Barring miracles or divine intervention in the Champions League or Premier League, Arsenal will finish without a trophy for a seventh straight season. After the body blow of a Milan mauling, it was cold afternoon in the north-west that was our undoing in the FA Cup. Now there is nothing to play for apart from fourth place.
This game was always going to be tough, even in my preview I was actually hoping that we could force it into a replay. We didn’t even get that far. After scrapping a win against them last week, with the help of Henry and a somewhat stable defence (compared to this week), it didn’t look good for this week, and I was right.
Once again I have the same problem. Who was our man of the match? I was speaking to a few Gooners on Twitter and asked them the question, what positives we could take from the match. Responses ranged from the angry, to self-pity to that feeling you get when you don’t know what you do, but laugh. I really did not know who played well that day. Maybe Fabianski deserves a mention because he didn’t make any mistakes? I am really clutching at straws here.
The match started brightly enough, for the first seven minutes, we gave the sort of positive response that I was hoping for. Too bad it lasted only seven minutes. The turning point? Coquelin ran and pulled up with a torn hamstring. I understand the pitch wasn’t that great, but I hardly think you could blame the pitch for this kind of injury. Not only were we losing an accomplished young player who had done a great job every time he was called upon, this substitution would mean…..a central defensive partnership of Squillaci….and Djourou (not to mention a wasted attacking substitution). I may as well have changed channels and watched a horror movie, because that probably would have given me less heart-attacks.
What are the medical team doing? It was their responsibility to ensure Coquelin could play the entire 90 minutes, yet he pulled up after only seven. I don’t want to get into too much detail regarding the bigger picture behind the teams problems, but it is clear that we are the team who always manages to have an injury crisis every season. After seeing how easily Coquelin left the game I was extremely frustrated at the medical staff, not just for that incident, but for many of our other injuries too. I really have to question their ability to assess our players fitness throughout the season. Also, defenders like Djourou and Squillaci are a disgrace to what the likes of Campbell and Adams stood for. They aren’t good enough for Arsenal. On the positive side, it looks like Koscielny will be back for Sunday, and along with Vermaelen and they are both exceptional central defenders. I hope there are no more injuries and we can have a solid central defensive pairing.
There were a couple of moments where we had a go at Sunderland’s goal, but they were few and far between. Gervinho got around his marker and had a shot but it was straight to the keeper. Then there was a close penalty incident. Van Persie was clear and was brought down. O’Shea in fairness got the faintest of touches. Fair enough it wasn’t a penalty, but it was an extremely fine line, and penalties have been given for a lot less. As the old saying goes, when it rains it pours. On another day we would have got that penalty, and probably wouldn’t have had our injury problem either. I’m not making excuses, there are bigger problems but these things don’t help.
Then Djourou received a ball from Vermaelen, which in truth wasn’t the best, but should have been handled nonetheless. He couldn’t handle it and lost possession and gave away a silly free kick and yellow card. From the resulting free kick Vermaelen partially cleared for the ball to fall to Kieran Richardson. We did not press him hard enough and Sagna really needed to put his body on the line. The ball deflected off Squillaci and in. It wasn’t his fault, but there’s something about him. Ever heard the expression, anything he touched turned into gold? For Squillaci, anything he touches turns to poison.
For the rest of the game we faced a resilient Sunderland team who had a perfect game plan as they pressed hard up the pitch. Once we got into their final third they stayed deep and didn’t allow us to break them down as they packed a 10 man defence. This sort of hybrid tactic worked perfectly against us. For the first goal they closed Djourou down quickly. For the second goal, Oxlade-Chamberlain lost the ball high up the pitch. In fairness he was crowded out by no less than three Sunderland defenders, that’s how dangerous they think he is. Sunderland won the ball and countered very quickly. Sessengon completely outmuscled Arteta in midfield and they were in space. The ball was played into the right and then into the danger zone, and who was there to put it in but poor old Oxlade-Chamberlain. I really feel sorry for the lad. He wore his heart on his sleeve, knowing that he lost the ball up the pitch, he took responsibility to track back (unlike others, I’m looking at Walcott and Arshavin, so-called senior players), and as fate played out, he was the one ultimately responsible for the final touch into the goal. He got into an unlucky tangle, and fate was very cruel to him, but alas, the way we were playing, the goal was coming one way or another, and Sunderland deserved that.
There was not much else to speak of for the rest of the game, it was more of the same old, and the full time whistle put us out of our misery. The FA Cup, our last decent chance to win a trophy, gone.
Our main issues are from all the injuries we are sustaining and our lack of cutting edge up front, which puts extra pressure on our defence as teams counter attack us. I’ll explain more of this at the end of the season, but the main priority for us is to get as many players back from injury as possible as we look to secure that all important fourth spot. I will also talk about Wenger at the end of the season.
Coquelin, Ramsey and Squillaci (not that it matters too much regarding Squillaci) all picked up injuries in this game, but crucially Koscielny could be back for Sunday’s north-London derby. He’s been one of the shining lights this season and I hope he can re-assure our defence. Our season is all but over but a confidence boosting win against the old enemy will be of some consolation. Returning to our home stadium will also help too, and while I’m not confident of our form right now, I’m confident we can play better against Sp*rs on Sunday than we did for the last two games. Whether or not that’ll be enough to win that’s another story.
There’s nothing to play for this season, except for fourth place, but I think Sunday’s game is a big motivation, not only because it is Sp*rs, but the fact that they are ahead of us in the table. We have a proud record of never finishing below them under Wenger’s reign, and I hope the players can use this as motivation to at least play for bragging rights this season.
Unfortunately, bragging rights, not actual trophies, is what it has come down to these days.