someone else draws the Kazaks in the knock-out round(s), Chelsea for preference, or United.

  7. “…Don’t worry, about a thing. Everything, is gonna be alright!” Chill guys. Let’s not be too analytical or critical about yesterday’s draw. The boys know what went wrong. They are not happy about it and will carry out any neccessary rectifications. It is, at least, not as worse as Bercelona who found themselves ‘sucker-punched’ at home by that team whose name sounds like ‘A Tale from the Arabian Knight’. So I am now smilling again. Cheer up, guys.

    In case anyone is interested, here is a Very Good piece: http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/2009/10/will-arsenal-fall-to-a-bid-from-kronke/

    Cheers, everyone!

  8. Dida’s howler just showed why he is no longer 1st choice for AC Milan.

    The silence calling for the return of Almunia is deafening 🙂

    1. But who are we calling for? Maybe if Fab has a good game in the Carling he’ll get a go at being no. 1? Truth is, any of the young keepers will cost us through inexperience and inconsistency, but that’s not to say Almunia wouldn’t cost us more. The problem at the moment is that the position is open and we may have to experiment with all three. That will keep them on their toes but it’s bound to be a bit disruptive to the defence.

  9. My hat off to you Tim for bringing Diaby to light. I said in my comments on yesterday’s post how below par of a player he is and has been, while there were dozens of other comments giving him plaudits. He’s just not of the same quality and build as the rest of Arsenal. Everyone wants to compare him to Vieira but I say the old skipper come on as a sub for Inter on their weekend mauling of Genoa (in Genoa no less). Vieira has poise, control, can dribble and is physical. Diaby is strong and fast but he is not comfortable on the ball. He does not possess the deft touch Patrick has and certainly plays the game faster than his skill can register which leads to the large number of turnovers he causes.

    As for Rubin Kazan, they’re Russian champions so they’re not “some pub team”. Granted it’s the Russian league, but they managed to beat the likes of Zenit, CSKA, Dinamo and Locomotiv. I wouldn’t call them a nobody team since some of the teams they beat in their league have more money and European experience. That qualifies them as a credible team.

    1. @WC, They played a smart game. They cut out many of the interior angled passes that Barcelona like to play to free players for shots on goal. They capitalized on their chances. They defended Messi well. They were helped by the absence of a LW threat as Henry was out and Pedro and Bojan were ineffective.

  10. Yeah, it’s upsetting to concede late like that, but I can’t bring myself to lose too much sleep over it. We’ll kill them at home in 2 weeks and (pretty much) qualify with 2 games to spare. Need to cut that kind of slip in concentration out, if we can though.

    Diaby is still blowing hot and cold – one turn and spin away from two defenders near the end was Thierry-esque – but he’s filling in until Nasri gets back, I agree. If I’m honest, I thought Gallas looked a little shaky too, but (or because?) their forwards were targeting him and chasing down when he was in possession.

    Anyway, annoying yes. Disastrous, no. Bring on the Spam.

  11. Is Senderos injured or are we not cup-tying him with a view to possibly selling in Jan? I think Silvestre has been the only central defender on our bench so far, which certainly makes me thankful we haven’t had an injury to Gallas or Vermaelen.

  12. The Real Madrid revolution will unfortunately be televised 🙂

    A 25yd thunderbolt from Pirlo and a mistake from the Spain’s no.1 allows Pato to give AC Milan a 2-1 lead.

    1. And Bordeaux are beating Bayern. Surely can’t last. Chelsea naturally are 3-0 up, which can last, alas.

    1. @Yan, AC Milan’s fragile defense is how they roll. Nesta is past it and Thiago Motta is still finding his feet. So far AC Milan’s last 2 wins have been come from behinds wins from defensive mistakes, a bad back pass from T.Motta against Roma and today’s fumble from Dida. Real Madrid bring in Albiol and get rid of Cannavaro and they were suppose to be improved.

  13. If you have a chance to catch the replay of the Real v. AC Milan – the 2nd half is worth

  14. This conceding of a late goal is nothing new. I remember it has happened in the past notably the 4-4 draws against Spurs and Liverpool.It’s no use of AW saying the players must learn from their mistakes.It had happened and for how long will Arsenal put up with this. You don’t see teams aspiring to win trophies often conceding late,late goals.
    The buck stops with AW. His cavalier attacking style without stiffening the defence is the main cause. I’m afraid a against a better counter attacking team with a determined focus on defence is going to cause problems ,if not grief ,for the gunners.

  15. as always agree with you 100%. i felt like they were over confident yesterday, thinking that is was going to be an easy game, and it came back to bite them in the ass! i am also getting tired off seeing how lazy arshavin is! he is amazing when he has the ball, but it sometimes bothers me how lazy he is!!!

  16. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4583642

    Now that’s what I’m talking about. Why send officials who f**k up down to the Championship like that’s some kind of ‘tough love’ punishment. I don’t think so. A bad official will be bad whether it’s the Premiership or the Championship. He will still get paid, only less. Suspend them. End of story.

  17. I don’t see us ever not losing concentration and conceding late goals from free kicks. The answer is surely to score more put the game beyond reach. That should be within our capabilities, at least against the poorer teams.

    @cpta: Mannone didn’t benefit from a strong defence in the Fulham game, he had a very good game. Trouble is, he’s also had some dreadful ones. He’s inconsistent, as is inevitable, as is Fab. It’s another reason why we need to focus on scoring.

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