Wenger's Complacency and Poor Team Selection Cost Arsenal Points At Sunderland
Before the midweek fixture against SC Braga, Arsene Wenger had been warning Arsenal players against complacency. Ironically, after dismantling a hapless Braga team in truly amazing fashion, Wenger himself failed to stay grounded.
A game away from home against Sunderland is always a tough fixture, and in reality, Wenger seemed to have forgotten the importance of this League encounter when he strangely fielded a mighty strong side against the newcomers in the European Champions League.
He should have been wary of the impact of fatigue on the weekend fixture. As the game unfolded at the Stadium of Light, Wenger's side struggled to even get hold of the ball in the first half. Sunderland pestered Arsenal in the opening minutes, but against the run of play, Cesc Fabregas scored a freak goal to give the Gunners the lead which they didn't deserve at all.
Luck has to be on your side when you play tough games away from home. Fabregas was quick to press Anton Ferdinand; the latter's clearence lobbed into the net off Fabregas' boot. That goal certainly showed that luck is favouring Arsenal and nothing could stop them from taking all three points.
However, Arsenal had to pay a heavy price for that lead as Fabregas was substituted immediately when he pulled his hamstring while scoring that odd goal, which he himself knew little about.
As it turned out, that moment was the turning point.
Alex Song continued from where he left against Braga in the midweek tie until he was shown the second yellow at the start of second half.
He had a really poor game, and was nowhere near his best. He picked up a silly yellow card in the first half, and you could almost sense that he was going to get a second.
Wenger could've played it safe by substituting Song at half time, but no, he wouldn't choose the simple path.
Surprisingly, Arsenal put together a better show in the second half without him. After his sending off, Arsenal suddenly looked more like a threat to the other team. For a minute they came very close to scoring in the second, and they should have when a penalty came Arsenal's way after Samir Nasri was tripped in the penalty box following some brilliant build-up play.
Tomas Rosicky, however, did a John Carew by smashing the ball over the cross bar. That was really poor from Rosicky. First off, Rosicky should never have taken that spot-kick. I couldn't remember the last time he has scored from the spot.
Either Marouane Chamakh or Nasri should've been the natural choice under normal circumstances but Wenger and Co. wanted to dish out a thrilling end to the game which wouldn't have been possible had that penalty went in.
It would've been a different ball game had Fabregas stayed. He rarely misses penalties, and Rosicky might do well to learn a tip or two on how to dispose the ball into the back of the net from the penalty spot.
That miss will come back to haunt as Arsenal lost two crucial points at a vital stage of the season. Even after the penalty miss, they had the chance to pull off a 1-0 victory but just when it seemed the match was over, Arsenal's defence, which looked fairly solid until then, conceded in a ridiculous manner.
Sunderland bombarded the box in the final few minutes as you would expect. The defence just needed to be cool and composed, but in the end only Almunia showed some composure (!) in the injury time when the defenders were all over the place.
Almunia had a brilliant game and made some fantastic saves to keep Arsenal in the game. However, in the end it wasn't Arsenal's day.
Wenger's role in this massively disappointing draw is huge. He had forgotten to rest his key players in the first place when Arsenal faced Braga. He was overly cautious for a home game against an inexperienced and below-par side.
Unfortunately, his team selection against Sunderland was pathetic to say the very least. It seems like if Andrei Arshavin is fit, you have to play him irrespective of his form.
He should've been benched a long time ago. He hasn't had the best of starts to the season, and if there wasn't other options available you could at least justify his selection.
But in-form players like Carlos Vela are forced to sit out just because of the big reputation of Arshavin. Even the academy product Jay Emmanuel Thomas could be given a start instead of Arshavin, as the latter is having little to no impact on games.
His performance against Braga was decent with two assists and a goal, but even in that game he was rubbish with his passing; he was passing the ball to shadows.
On current form, he should have never played this game. Then you have the baffling selection of Jack Wilshere ahead of Denilson. You know what to expect at Sunderland. Wilshere had an excellent midweek game and he needed a break.
Morever, he's too inexperienced to take on such a physical side away from home where you have to get tight defensively.
Wilshere had a better game than Song, though. But when Denilson came on he was lively and intercepted many passes, and Arsenal looked a better team altogether. He should have played in a game of this magnitude instead of the 18 year-old whizzkid.
Wenger should act proactively if he really wants to win silverware this season. Such pathetic team selection and complacent approach is not going to help at all.
YOU must also question him as to why Rosicky took that penalty instead of the two players who were more likely to score from the spot.
On a positive note, Almunia was at his very best today. He made numerous saves and looked extremely confident. It was a shame that even such a top class performance wasn't enough to keep a clean sheet.
Nasri was the other star performer, who did a brilliant job going forward in the absence of Fabregas. He almost came close to scoring from a free kick and had a few shots on goal. He showed great energy and strength. Nasri was rewarded with a penalty for his good work, but all his effort was squandered by Rosicky with a Carew-esque shot from the penalty spot.
Finally, I shouldn't fail to make a mention of the pitiable refereeing courtesy of Sam Allardyce. The refereeing was poor and ludicrous. It wouldn't be a surprise if Wenger decided to blame the referee for this frustrating result.
The referee allowed the game to run for a little longer than the allotted time of four minutes injury time and the equaliser came as a result of that. Song's second yellow was hardly fathomable, and the referee on numerous occasions decided against booking Sunderland players for more serious fouls. He was perhaps not happy with Song's crappy hair style!
Don't expect Arsenal to win the Premier League this season as they will struggle against quality opponents away from home if this performance implies anything. You really can't blame everything on the injuries.
What Wenger fielded today was one of the strongest teams and more than capable of beating an average team like Sunderland even if it is away from home. You can't blame the goalkeeper because this was one of his best performances. You can't blame the defence because they did all they can to limit the damage to just a single goal (a big achievement considering the lacklustre display of the whole team).
However, you can blame Wenger for failing to foresee the fatigue issue and for the poor team selection. And also for his decision to persist with an out-of-form Arshavin for so long and keeping talented and in-form youngsters like Vela out.
A big game is coming up against Tottenham but, not so surprisingly, half the team is already injured. It's deja-vu once again. So, expect Wenger to field a weakened and youthful eleven at White Hart Lane in the Carling Cup tie, and you know what is going to happen there (especially with Lukaz Fabianksi in goal)! It's a matter of pride even if the competition is as lowly as the Carling Cup.
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