After the euphoria of the past week, I was thinking we were due something tragic. I was dreading it with every joyful conversation I had with other members of the extended Gooner family. After all it is not every day that you’re on a run of form like we were. So anyway, we all know what went down at the home of the Owls. I didn’t actually watch most of the match live because I got home after the second half had already started, but I managed to catch up on most of it later.
I will give it to you straight guys – we were terrible. We were absolute shite mates. I could almost see us coming apart at the seams. There was no response from the team, even with Per Mertesacker playing and Petr Cech in goal and Olivier Giroud up front. I was celebrating the Stoke goal at Chelsea when the 3-0 score line hit me in the face from Google Now. That little glimmer of happiness almost ended with Chelsea pulling one back in stoppage time but in the end it was my only consolation on a bad day at work for the Gunners.
Now, despite my very best efforts, I could not find the star man on our side of the pitch at all. In fact, for me the star man was not even on the pitch. The Star Man for me on the day was in the Sheffield Wednesday dug out. His name is Carlos Carvalhal. Yes, the manager of the 2nd division side that knocked us out 3-0 is my Star Man for the day. I am going to stick my neck out here and try to analyse what his instructions for his team may have been. Forgive me if most of it seems anecdotal because I do not have the stats to back it up and I was so distraught at the team losing that I didn’t really take note of any significant events or passes played. I was trying to gather some statistics to try and add credence to these views but interestingly, the blokes at FourFourTwo (creators of the trustworthy StatsZone app) don’t take the Carling Cup seriously enough to record statistics for the competition. They must be hand in hand with Arsene then, eh?
Carvalhal seems to have been ready for the kind of team selection Wenger made. They pretty much came flying out of the blocks at us and got the goal for their troubles. It was very obvious that his team were going to go all out for domination once they got the first goal, which would not have been possible if our regulars were playing. And the first goal itself was quite the sight. They played a couple of very imaginative one two’s in a small triangle near the halfway line and then out of the blue they pinged a cross across to the wing. With the help of some pretty shabby defending in the box, the ball was in the net after a good finish from Ross Wallace. Wallace, incidentally, was named the best player on the pitch according to a poll on the app with which I was following updates on the match. I must say it was deserved. He even went close with a free-kick later on in the game which showed off his technical prowess. The move culminating in the goal was started when the ball was won by Wednesday off the head of an Arsenal player who looked like he was expecting the ball to drop onto his feet without a challenge. This approach to ball winning early in the match combined with the passing combinations tells us that they were under no defensive instructions at all. Carvalhal must have anticipated the lack of spark in our attack and let his players know that they should play as if playing a League two opponent – with no fear of losing the ball. When a team eliminates this fear, it can be very hard to match them head to head without creativity in the side, and Arsenal’s creativity was missed very much yesterday.
Immediately after the goal also they didn’t stop attacking us, they kept coming with all they had and that indicates a fearless manager. Digging into Mr. Carvalhal’s history from the basic Wikipedia info that I looked at, I get the feeling that the man does not fear failure – he has been fired from quite a few places. He has been in charge since 30th June 2015 at Sheffield and that does not seem like a long time to stamp his style on the squad but I would argue that it is. I wish I could have watched a few matches of their league campaign to gauge whether they play this way in every game. If any Sheffield fan is reading this, I would like to talk to you about this. Feel free to let me know what you think of your league campaign on Twitter.
I noticed the confidence in our game on a downward trajectory with every header that we lost and the Owls kept coming at us like an angry horde. Their pressing was solid right till the end with our defence struggling to put the ball through to a midfielder. The defence was in complete disarray other than Per Mertesacker, who seems too relaxed at times. I was hoping he would pull us up somehow but then he is neither an attacker nor a magician. Ismael Bennacer seemed to be moving on roller blades when he tried pressing the opposition, even in the opposition half! He wasn’t the only one either, a lot of players seemed to be doing the same, rendering our pressing inefficient – and at times non-existent. It felt like the Sheffield players were playing a game of their own. They were coming to claim the ball in 2’s and 3’s which increased the pressure exponentially on our young ones. It is full credit to their coach because I do not expect this level of movement from a team so far down below us. Just outlines the reason we all love football really, anybody can win. It is all about what you do on the day and on the pitch.
Their second goal was a great header but also a failure for our defence. The perfect ball was floated into the penalty area from the set piece and Lucas Joao made no mistake in putting the tie out of question with his header. Clearly, set pieces had been drilled into them very well by the man at the helm.
The only goal that I found to be nearly unavoidable was the third one. This was the kind of set piece which requires careful construction and planning to execute. That they found the opportunity to try this against us says a lot about their half-time talk with the manager and also a lot about their confidence. There should have been a defender tracking the lone man on the right as the cross comes in. I mean, he isn’t Robert Lewandowski so you can’t expect him to straight aim for goal! It seemed obvious to me when I was watching the replays, that the guy was always going to try and put a ball in. Why it wasn’t apparent to someone on the pitch I cannot fathom. In any case this was a goal well scored and I doubt very much something could have been done about it once that ball was into the 6 yard box no matter what defence we played. A top move from a team with good coaches. There isn’t much that can be said on the rest of the game because any team worth their salt would have played better than we did and this has nothing to do with Carvalhal’s instructions or lack of them.
Modern day football makes a very big deal about tactics and formations and set pieces and what have ye. Yesterday Wednesday unequivocally nailed it on all fronts. I hope they take heart from it and get up from the 9th position they are in down in League Two because even though we were not good enough on the day they still turned up. Their players were professional above all and that, more than anything else is what won them the points.
Our own manager is not famed for the dictator kind of management that you would associate with say Jose Mourinho at Chelsea or Pep Guardiola at Bayern when he took over, he is more of the kind to let ideas develop in the minds of his players, however it was clear to everybody watching the match that we were lacking in ideas and even more troubling is the fact that they were not ready for the occasion. I do not think that the likes of Glen Kamara and Ismael Bennacer are ready to turn pro in the near future. On top of that certain experienced players like Flamini really looked like their time in the top flight should have been done by now.
Speaking to reporters after the match Wenger said, “I have to manage the workload of the players and at the end of the day I still think I brought too many experienced players here.” I cannot stress how little importance he gives to this competition. Which is our saving grace, because this means the first 11 will not be affected by this victory.
All except Petr Cech and Olivier Giroud. While Petr Cech did let 3 goals into his net, he also had the opportunity to make some saves. Cech comes off as the sort of person who will not be fazed by this. He certainly won’t be blaming anybody but he will sleep well in the knowledge that he has an infinitely better defensive shield available in front of him in the next game with Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal and Bellerin all fit to start. Not to mention that the lack of Coquelin made the job even harder for the embarrassment of a defence that we started with.
Giroud though is a different story. Borrowing words from a tweet I saw, Giroud was ‘starved’. He thrives on balls in the box or runs that he can aid with his splendid first touch. He had none. Nein. Nada. He cut a frustrated figure at the top of the attack trying to go alone the whole way and he was stranded there for the entire evening. I felt sorry for him. I understand that Wenger was starting him to rest Walcott but really, it is an insult to this man to let him start such a match. He deserves better. If you’re playing a team full of people who will ensure the striker looks bad in the end, don’t play the one who is in a vein of form currently. He doesn’t pull tantrums like some other players in his position might but these kind of games might just change that. With Walcott injured again perhaps Giroud can get a few games and forget about this one fast.
No point wailing over this anymore. All this teaches us is that our academy players need a big step up to be eligible for the first team in ANY competition. Here’s to hoping for another clean sheet and a few goals against Swansea. Let’s get back to winning ways.