For two hours on Saturday I sat in disbelief as I watched a distinctively familiar Arsenal team lose at the Emirates to a less fancied West Brom team. Unlike Mr. Wenger who exclaimed rather surprisingly that he did not recognize the team, the culprits for the woeful performance were very clear to me. All eleven players plus the three subs did not deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt on Saturday. The match has since been described as one of the most listless Arsenal performances of Wenger's tenure as Manager.
In situations like this, it is easy to point fingers at individual players and hold them solely responsible for the loss. However I believe that in this case the entire team including the manager should be held responsible for the poor result. Arsene Wenger picks the team and he is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the team he has picked is strong enough to win games. The team on Saturday was very capable of beating West Brom and I believe that they failed woefully in their duty, not just by the outcome of the game, but also by the manner of the defeat.
Much credit must be given to Roberto Di Matteo and his West Brom side. They proved once again what the likes of Stoke, Blackburn and Bolton have failed to understand. You don’t have to kick Arsenal off the pitch to win. Rather simply passing them out of the game is good enough providing the real Arsenal team doesn’t turn up. They played brilliantly and their approach to that game if continued cautiously might be the difference between them staying up this year or dropping down to the Championship next season.
Partizan Belgrade away will be always be a tough ask and any baggage from Saturday must be left behind in London as the Arsenal squad travels for Matchday 2 of this season’s Champions’ League.
Speaking ahead of the game, it is clear that the manager is keen to put the disappointing loss behind him. He said:
"We have to stand up for what happened to us. It is our first defeat of the season and I think we have to take a perspective and a distance with that. We have done extremely well since the start of the season so now we will regroup and play well tomorrow night."
"Yes [it is good to draw a line under it] because we gave a lot physically against West Brom and it was not because we lacked effort [that we lost]."
"I think we rushed our game and we didn't respect the priorities in our game and that's why we lost. But we gave a lot and I believe we will have a good game tomorrow because we are a good team."
Moving forward, it looks like for injuries its one in and one out. Kieran Gibbs has been declared fit to play against Partizan while Manuel Almunia seems to have suffered an elbow injury *coughs* while saving the penalty against West Brom. As it stands, the first name on the team sheet in Belgrade will be Lukasz Fabianksi. His name usually sends shivers down the spine of many Arsenal fans but, for some strange reason, fate has smiled upon him once again.
Unfortunately for the Szczesny fan club, there is a pecking order at the club and the older Pole will get the nod first while he will have to settle for the bench. Stranger though is the absence of regular third choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone from the scene. I won’t read too much into his absence. He’s either injured, or has been frozen out of the first team. End of story! I’m surprised that all four goalkeepers are still at the club as I expected at least one of them to go out on loan this season.
The manager has spoken of his immense belief in Fabianski’s talent and tonight is another opportunity for him to prove his worth and stake a firm claim to the number one spot. Can he handle it?
UPDATE: It looks like Mannone was withdrawn from the firing line as a precaution in case of injury to any of the other goalkeepers. I will assume that should Fabianksi hurt himself before Almunia is declared fit to play, Mannone will come in for him.
With Wenger still pondering who will be Captain tonight in Belgrade, I expect a tough test for the Gunners and I hope to see starts for Nasri, Wilshere, Denilson and maybe Gibbs. Diaby was withdrawn from the squad after the reoccurrence of his ankle injury and he has been replaced by Henri Lansbury who was brilliant in the Carling Cup tie against Tottenham last week.
My Verdict: Partizan 2 Arsenal 2
Till next time…Victoria Concordia Crescit
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