Arsenal's performance against fourth-tier Bradford City in the Capital One Cup quarterfinals was one of their worst of the season. Pitted against the lowest-ranked opposition remaining in the competition, and fielding an almost full-strength starting XI, the team should have lost in the 90 minutes of regulation.
Last-minute heroics courtesy of defender Thomas Vermaelen ensured that Arsenal found an equalizer to push the match to extra time. With the Gunners unable to find a winner in two 15-minute overtime periods, penalty takers Santi Cazorla, Marouane Chamakh and Thomas Vermaelen all contrived to miss their penalties, despite the heroics of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to save two penalties of his own.
The loss adds further pressure onto a team languishing in 7th place in the league, and off to their worst ever start to a season under the tutelage of manager Arsene Wenger.
Click through to see how the defense, midfield and offense fared, along with Wenger's substitutes.
GK Wojciech Szczesny (7/10) — Arsenal's keeper acquitted himself well in the defeat to Bradford City. He was hardly to blame for the League Two side's sole goal in the contest, as his defenders were relatively static in front of him. He would go on to make several solid stops in the match, and distributed the ball relatively well in an effort to quickly transition play. In the shootout, the Polish keeper got a hand on three of the five penalties taken against him, stopping two of them. Szczesny was a rare bright spot for Arsenal on the day.
LB Kieran Gibbs (5.5/10) — The English left back did not have a terrible day, as he got forward relatively well. He had a terrific strike just wide of goal early on in the game, and had another in the first period of extra time. Defensively he did not have any major errors, but his movement forward meant that he was not always able to track back quickly to support Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker in central defense.
CB Thomas Vermaelen (4.5/10) — How does Vermaelen earn a lower score than Kieran Gibbs despite having scored Arsenal's 87th minute equalizer? Primarily because that was his only positive contribution to the game. He managed to put an early (and open) header over the Bradford City crossbar. The Gunners captain was then beaten for pace and tenacity by Nahki Wells, and for strength by James Hanson. He was often in the right position to make a play, but simply wasn't able to win the individual battles that he absolutely should have won. That he crashed his penalty off the right-hand post to help send Bradford City into the semifinals capped off what was a very mediocre day for the Belgian.
CB Per Mertesacker (4.5/10) — The towering German was as culpable as Vermaelen in terms of losing battles with James Hanson and Nahki Wells. What he did to partially make up for it was his relatively methodical passing and distribution from the back. For large spells of the match, it seemed as if he saw more of the ball than Arsenal's midfielders, such was the pressure that Bradford City was applying to Arsenal's middle line. Not an awful day for Mertesacker, but as the tallest player on the pitch, and a German with 85 caps for his national side, he should have been able to keep up with the front line of a fourth-tier side.
RB Bacary Sagna (5/10) — The French right back did almost as well as Gibbs in getting forward, as he saw a lot of the ball in Bradford's half of the pitch. He was also strong defensively, seemingly able to get a piece of the ball in almost every challenge he flew into. He appeared to fade a bit as the game wore on, as perhaps he is still regaining match fitness from his lengthy spell on the sidelines.
DM Francis Coquelin (4.5/10) — Coquelin had an unassuming match until he was substituted for striker Marouane Chamakh. His standout contribution was a lovely run inside the Bradford box before rifling a strike against the woodwork. As a fill-in for Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby, he was merely okay. His passing was not the longer-range variety that fans have come to expect from Arteta, nor was his defensive work as accomplished as someone like Diaby can be when at his best. There's likely more to come from the youngster, but someone like Alex Song would have thrived in a match like this.
CM Jack Wilshere (6.5/10) — Wilshere looked like the only player on the pitch who gave it his all over the course of the entire match. He constantly ran at the Bradford defense hoping for his peers to find openings in the home side's ranks, and when this frequently turned fruitless, he tried to make something from nothing. As with his performance against West Brom last weekend, Wilshere is approaching his form of old, and if he had any type of support ahead of him, his team's fortunes would be much improved.
AM Santi Cazorla (6.0/10) — Cazorla took some time to grow into the game, as his early passing was errant at times. Once the game wore on and Arsenal was able to retain more possession, Cazorla's class began to shine. He teed up Vermaelen for Arsenal's sole goal of the evening, had a strong free kick saved, along with a followup effort, and rattled the bar with a long range strike in the second overtime period. Had he converted Arsenal's first spot kick in the penalty shoot out, perhaps the match would have ended in Arsenal's favor. As it is, Cazorla had a strong game, but would greatly benefit from having good players lining up in front of him.
LW Lukas Podolski (3/10) — The German winger's reputation of being an enigmatic player has followed him to England. Podolski was rarely seen in this match. He was forced to frequently track back in the early stages of the game as Bradford pressed the Gunners pretty high up the pitch, but he offered little going forward. When Wilshere or Cazorla would stride up the park looking for outlets, Podolski was rarely the recipient of the ball, and rest assured, it was not the fault of Arsenal's midfield. He has many qualities, and on his day can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. This was not one of them, and for large stretches of the game, it was hard to tell that he was actually on the field.
CF Gervinho (2/10) — Gervinho is awful, just god awful. Whatever early success Wenger was able to cull out of the Ivorian, the French tactician should accept that the experiment of playing the winger through the middle has failed miserably. Guilty of a horrific miss with the goal at his mercy, Gervinho, as he so often is, found himself in the right place at the right time, and ultimately unable to do the right thing. His final ball is the stuff of comedy, as Cazorla found him several times with space in the opposition half, only for Gervinho to invariably slow down play and make the wrong decision. The African Cup of Nations cannot come soon enough. One can only hope, though, that Gervinho's temporary departure is not joined by Theo Walcott's permanent one.
RW Aaron Ramsey (3/10) — Whatever the rationale is behind shunting Aaron Ramsey out to a wing position, he clearly is not taking to the role. He is not a bad player, and perhaps if he is played in the right position and free of undue pressure, he can fulfill the potential that Arsenal and Manchester United both saw in him when they jockeyed for his signature back in 2008. His performance was not terrible, but it was uninspired and a little disjointed, as can be expected of a player not used to playing the position. Like Podolski on an off-day, it was easy to forget that Ramsey was even on the field today.
ST Marouane Chamakh (5/10) — Chamakh looked far more composed playing centrally than did Gervinho, as he worked hard off the ball, and was able to hold up play when in possession, showing his considerable strength on a few occasions. He probably should have come on earlier, and possibly even started. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Moroccan, however, as Gervinho is shaping up to be one of Wenger's worst signings in recent memory. Even having missed his spot kick, however, Chamakh was still likely the better option through the middle.
LW/CAM Tomas Rosicky (5.5/10) — The Czech Republic international looked every bit as threatening as Wilshere and Cazorla when he was able to drift into the middle of the pitch. His excellent ball control and direct running offered more of a threat than any of Ramsey, Gervinho or Podolski. Unlucky to not earn more time on the pitch, Andrei Arshavin should feel even more aggrieved. The Russian was leading the competition in assists, and yet was not even included on the bench for the North London side. Baffling stuff.
LW/RW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5.5/10) — It took less than 60 seconds on the field for Chamberlain to register his first shot on goal, and it so happened to be Arsenal's first as well, coming 70 minutes into the match. As with Rosicky, he looked more direct and threatening than Ramsey, Gervinho or Podolski, and he should see his game time increase once Gervinho heads to the African Cup of Nations in January. The youngster capped off his evening by professionally dispatching his spot kick, belying his tender years.
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