Arséne made several changes to the team that won at Turf Moor last week. Szczesny for Ospina I understand. I don’t agree with it, but I understand. He likes to have a different cup keeper for some reason so this was no surprise. After that the changes ranged from slightly baffling to downright incomprehensible.
We’ll start with the baffling.
Welbeck for Giroud
I understand that Reading were likely to play a high line. They did at times play quite high and this presented us with a chance or two, but they retreated very fast when they lost the ball and left little or no space in behind. This meant that Welbeck couldn’t utilise his pace and he was largely a passenger in the game until he was taken off after 72 minutes.
Giroud made an impact as soon as he came on, and I felt that he was more effective in his first 10 minutes alone than Welbeck had been in 72.
I also found it odd that we played Welbeck instead of Giroud considering how narrow we had set up. Ramsey and Alexis tend to come inside a lot and use Giroud to play off of. Welbeck isn’t great with his back to goal, so this was another reason Welbeck’s inclusion was odd.
If Wenger had opted to play Walcott for example, (I’m not saying he should have) and used him and Alexis to really stretch the Reading back four and play balls for Danny into the gaps between them I could have understood his inclusion.
Perhaps Welbeck was supposed to make runs inside to out to pull the opposition about and create gaps for Rambo and Alexis. Maybe he was supposed to make runs across the line. Who knows what instructions he had. Either way he had a bad game and Wenger was right to sub him. He doesn’t seem to have been right starting him in the first place though.
Gibbs for Monreal
I understand that Gibbs is arguably better than Monreal going forward. I understand that Arséne expected to dominate the game, and that Gibbs would be able to use his attacking instincts to great effect, however what I don’t understand is changing a back four (five if you include Coquelin) that hasn’t lost a domestic match since early February.
I also didn’t understand the thinking behind throwing Gibbs into the first 11 when he hasn’t started a game for roughly a month. The Reading players may not be too class, (neither is Gibbs) but they were match fit and sharp. Gibbs wasn’t.
Gibbs’s inclusion also tells me that Arséne considered our left side secure, which was a gamble considering how often Gibbs gets caught ahead of the play.
Debuchy for Bellerin
This was the change that for me was incomprehensible for several reasons. Bellerin didn’t deserve to lose his place in the team. He’s been outstanding, he’s scored the odd goal and he defends very well.
As I mentioned above, Wenger was messing with a proven back line. Then there’s the fact that Debuchy has been out for three months. There was no way he could have been considered fit or sharp enough for a game of this magnitude. I get that it was against Reading, sitting 18th in the Championship and in terrible form, but one must sometimes consider the occasion and location as well as the opposition.
An FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. If ever a game deserved our current best 11, this was it.
For me, Arséne Wenger disrespected Reading when selecting Debuchy over Bellerin. He is a very good player, a French international, but he hadn’t played for months. He didn’t even have Bellerin or at least Chambers on the bench! Debuchy looked tired after 60 minutes but we had no-one to replace him with. Why was a player who hasn’t played in months thrown into the starting line-up for a cup game that had the potential to last 120 minutes with no cover? It was a huge risk and it nearly cost us.
Forgetting that he lost the ball on a number of occasions including the build-up to their goal, he looked rusty and he was targeted on a number of occasions.
Like I said, Arséne showed a distinct lack of respect for the opposition when making his team selection, and but for a huge mistake by the Reading goalkeeper we could have ended up deciding the game with penalties.
A win is a win, and we have all week to recover from extra time before we take on Chelsea at home, so I’m not worried that we played 120 minutes, I’m just worried about the attitude that the manager displayed when thinking about his opponent. I’m also worried that he played Debuchy in order to give him some practice before he plays him against Hazard next weekend.
Anyway I shouldn’t moan too much. We’re going back to Wembley for another final, (more by luck than judgement).
Feel free to follow me on twitter (@CaptainDeeg). I always follow back and I’m more likely to respond to a tweet if we’re follow buddies. I’ll write another blog midweek to cover tactics etc, (unless someone else does a good job of it before I get round to it).