Arsenal were dumped out of the FA Cup in astonishing fashion as Manchester United handed out a 4-0 drubbing at Old Trafford overnight. The home side were three up within 38 minutes as Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher scored with their head and Luis Nani clinically finished off Michael Carrick’s perfect pass.
Things only got worse for Arsenal after the break when Emmanuel Eboue was correctly sent off for a deliberate studs-to-the-groin challenge against Patrice Evra and Arsene Wenger’s side were lucky not to be down to nine when William Gallas kicked out at Nani off the ball. The rout was completed in the 74th minute when Fletcher scored his second of the game, heading home Nani’s excellent cross. You can see all the highlights here.
From an Arsenal perspective there are few positives to take out of this game. The injury situation at the club meant that while Wenger was able to field a reasonably strong side, there were key players in crucial positions missing. Jens Lehmann started in goals behind a much-changed back four of Justin Hoyte, William Gallas, Kolo Toure and Armand Traore. Their lack of playing time as a unit was shown up on a ridiculously consistent basis, and not one of the back four played well.
It is clear that as Nani and Co ran riot that Arsenal missed the full-back pairing of Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna. I don’t want to write off Hoyte and Traore as lost causes because they are still so young and do have potential, but they were shown up horribly against Manchester United last night. Each of the four goals came from crosses into the box and so often this season the first-choice full-backs have had the sharpness and tenacity to block a lot of balls aimed into the penalty area from out wide. At times, Hoyte and Traore may not have bothered even being out there.
In midfield Gilberto Silva started alongside Cesc Fabregas with Alexandr Hleb and Emmanuel Eboue taking up the flanks. It is no coincidence that each of the four times that Arsenal have lost this season Mathieu Flamini has not been in the starting side and the selection of Gilberto again meant the movement and distribution in the midfield was severely hampered. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but Flamini is absolutely vital to any Arsenal success this season and as soon as I saw his name absent from the team sheet I feared there would be trouble.
As for the other three in the midfield, neither of them did much at all. Fabregas and Hleb were both very quiet, seemingingly wanting to avoid as much physical contact as possible. It seemed they really missed their buddy Flamini in the midfield and as a result a lot of the time they were unable to get forward and help the front two because of Arsenal’s inability to outmuscle United’s crowded midfield.
And then there was Eboue. What a frustrating and idiotic performance he put in. He was poor in the first half, very poor, but to get sent off in the manner he did in the second half has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen on a football field. Arsenal’s injury list is so long at the moment that Wenger needs every single one of his available players doing their best to lessen the impact of this difficult, yet what is Eboue’s response? To peform outrageously dangerous tackle that will now see him suspended for a minimum of three matches and that put a significant amount of extra physical demand on the Arsenal players who were left on the pitch. Stupid? Yes. Selfish? Certainly. It is not the first time that Eboue has done something this dangerous and stupid but it is the first time he’s been caught and Wenger will certainly have to take some disciplinary action over his performance.
Up front Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo da Silva were paired together and I actually felt that they did OK under the circumstances. Given the absolutely dominating performance of United’s midfield the Arsenal attackers were never going to get a lot of chances but the front pairing worked hard to make the most of their chances and Bendtner in particular won a lot of ball in the air. However, when Eduardo made way for Emmanuel Adebayor arrived as part of Wenger’s triple-substitution in the 70th minute supporters got a glimpse of what the Arsenal attack had been missing. Although the Togolese man was booked for a hopeless attempt at a dive soon after coming on he genuinely troubled the United defence and even made a couple of half-chances between the end. With AC Milan just around the corner he still remains Arsenal’s best chance of goal.
On the whole the thing that disappointed me the most about this Arsenal performance was not losing, or even losing 4-0, but that the players allowed themselves to be ruffled so badly by the situation. As I mentioned previously, Eboue’s tackle was a disgrace while Gallas’ kick-out on Nani was almost as foolish and, given that Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly asking for a video investigation of the incident, could see the captain suspended as well. While many supporters will not be surprised with Eboue’s petulance and selfishness, Gallas really should know better and I feel Arsenal will be very lucky to retain his services for the next couple of Premiership games. Given the club’s injury situation, this is a serious concern.
In terms of the footballing performance I felt this match clearly outlined just how important some players have become to the Arsenal cause. Sagna and Clichy were badly missed, while it is plain as day that the Arsenal midfield cannot perform at their best without the tenacity of Flamini in the midfield. Up front, the same could be said of Adebayor.
The good news to take from the game is that each of the four players mentioned above will be available for the Champions League clash with AC Milan on Thursday. As such, Wenger and his players have an immediate chance to turn their fortunes around. A win against Milan, a very real possibility given the strength of the side that Arsenal will be able to field and the fact that the game is being played at home, will almost instantly erase the negative psychological impacts of this defeat. A loss or even a draw, on the other hand, will see the media continue to question Arsenal’s mental strength.
It’s going to be a tough week ahead and while the skies look very grey at the moment I think it’s important for supporters to remember that the boys are just one positive performance away from seeing the sun shining again.
What do you think?
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