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Napoli 2-0 Arsenal: A bit of perspective

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, Match Reports | Comments Off

Just a quick one from me tonight.

Tonight was a mixed night for most Arsenal fans. We lost 2-0 to Napoli, but managed to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League. However, looking at some of the mewling and moaning going on among Arsenal fans, you’d think we’d been doomed to imprisonment in the EUROPA League. I’m shocked to see so many fans treating this evening’s result as a disaster.

Perhaps it’s just a vocal minority. But it does perturb me.

In my eyes, qualification from such a treacherous group is a pretty significant achievement. Four wins from six games against teams of this quality is not a record to be sniffed at.

I think most sane Arsenal fans appreciate that. I hope so. Getting out of the group was the priority, and winning it merely a bonus. The most important thing is that we have evaded a draining and depressing assault on that Thursday night monstrosity. Instead, Rafael Benitez has been left to continue his bizarre love affair with that particular competition.

The performance wasn’t great, but Arsenal entered the game in something of an awkward position. We knew a draw would be enough to see us through. That’s never particularly conducive to a stirring showing — witness Bayern Munich’s listless display against us back in March.

It’s a blow to miss out on top spot, but it’s not the end of the world. Surely one of the very reasons we bother to qualify for the Champions League is to enjoy hosting the continent’s finest? I can’t wait to welcome one of Barca, Real, Atletico, Bayern or PSG to the Emirates. If you want to watch Maribor, turn on Channel 5ive.

If you want to win the trophy, you have to beat the top teams somewhere along the line. Better to face up to it early. If we go through, fantastic. If we go out, we have all the more time to focus on our domestic affairs.

Speaking of which, there’s a very big game with Manchester City coming up on Saturday. Should we lose that, it looks as if some people will go in to some kind of meltdown.

That’d be unwise too. There’s a long, long way to go in the title-race. Saturday  will be an indicator, but not a decider.

And you know what? I’m looking forward to it.

If you want more, I’ve written a more conventional match report for ESPN.

Arsenal 1 – 1 Everton: You can’t win them all, annoyingly

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | Comments Off

Match report | Arsene’s reaction | Highlights

In the end, this was a fair result…
It was a pretty extraordinary game, too. Both sides absolutely went for it: Arsenal because we had the carrot of a seven-point lead before us; Everton because their confidence was buoyed by a win at Old Trafford and they had almost nothing to lose. I was hugely impressed by Roberto Martinez’s side. Granted, we have a couple of big tests coming up in the next fortnight, but Everton are certainly the best team we’ve faced in the Premier League to date.

Everton bossed the first half…

They went for the jugular right from kick-off, and it seemed to catch our team by surprise. Indeed, it took us the best part of 40 minutes to get over our shock and actually start to take the game to the Toffees.

We had two outstanding centre-back performances to thank for being at 0-0 at half-time…

Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were both every bit as good as we’ve come to expect. Romelu Lukaku presented an awkward challenge, and one feared a repeat of the roastings we were regularly given by Didier Drogba – a similarly athletic forward in a blue shirt.
However, both centre-halves were at the top of their game. Koscielny in particular seemed to grow in stature as the game wore on, regularly nipping in to win the ball cleanly before bursting upfield to join the attack. The Frenchman was Arsenal’s best player on the day.

Despite Everton’s first-half dominance, we still had the better chances…
Tim Howard was in good form to deny both Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. Had our finishing been a touch better, we could have had an unlikely half-time lead.

In the second half, Arsenal looked sharper…

Our punch-drunk opening was banished to memory as we set about imposing ourselves on the game. The balance of possession was significant redressed, and we won plenty more second balls – especially after the introduction of the busy Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini.

Aaron Ramsey had his poorest game for a while…

The Welshman was not at his best, and it’s tempting to put it down to tired legs: this was, after all, his 22nd start of the season.
There were signs of a performance like this coming his way in midweek against Hull. Aside from his delicious assist for Mesut Ozil, Ramsey was unusually wasteful in possession. In the past week, some of his bad habits have crept back in: overly-ambitious passes and unnecessary flicks. He needs to remember that simplicity has been the key to the revival in his game. I’d be tempted to rest him in midweek.

Mesut Ozil, the man for the big occasion, delivered…
If anyone looked likely to make the breakthrough for Arsenal it was Ozil. His last three performances have all been right out of the top drawer of football’s tallest cabinet. When he smartly lifted the ball over Tim Howard and in to the roof of the net, it really felt like we might be watching a defining goal in the Premier League season.

The equaliser was gutting…

A buoyant stadium was silenced by a smashing strike from Gerard Deulofeu. Some have criticised Szczesny for failing to stop the shot, but it really was an excellent hit. It flashed past the Pole and evaporated our hopes of that seven-point lead. Gutting, but probably fair.

The next three games are all massive…

Travelling to the Etihad just days days after a crucial Champions League tie against Napoli does look like a daunting task, but if we are to be champions then these are the kinds of challenges we have to overcome. Beyond that, there’s the home tie with Chelsea, and a chance for Arsene Wenger to finally get one over on Jose Mourinho.
All Arsenal can do is take it one game at a time. Next stop: Naples.

Arsenal 2-0 Hull: “Nicklas Bendtner: He scores when he wants”

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | Comments Off

Arsenal 2-0 Hull
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

It was a nice moment when Bendtner got the opener…
With Arsenal going so well in the table, there’s a genuinely positive atmosphere around the ground. The reception Bendtner got was predominantly warm even before he headed us in to an early lead.

It was clear he was delighted to score. It must have represented a moment of some retribution for him. Let’s be clear: a solitary goal against Hull doesn’t suddenly erase the sins of the past, but it might be the start of him moving on his career — be that at Arsenal or more likely elsewhere.

We saw different aspects of Bendtner’s game…
The goal demonstrated that Bendtner will always be a threatening physical presence in the penalty area. At his size, it’d be difficult not to be. Even earlier this season, when he was supposedly carrying an ankle problem and an extra couple of stone, he managed to head home two goals for Denmark against Italy.

While Bendtner is perfectly capable of emulating Giroud’s robust penalty box threat, he struggles to match the Frenchman’s accomplished hold-up game. It was telling that for long periods Bendtner didn’t seem to be involved in our build-up play. His movement and his first-touch still have a long way to go.

I’m no Bendtner apologist, but…
…the way he is talked about in the wider football media is extraordinary.

Obviously, as fans, we all poke a bit of fun at him. I’m more guilty of that than most. But I am slightly taken aback when I see the way supposedly ‘serious’ pundits talk about a player with 24 goals in 56 international caps.

On Match of the Day, they stated a goal from Bendtner against Hull is “not something you expect”. He is talked about as if he’s one of the worst footballers of all time. He’s not. He’s a guy with plenty of talent but a poor attitude.

As a personality, I agree that he is utterly risible. As a footballer? Less so. And that’s what these people should be assessing.

After the opening goal, the game threatened to become a bit ‘too easy’…
It was exhibition stuff, really. Beautiful to watch, but a little disconcerting for fans of a nervous disposition. I feared that Arsenal were in danger of becoming complacent. Fortunately, at the start of the second half, any such concerns were dispelled by the second goal which effectively killed the game.

Ramsey’s contribution to both goals was brilliant…
Although Bendtner will justifiably take most headlines, Aaron Ramsey played a crucial part in both goals. For the first, he played a beautiful slide-rule pass in to Carl Jenkinson, who again showed that he is the club’s best crosser by perfectly picking out Bendtner.

On the second goal, Ramsey’s interplay with Ozil was just a joy. The greatest compliment I can pay the final pass is that it’s one Ozil would’ve been chuffed to play himself.

The defensive record is beginning to look seriously impressive…
Arsenal have now kept four clean sheets on the bounce. I believe it’s also six in the last seven, and seven in the last nine. The numbers (or lack thereof) are mightily impressive.

Arsenal’s defensive solidarity was summed up for me in one late vignette. Hull’s Egyptian striker, Mohamed Nagy, raced on to a long ball over the top. Unsurprisingly, he appeared to have the beating of Per Mertesacker for pace. Instead of panicking and pulling him down, Mertesacker actually slowed up. He knew what would happen next.

From nowhere, Laurent Koscielny came steaming in at full throttle to nick the ball away. It was a moment that was indicative of the telepathic understanding between this pair.

As Arsene looks to rotate the side over the next few games, you can bet he’ll do everything he can to keep Mertesacker and Koscielny together.

I never thought I’d see a Man United side this bad…
…and boy is it funny. Yes, they’ll improve. Yes, they may even come in to contention later in the season. But let’s laugh at them now. Truly, it’s our turn, and we’ve waited long enough for it.

As for Roberto Martinez…
…I’m delighted to see him doing well. I always rated him at Wigan and he’s showing that his stylish philosophy is actually more effective when employed at a club with better resources and players.

Everton will be a big test for Arsenal come Sunday. Just as with Hull and Cardiff, our next opposition have fired a warning shot across our bows. It’s up to us to meet the challenge.

FURTHER READING:

For ESPN: Arsenal rotate but roll on past Hull

Cardiff 0 – 3 Arsenal: We’ve Got Our Arsene Back

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | Comments Off

Cardiff City 0 – 3 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights

We’ve got our Arsene back…
In stoppage time, with Arsenal winning this match by three goals to nil, the cameras caught Arsene Wenger bellowing at an Arsenal player.

It  may have seemed unnecessary, but I interpreted it as a sign that his focus is greater than ever. Many of us have doubted Wenger’s powers in the last few seasons. What’s clear is that –  even if they had ever faded  - they have now returned with a vengeance.

Wenger has always been something of a perfectionist. This season, he has shown he is prepared to be a pragmatist too. His perfectionism is no longer confine to Arsenal’s aesthetic dimension, but seems to encompass a broader appreciation of the games. Whereas once he was cavalier, he is increasingly practical. He seems to take pride in the team’s defending once more. He’ll have been just as satisfied by the clean sheet as the three exquisite goals.

A couple of weeks back, Santi Cazorla told The Guardian:

The manager is more concienciado, more concentrated, more conscious.

He’s more demanding. It’s been a long time without winning anything and he’s determined.

Arsenal are reaping the benefits of Arsene’s renewed vigour.

Aaron Ramsey was a class act…
The way he took the goals was sublime, but his celebration (or lack thereof) underlined his class. For home fans to applaud a visiting conqueror requires a very special set of circumstances. Fortunately, Cardiff fans had the sophistication to recognise that Ramsey is more of a cause for pride than disparagement.

This was Mesut Ozil’s best game for some time…
I’ve been tentatively critical of his recent displays, but he was excellent in Wales. The two assists were laced with the kind of pinpoint precision one expects of the uber-technician, but his all-round game was excellent too.

It wasn’t Olivier Giroud’s best day…
In the first half, there was the rather embarrassing moment when he neglected to play to the whistle and pulled up when through on goal. Then, at the start of the second half, he saw a close-range effort cleared off the line.

Giroud can’t be expected to excel in every game – hence why Arsenal need to invest in another forward in January.

Theo Walcott reminded us of what he can do…
His cameo from the bench was brief but explosive. Unfortunately for Theo, he may merely have reminded Arsene of how effective he can be as a late substitute against a tiring defence. Being a superb substitute is something of a poisoned chalice.

Wojciech Szczesny deserves enormous credit…
At 1-0, Szczesny made a couple of crucial saves, including one outstanding stop to deny a powerful Frazier Campbell header.

The Pole has now kept five clean sheets in his last six games.

Arsenal must keep up the momentum…
We now face two home games against Hull and in-form Everton. It’s vital we win both games to give us a cushion heading in to the crucial double-header against City and Chelsea.

Fortunately, with the squad returning to something approaching full-strength, we finally have the option to rotate without reducing the potency of the XI.

Arsenal 2-0 Marseille: Wilshere wings it as Arsenal edge closer to qualification

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, Match Reports | Comments Off

This was a 2-0 thrashing…
Arsenal had eight attempts on target and should have scored at least two more goals. Mesut Ozil was denied from the penalty spot, while Aaron Ramsey will have been shocked not to have scored from close range. Marseille rested several key players and simply couldn’t keep pace with a dominant Arsenal midfield.

Arsenal showed off their strength-in-depth…
Arsene was able to make three changes to his starting XI without compromising its potency. Monreal, Flamini and Rosicky came in and were every bit as solid as you’d expect. There can’t be many better reserve full-backs in Europe than Monreal, while Rosicky must be the only 33-year old who actually increases the tempo of whatever team he’s picked for. When Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla were introduced from the bench, the mounting options at Wenger’s disposal became starkly apparent.

I like Wilshere on the right…
I saw him make his debut there as a 16-year old. Back then, Wenger pushed him out wide to protect him from the hurly-burly of the middle of the park.
The unfortunate truth is that, given his injury problems, he still benefits from that protection. His future might be as a deep-lying midfielder but at presents he’s best when liberated from the congestion and conflict of the centre.
His goalscoring record at youth level was sensational and typically that returns to a player’s game once they hit their early twenties. Fabregas was exactly the same, and Ramsey is showing signs of emulating that progression. If Wilshere can do so too, Arsenal will have a midfield to reckon with for years to come.

The missed penalty might be the kick up the back-side Ozil needs…
As he stepped up to take the penalty, every fan around me watched on in grim anticipation of what was to come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a German look less likely to score from the spot.
By his own excellent standards, Ozil came in to the game in the midst of something of a slump. Hopefully that penalty miss was his nadir, and this can be a turning point.
After the spot-kick was saved he immediately looked more energised, buzzing around the penalty area with the bristling resolution of a player determined to make amends.
His assist for Wilshere’s second goal was the sort of telling pass we became accustomed to seeing during Ozil’s first few games for the club. I expect the embarrassment of the penalty miss will spark an upturn in form for the mercurial playmaker.

Arsenal look set to survive the supposed “Group of Death”…
Anything other than a heavy defeat in Naples will see us progress. Given the strength of the group, it’s a remarkable achievement – I’d argue it’s every bit as impressive as our domestic form.

Further Reading:

ESPN: Arsenal’s victory over Marseille shows off growing strength in depth
BR: Jack Wilshere is on the right path on the right wing 

Olivier Giroud and Arsenal profit from Boruc balls-up

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | Comments Off

After losing at Old Trafford in their last Premier League outing, Arsenal needed a response to reassert their credentials as title challengers. Thanks to a dogged and determined display, they did just that.

Prior to the match, Arsene Wenger would have been cursing the fixture list that his team found themselves up against Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton, flying high in the table and collecting plenty of plaudits and points along the way.

A year ago, this was a routine home win for the Gunners. Then, a Southampton team managed by Nigel Adkins shipped six goals and looked doomed for relegation. Even Gervinho belittled them with a brace.

However, since then, the South-Coast side have been radically transformed. Now, drilled by the impressive Pochettino, they have their eyes on Europe. Pochettino’s team have already won at Liverpool and drawn an Manchester United in a promising campaign.

The Argentine spent much of the build-up to the game lavishing praise on the legacy Arsene Wenger has built at Arsenal. However, there is much for Wenger to admire about Pochettino’s Southampton. He has quickly created a distinct football culture, harnessing the attacking talents of the likes of Lallana and Lambert, and introducing a relentless pressing game.

Wenger might have feared the worst. Last season, Arsenal were beaten at home by a Swansea team who employed a similar combination of polished passing and persistent pressure. With Tomas Rosicky not fit enough to start and Mathieu Flamini suspended, Arsenal were arguably missing the two midfield players best suited to cope with the Saint’s high-tempo style.

However, the Gunners were determined to show that they were up to the test.

Giving Southampton’s proficiency at pressing, there was a certain irony about the way Arsenal grabbed the opening goal. When Artur Boruc collected a simple back-pass, no danger was apparent. However, the industry of Olivier Giroud allowed Arsenal to create a chance out of nothing.

Giroud hassled Boruc, enforcing an effort in the Polish goalkeeper’s footwork before pick-pocketing the ball and poking home in to the unguarded goal. Boruc was embarrassed; Giroud elated.

Southampton have only conceded seven league goals this season. One of those was a freak effort from Asmir Begovic where the ball was caught by the wing and Boruc was caught out of position. Were it not for the Pole’s errors, Southampton’s defensive record would be even meaner.

Nevertheless, Giroud was a grateful beneficiary.

The brace put a positive end on to a mixed week for the forward. He was dropped for France’s decisive play-off against the Ukraine, but was comforted by the consolation of World Cup qualification. Away from the pitch, he lost his grandfather. After nicking the opener, he pointed to the sky in a moment of poignant reflection.

He also stepped up to stroke home the penalty that sealed the game, grabbing the ball as soon as the referee blew the whistle. That self-assurance is a far cry from the Giroud of last season. Almost exactly a year ago, Giroud opted not to take a last-minute penalty when on a hattrick against Fulham. Arteta subsequently missed, and Giroud was roundly criticised.

Now, however, his confidence is on a high. In 19 games this season he has already scored 10 goals and made five assists. He has become integral to Arsenal’s play.

His defensive work is superb. Giroud is vital when it comes to defending set-pieces, and as the opening goal shows is excellent at closing down defenders – he almost bought himself a goal from a similar situation against Liverpool.

However, you can’t keep up those effort levels for 90 minutes. The work that Giroud did in the 22nd minute to win the opening goal is impossible in the latter stages of a draining game. Subsequently, Southampton’s centre-backs were allowed more and more time on the ball, and the Saints grew in to the game.

That’s why Arsenal need to sign a striker in January: they need someone who can come on for the last twenty minutes and replicate Giroud’s presence in both boxes. He can’t be expected to continue like this without incurring physical repercussions.

This was a really good win for Arsenal against a very solid team. The Gunners avoided the banana skin, but Boruc didn’t. Roll on the next game.

Man United 1 – 0 Arsenal: Anticlimactic end to a good week

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | Comments Off

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This felt like an anti-climax…
Arsenal had an opportunity to do something special, and didn’t take it.

Given our momentum going in to the game, I fancied us to turn United over. Having witnessed their workmanlike but uninspiring display, I’m convinced an in-form Arsenal could have done just that.

Sadly, we were far from our best. In the first half, Arsenal looked sloppy and sometimes sleepy. We improved in the second half, but still lacked imagination and energy. One wonders if, after draining ties with Liverpool and Dortmund, this was a big game too far.

I’m not too keen to dissect the goal…
Yes, Aaron Ramsey could have done better at the near post. Kieran Gibbs did drift from his position on the line, but without being a foot taller I’m not sure how much he could have done regardless of where he stood.

Every goal can be broken down in terms of errors. If defences were perfect, every game would end 0-0.

Sometimes you just have to take your hat off to a great delivery and a great leap.

RVP is welcome to celebrate…
Do you want his respect? His pity? I know I don’t.

There is no love lost between Robin and Arsenal. Why disguise it? Pretending otherwise is just silly.

United are an interesting case study for the theory that “strikers win games”…
It’s my firm belief that Arsenal had the stronger XI going in to this match. Our midfield compares particularly favourably with United’s.

However, the old adage goes that strikers win games, and so it proved. One moment of combination between Rooney and Van Persie was enough for United to secure the three points.

United’s midfield was also weak last season, but Van Persie was able to bail them out time after time, and they ended up as champions. A world class goal-getter can mask many deficiencies.

As good as Olivier Giroud has been this season, I think we’d be getting ahead of ourselves to suggest he’s in the same bracket as United’s front two. However, that’s not a fixed situation. As Wenger often says, you should never put limits on any player’s potential. If Giroud continues to improve at his current rate, that hierarchy might soon change.

What’s preposterous is that we have so little support for Giroud. Introducing Bendtner at Old Trafford, on the day he has made public his displeasure with Arsenal and Arsene, felt absurd.

Strikers win games. And we don’t have enough.

I think we’re right to expect more from Ozil…
Let’s be honest: he hasn’t played particularly well since the Norwich match on October 19th. In the six games since then he has struggled to impose himself on the game, often being forced to drift out to the right just to find space.

That’s partly due to tight marking. Teams are wise to his threat and are shutting him down.

Granted, he is still adapting. Ozil is encountering new problems, but he has the intelligence and the talent to overcome them. Arsenal need Ozil to start finding solutions.

We really really need players back now…
To go to Old Trafford with young Isaac Hayden on the bench tells you just how thin our squad is in some areas. An injection of width and pace from Theo Walcott will be very welcome indeed, whilst the efficient finishing of Lukas Podolski can not be far behind.

Arsene said afterwards that a draw would have been fair…
He’s right, really. However, the same would also be true of our midweek win over Dortmund. The truth is that top-level games are always decided by the finest of margins. In mid-week Arsenal were hailed as heroes; tomorrow they’d be ridiculous as flops. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in-between. While our failure to beat our major domestic rivals is frustrating, the numbers don’t lie: we have been the best team in England this calendar year.

There’s no need for despondency…
The wider results this weekend were generally very kind to us. We’re still top of league; still exceeding expectations. We’re on course to qualify from the group stage of the Champions League, and have plenty of players on the way back.

If there’s one thing that’s certain this year, it’s that the eventual Premier League winners will lose several games along the way.

It could still be us. Nothing I saw at Old Trafford made me think otherwise.

Further Reading:

Video: Arsene Wenger sings Cee-Lo Green hit to Robin van Persie

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Featured | Comments Off

Alright gang. I’ve done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Wenger belting out a version of CeeLo Green’s hit “F*ck You” at his former charge Robin van Persie. I thought it might be timely ahead of Sunday’s game. Enjoy:

As regards the Dortmund game, apologies for the lack of blog. I’ve got a few pieces I’ve written on it floating around the rest of the web though:

Cheers all.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool: Arsenal win by 2 goals and £1

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | Comments Off

Brendan Rodgers over-thought this game…
I think Rodgers is a good manager. He has improved Liverpool dramatically. He seems to have an eye for a player and a creditable core philosophy.

However, he does have a tendency to over-think things. He seems to regard himself as an ingenious tactician, constantly seeking to reinvent the wheel.

Going in to a game against Arsenal with an outdated 3-5-2 formation was suicide. Liverpool’s wing backs – who, it should be pointed out, happen to be among the worst players in their squad – were isolated and overwhelmed.

At half-time, Rodgers switched to a conventional 4-4-2 to try and bring more stability to the side. However, Steven Gerrard has not been capable of playing in a central midfield pairing for some time. Even Rafa Benitez infamously fielded him wide on the right when selecting a midfield four, and that was years ago.

Rodgers’ tactical tinkering contributed to Liverpool’s downfall.

Mikel Arteta was outstanding…
Going in to the game, there was much wailing about the absence of Mathieu Flamini. However, Mikel Arteta covered for his absence with a superb man of the match display.

Arteta has been a little taken for granted this season. Flamini’s best performances came while the Spaniard was missing through inure. Given our excellent start, some fans wondered aloud whether Arteta had become obsolete.

Yesterday he demonstrated just why he’s such an essential member of the squad. His tackling was exemplary and his use of the ball typically intelligent. What’s more, he’s a leader. Throughout the game he could be seen marshalling Arsenal’s midfield, cajoling team-mates in to position and berating them if they neglected their defensive responsibilities.

Arsene Wenger deserves more credit for Arteta’s transformation…
Arsene used to be renowned for converting players to different positions. Indeed, in this match Arsenal came up against Kolo Toure, who had played on both wings for Arsenal before Wenger elected to use him as a centre-back.

Arteta arrived at Arsenal as a creative playmaker and has been refashioned in to a holding midfielder. The move has prolonged Arteta’s career and made him invaluable to the squad.

What’s happening to Aaron Ramsey feels almost supernatural…
In the week of Halloween, the Welshman is truly playing like a man possessed. His goal was the sort of thing you only attempt when your confidence is sky high. I’ve long thought Ramsey’s energy levels and shooting prowess were reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard. The manner in which Ramsey dominated Gerrard in this match suggested a passing of the torch.

I was pleased for Thomas Vermaelen…
The club captain came on as a late substitute for Kieran Gibbs, and I was delighted he was involved in a great win. Vermaelen remains an important figure in the squad and the best reserve centre-half we’ve had in some time. It’s vital to keep him happy.

Confession: I only really care about the league…
Arsenal face a crucial Champions League tie with Dortmund this week, but I’d gladly swap victory in Germany for three points at Old Trafford next Sunday.

The Premier League campaign feels all-encompassing and all-consuming. The irritation felt at dropping out of the League cup was banished by beating Liverpool.

Arsenal are currently five points clear. There is a growing sense that Arsenal can mount their first serious and sustained title challenge since 2007/08. Nothing – not even European progression – would excite me more.

Arsenal 0 – 2 Chelsea: Arsenal understudies fluff their lines

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, League Cup, Match Reports | Comments Off

Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The top story is: Chelsea’s reserves are better than Arsenal’s reserves…
I’m not sure there has been a squad in Premier League history as grossly bloated with talent as this current Chelsea group.

For this match Jose Mourinho was able to make 10 changes, yet the side he fielded would stand every chance of challenging for major honours. To have the likes of Juan Mata in reserve is beyond luxury and bordering upon absurdity.

The signing of Willian was symbolic of Abramovich and Mourinho’s tendency towards excess. When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, it was said that the Gunners didn’t “need” the German. Such an argument is plainly nonsense when held up against the Willian deal. Chelsea truly didn’t need the Brazilian. They signed him because they could, and because they feared his acquisition would strengthen a rival.

Wenger would never do that – even if he had the financial resources. He’d worry about congesting his squad, or allocating such a huge proportion of the club’s budget to a player who will not feature frequently.

Mourinho, on the other hand, is too short-termist to care, and Abramovich too rich. They build and build and buy and buy and now they’ve got a squad that contains at least two teams – maybe more. It might not be ethical but it’s pretty effective.

By contrast, Arsenal’s reserves are just that: players who fall a little way short of the standards expected of the first-team. Against Chelsea, it showed.

It would be disingenuous to blame it all on the stand-ins…
Arsenal fielded the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and none of those players hit the heights usually expected of them.

However, Carl Jenkinson had a shocker…
The opening goal exposed his major weakness: his aerial ability. First he was indecisive, then ungainly. It was a dreadful mistake to make.

Unfortunately for Jenkinson, even the areas of his game that are consistently positive, such as his crossing, were uncharacteristically poor.

He’s not as bad as he looked last night. However, it’s becoming clear that he may not be as good as he looked in the early part of last season.

Jenkinson’s current ability level lies somewhere in between the two poles: he is a good prospect with plenty to learn. He is not yet close to taking over as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.

The sooner Bacary Sagna gets a new contract, the better.

Nicklas Bendtner looked as rusty as you’d expect…
Nothing stuck to the big Dane, and he even looked timid in front of goal. Believe it or not, the man with who turned the self-esteem up to 11 in his psychological profiling test looked short of confidence.

However, I refuse to believe he didn’t try. What would he have to gain from that? You’ve got a guy here who knows he’s on his last chance to make it with a big club, and whose contract expires this summer. He has every incentive to do well. Everyone agreed he seemed motivated and energised against Norwich. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care? I don’t buy it.

The simple truth is he lacked service. A conventional target man like Bendtner is dependent upon supply.

Lacking in fitness? Certainly. Lacking in quality? Arguably. But those things, rather than a lack of will, were his principal crimes. And how booing him is supposed to help matters I have no idea.

Ryo Miyaichi is an odd one…
The coaching staff seem convinced he’s a gem, but he always looks more of a perfectly pleasant but inspiring pebble to me. Quick, with decent technique, but nothing special. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in time but I do wonder how great a toll all those injuries have taken.

Criticising Wenger’s selection policy is missing the point…
He didn’t have a huge amount of choice.

I’m convinced that had Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Eisfeld been fit to start they would have been involved tonight. However, the crop of youngsters Wenger considers most appropriate to blood were almost entirely unavailable.

Wenger will have been disappointed that he was forced to use Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, especially having failed to pick up a positive result. However, he’d gladly trade off Capital One Cup progression for three points against Liverpool on Saturday. That match is taking on more significance by the day.

For further reading follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog. More reaction to come throughout the day.