I suppose it’s easier to say this in hindsight but I don’t think Arsene Wenger was overly concerned with winning last night.
His selection of starting team was far from the strongest – with players like Alex Song, Denilson and Andrey Arshavin given a rest – and I believe he saw this as an opportunity to test some of his younger players.
Craig Eastmond and Johan Djourou were two surprise starters (although in another way, entirely expected) while Emmanuel Eboue played at right-back, Tomas Rosicky in the Cesc Fabregas role and Samir Nasri switched from the right to the left wing to accommodate Theo Walcott.
The result was understandably disjointed and that, combined with the unique difficulty of playing Eastern European team – and a good one at that – away from home made for a difficult night for our boys. In truth, it is nothing that Wenger would not have expected and it gave him a good opportunity to see how our virtual second-string team would cope.
The final answer to that question was ‘not very well’.
We made a bright start through an awesome Walcott goal after 10 minutes but then played poorly. Shakhtar got hold of the ball and dictated the game (as I believed they might in yesterday’s preview) and worked their way back into the game.
Their equaliser came through ex-Barcelona defender Dimitro Chygrinskiy, whose header powered in off the unfortunate Eastmond. At first it looked a bad error from Eastmond, who endured a difficult night at the heart of midfield, but replays showed that Chygrinskiy’s touch made it impossible for the Englishman to avoid.
The second goal was far more avoidable and came through a mistake from Gael Clichy. Attempting to shield the ball out of touch, the Frenchman let Dario Srna nip in to steal the ball and he crossed for — guess who? — Eduardo to slide home a trademark finish.
It is not the first time Clichy has made this sort of mistake and you have to wonder whether his ‘play good football at all costs’ mentality is hurting us at the back. Good defenders know when to play football and when to sacrifice good football to clear the danger, yet Clichy continues to make basic errors in his decision-making. It is a worry and as I said earlier in the season, if Kieran Gibbs can get fit for a decent stretch of time, the left-back position will be up for grabs.
From 1-0 up we were 2-1 down at the break and facing a big challange to get back into the game.
While the second half was not dominated by Arsenal the improvement in our performance was encouraging. Wilshere missing a golden chance just after half-time and Sebastien Squillaci having a very decent effort saved by Andriy Pyatov. Shakhtar kept Lukasz Fabianski busy at the other end with a couple of decent efforts yet we always looked more likely to score as Carlos Vela, Marouane Chamakh and Jay-Emmanuel Thomas entered the contest.
In the end the Ukrainian champions held on to record an impressive victory. The win sees them draw level on points with us and with Braga also moving up to six points, there is still a possibility that we could miss the second stage.
In truth that outcome is extremely unlikely: our head-to-head record is favourable against both teams and regardless of the poor result recorded here, we should still top the group.
It’s easy to get frustrated whenever Arsenal loses a game of football — who in their right mind enjoys losing? — but I don’t think there is too much to be worried about with this result. In giving his fringe players an opportunity to play in a difficult atmosphere against a strong team Wenger would surely have known that losing this game was a distinct possibility and despite his post-match comments, will not be too displeased with the performance.
One final mention: Eduardo. The class and professionalism of that man is without question. I hope he enjoyed his moment.
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