Disappointing But We Live To Fight Another Day

Posted by Sonuvagun

Sack Arsene Wenger! Sell Koscielny! Shoot Szczesny! We’ve lost the Carling Cup Final today and I’m sure more than one fan will be calling for some radical reactions to what they perceive went wrong on the day…

Personally I’m disappointed about the result, slightly worried about the performance and team morale, but overall not that bothered. Congratulations to Birmingham City who I thought played really well and deserved their victory, and it’s certainly one they and their fans can enjoy. Nonetheless I’d rather be an Arsenal player or fan tomorrow morning… fighting for three more important trophies this season and safe in the knowledge that this won’t be the only cup final I play in/watch in the near future.

Today was a chance to, in the words of the excellent Arseblogger, get a monkey off our back (and kick it in the balls) about a lack of trophies, and it was also supposed to provide our young players with a taste of winning (although I personally don’t really heavily subscribe to the nonsense about “winning being a habit” blah blah… being better than the opposition is surely much more valuable than already having a piece of silverware in the cupboard? The fact that you’ve got trophies just shows you’re good, which by extension means that you’re likely to win more trophies.). We didn’t take that chance. But the good news is we’ve got three more very good chances to end the drought, and come the morning we’ll still be in a better position than anyone in English football except perhaps Man United (given their slight lead in the Premiership, and the fact they don’t have to travel to Camp Nou in the CL).

More on that in a bit, but what about the game itself? Well we started confidently, with Clichy straight away winning a header against the ‘towering’ Zigic (did anyone else get tired of the commentators constantly inserting pointless epithets every time they mentioned him? We know he’s tall, you don’t have to mention it literally every time you speak his name!), but then we got a piece of outrageous luck. Szczesny bought down Bowyer in the box for a clear cut penalty and highly probable red card only for it to be called back incorrectly for offside (Clichy was playing him on). If Birmingham had lost I’m sure we would have heard a lot about that, and rightly so…

Nonetheless champions often get jammy decisions like that and I thought maybe we’d inherited Man U’s luck and would go on to win the game. Sadly I was wrong. Just as an already famous piece of mis-communication led to Birmingham’s second goal, it was a mix up that led to the first. Sagna played the ball in the space behind Wilshere, rather than to his feet, I believe to give him a bit more time as a blue shirt was charging him down. However Wilshere thought the ball was for someone else and left it. The resulting Birmingham attack led to a corner and then came Zigic’s goal. It was highly frustrating but anyone who wasn’t expecting us to concede at least one goal to a set pieces hasn’t been paying much attention this season. The important thing was to get back in the game. Which we did with a lovely RVP volley five minutes before half time.

After restoring parity we were more or less in the ascendency, but without Fabregas on the field, we struggled to create. When we did chances went begging, with Rosicky guilty of missing our best opportunity. RVP was forced off early in the second half, and when AW took off Arshavin we were really looking to Nasri only to provide the magic. The Frenchman seemed to be conscious of this and, in my opinion took, too much responsibility on himself at times, and his decision to shoot from a long range free kick when we had both Bendtner and Chamakh, not to mention Djourou and LK on the field, was frustrating to say the least.

With neither side creating much the game was pretty much in the balance until a horrible mix up at the back gifted Martins the easiest goal of his career. Koscielny under only the mildest of pressure was about to send a lose ball safely into row Z when he got a call from Szczesny to leave it. Mid kick he pulled out but he couldn’t help but obstruct the keeper who then let the ball spill into the path of Martins. You can argue all day about whose fault it was, but it doesn’t really matter. The unfortunate thing was that the mistake happened in the 89th minute and gave the boys no real time to respond. It goes without saying that no player wants to make a mistake like that and the only proper reaction, from a fan’s point of view, is to get behind Koscielny and Szczesny and encourage them to put the incident behind them. Both players are enjoying great seasons in my opinion, but both are new to the team and perhaps we paid the price a bit today for their inexperience. They will learn and improve.

Which brings me to some positives. All of those guys who played today have now competed in a cup final with Arsenal. I think they know now a bit more about what it takes to win one, even if they fell short. It’s valuable experience for them, and the pain of losing I’m sure will make them more determined when they manage to get themselves into another final (hopefully soon!). You sensed that most of the players, fans and pundits thought today was a foregone conclusion. Yes you had players going on record and saying it was going to a be a tough game, wheeling out the usual cliches, but I sensed everyone involved thought it was in the bag. I mean, should you really be talking about who is going to lift the trophy before the 90 minutes is up? Clearly not. A cup final is a cup final, and anything happen.

The big negative for me is not about losing a trophy which, at the start of the season, let’s be honest, most of us didn’t give a shit about (and have since been talking it up only because we thought we were going to win it), but more about how average we looked without Cesc. Personally I think AW made a mistake to replace him with Rosicky, who is a bit like Cesc apart from worse passing, virtually no goal threat and no defensive presence. I like Tomas (I like anyone in an Arsenal shirt however!) but he’s been a weak link this year and having him in the centre was a mistake. Taking off Arshavin was also a mistake and, judging from Song’s tired performance, you could also blame the manager a bit for getting his squad rotation wrong. He either should have found an opportunity to give Alex a rest in the last couple of games or replaced him today. All easy to say in hindsight.

The only thing for the manager and players to do now is go home and come back to training more determined. We’ve let one minnow slip through the net but there’s plenty of bigger tastier fish in the sea to fry.

Sleep easy my Arse-loving friends because tomorrow we will wake up Arsenal fans with plenty of great football to look forward to and big trophies to chase. Better that that to wake up in the Midlands with a huge hangover and a crap piece of silverware that will be the club’s only prize probably for the next 50-100 years.

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