Arsenal 0-1 Man City: Four found in one lost
Team: Fabianski, Koscielny, Squillaci, Djourou, Miquel (Vermaelen 80), Chamberlain (Arshavin 87), Frimpong, Coquelin, Benayoun, Chamakh, Park (Gervinho 67)
When the Carling Cup quarter final draw pitted Arsenal against Man City the differences in philosophy and resources of the two clubs would inevitably be magnified, on paper there would be no comparison between a youthful Arsenal side costing pence and containing four teenagers to a Manchester City outfit containing Dzeko, Nasri and Augero and whose cost is quickly approaching the size of the hole in the Greek economy. The objectives heading into this match would therefore be more mindful of performance and individual plus points over the result. Could the youthful element show further progression and could the forward alternatives build up some form?
The four four two line up allowed starting slots for both back up forwards Chamakh and Park, a move that allowed both players to get valuable game time without isolating or putting too much onus on either one player. The need to pick both forwards no doubt dominated the manager's thinking and thus the set up that followed. The formation would mean that young pairing of Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong would be charged with the biggest task of the evening: shielding a makeshift defence, setting the tempo of play, gaining a foot hold of possession and utilising the ball effectively.
Chamberlain and Benayoun in the wide positions would need to show movement and intelligence to get involved in the match as well as offering an offence threat. The makeshift back four contained four centre backs, the order of the day would be to keep things tight and play with assurance on the ball. The full backs of Djourou and Miquel would also be tasked with the job of supporting play further forward.
The principal issues at hand were three fold, 1) avoid being overrun by a 'stronger on paper' team, 2) stop their key players making the difference in an isolated moment (assuming the former holds) and finally 3) having enough cut to make a break through ourselves. It was perhaps a touch inevitable that that at some point Manchester City's attacking threat would tell and that our lack of goal threat would limit our threat, but Arsene Wenger almost pulled off a result that underlined that there is another way and that if the result didn't achieve that in itself then perhaps the performance alone did.
There will be a counter argument of course that whilst we can be proud of the performance that the strength of the team bore no comparison, particularly in the forward positions, and that Arsenal has exited the competition. However, as I pondered on the sentiment of this match report on 80 minutes and the score at 0-0 I concluded that win, lose or draw by which ever method, that Arsenal could take many more positives than negatives.
Coquelin and Frimpong
Charged with the biggest task of the evening, for Frimpong there was the question challenging his energy in a focused and efficient manner and for Coquelin the challenge of showing a wider array of attributes from a creative perspective. Emmanuel Frimpong’s performance was calm, busy and the performance of a player determined to show he can not only live with but thrive among the best. There was a quietness of manner about Frimpong and on this showing we have got ourselves an upgrade on Mr frenzy with a mature display. Coquelin was equally impressive and showed a level of ease in possession in advanced positions and this was typified on 11 minutes with a low first time ball through to Park. The pair were the engine room all night, pressing off the ball and playing with purpose and confidence on it as they looked to take the game to Manchester City, particularly in the second half.
There has been some comparison of the two midfielders, and no doubt more to come, but the first outing of both players as a pair showed not only can they play together but also in a pair of two. There seemed to be no obvious limitations or imbalance, looking for improvements forward in their careers both would be more complete midfielders with a more accomplished attacking aspect to their games.
We have often seen bright displays in the Carling Cup from starlets against lesser sides, but Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is a player showing the mentality, belief and ability to take on and beat anyone put in front of him. There is an assurance about his work born from the confidence of a player who knows what he wants to do with the ball 5-10 yards in front of him and the decisiveness to pull it off. Technically Chamberlain has the strength, balance and a two footedness to turn players inside and out but what was most impressive was the movement and match awareness. He knew when to come inside and add to the numbers at both ends of the park and to put himself centrally in front of goal, on 27 minutes he drew a good save from a shot sailing towards the top corner.
The young Spanish centre half was asked to play out of position at left back up against the likes of Johnson and Nasri. That in itself would be 2.5 jobs for most makeshift fullbacks but it didn’t deter the young defender in getting forward and supporting play down the left flank, he was rather useful too and part of a defence that had stopped Manchester City having a single shot on target at the point of his withdrawal on 80 minutes, it was a composed performance full of verve.
The Final Word
The match told us something we already knew, that up front Arsenal are lacking the tools to provide anything like the depth in quality required. It also highlighted that the club have some tremendous talents with the likes of Frimpong, Coquelin, Chamberlain and Miquel all capable of playing at the highest level. It will be a delight to watch their careers progress and factor in too the presence of Wilshere, Ramsey, Jenkinson, Miyaichi and Campbell and the value of our youth recruitment policy is evident.
If Arsenal are though to compete at the top investment will be needed to ensure the club have strength in depth. In the forward positions that is evidently not the case and it is this inaction, in different cases / positions, and not the youth policy per se that has cost the club in recent seasons.
My focus in this report has been the performance of Arsenal’s teenagers and lack of effective threat from our front pair, Park dropped deep and linked well enough at times whilst Chamakh looked physically unable to give 90 minutes spluttering quite literally midway through the second half. As a whole the team effort was magnificent, it was thrilling to see that Gervinho’s first touch was to cover his in behind his defence by mopping up in the left back position. It was a moment that summed up how much the team is playing for each other. The only minor criticism may be that we lacked a little bit of creativity in the final ball to get the result the effort merited, if only Chamakh or Squillaci had committed themselves to attack the ball in the dying stages there may have been a different result.
2011-12 | Match Reports