Archive for September 17th, 2009

Liege 2 – 3 Arsenal: Not Your Standard Game

4 comments September 17th, 2009

Standard Liege 2 – 3 Arsenal (Mangala 2, Jovanovic 4 (pen), Bendtner 47, Vermaelen 77, Eduardo 81)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

We didn’t play very well last night. We fell behind due to some defensive sloppiness, our midfield were outfought and often outplayed, and our front three looked as toothless as Robin van Persie could have been if Emmanuel Adebayor’s foot-eye coordination was a little better.

And yet we won. Is this how Man United fans feel most weeks?

It’s often said that good teams know how to play badly and win. I don’t like that phrase because the word “know” implies some kind of preconception, like gifting Standard a two-goal head-start was part of one of Arsene’s zanier masterplans. We didn’t “know” what we were doing last night – we stumbled through thanks to a combination of poor refereeing, luck, and a couple of instances where our superior ability shone through the murk of a dreadful display.

Poor Vito Mannone. On only his second start for the club he found himself picking the ball out of the net twice within the opening five minutes. Arsene said after the game that what happened to us in that traumatic opening period “could happen to any team”. I’m not so sure, for reasons I’ll outline now.

The first goal game when a corner was cleared to Eduardo on the edge of the box. Seeing Cesc in space just inside him, he attempted an audacious backheel as the ball dropped out of the sky, only for his fluffed effort to find Standard’s giant centre-back who powered a shot into Mannone’s near post from 22 yards.

After the game, Arsene defended Eduardo’s decision, stating that players have to take risks. Yes, sometimes they do, but not there. Not then. If Eduardo did that in a Jose Mourinho team he’d be publically admonished and dropped from the side. I’m not necessarily advocating that, but I do think sometimes the manager needs to put a greater emphasis on defensive discipline.

Their second goal was the result of a storming run that William Gallas will have felt a little unlucky to have halted with a foul. But a foul it was, and the resulting penalty was tucked away with aplomb. Suddenly we were 2 nil down inside five minutes, and staring down the barrel of a third consecutive defeat.

Liege were as surprised by their success as anyone, and seemed a little overawed by their impressive lead, sinking back deeper and deeper as the half wore on. A goal before half-time gave us hope – Abou Diaby, in arguably his only useful contribution of the game, spinning away from two defenders before playing in Nicklas Bendtner who finished well between the keeper’s legs.

The second half began with Alex Song and Gallas attempting to restore Liege’s two-goal advantage with some comical interplay at the back. Fortunately, a great block from the otherwise awful Gael Clichy prevented yet more defensive disaster.

We weren’t imposing a lot of pressure, and it began to look as if Liege might hold on for a famous victory. Then, with thirteen odd minutes remaining, Cesc Fabregas swung in a free-kick from the left. Alex Song, about to be withdrawn as a substitute, potentially offside, and definitely using his hand, knocked the ball back for Thomas Vermaelen (our best player on the night) to prod home. I waited for the referee to disallow the goal, yet inexplicably he didn’t. A huge slice of luck and suddenly we were level.

From then on there was only going to be one outcome. Vermaelen had a backheeled effort cleared off the line and the Belgian keeper produced a marvellous save to deny Eduardo from close range. No matter – the Croatian attoned for his early error with a kneed effort from another Fabregas set-piece.

In four minutes, Arsenal had conceded two scrappy goals that almost cost them the game. In another four minutes, we’d scored two scrappier goals that had won it. Football is a strange, strange game.

The performance was poor but that will soon be forgotten. A third consecutive defeat would have been a real blow, but the nature of the comeback could now prove to be a vital boost as we return to Premier League action this weekend.

Here’s hoping, however, that on Saturday we don’t deign to give Wigan a two-goal head-start.

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