I previewed last night's Carling Cup semi-final first leg away to Ipswich yesterday, and in that preview I said that Arsenal needed to approach the game in the right manner. I had hoped for a mixture of first team players, and players that are seen as second string, and that was exactly what we got. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott in the team, and I felt that the game was there for Arsenal to win with the three of them included.
What we were treated to instead was an abject display from almost the whole team, with very few players emerging with any real credit. You can argue that Ipswich's goal was offside, but that's glossing over the fact that Arsenal never played in any meaningful way until the last 20 minutes of a game against a team in 19th place in the Championship.
The required desire and commitment was just not there, as too many players strolled through the game as if it was their right to win it. If you don't do the basic things in football correctly then you cannot expect to play well, and Arsenal did not have their basic game right.
The lack of movement off the ball was staggering at times, and it meant that there was virtually no penetration at all. I had thought that Nicklas Bendtner should be judged on his performances as a centre forward and not a winger, but on last night's show he's not a centre forward either. I lost count of the amount of times he dropped short to take a pass, and then just gave the ball straight back to the player who passed it to him.
Will Arsenal progress to the Carling Cup final?
He doesn't seem to have any idea how to link up the play, or hold the ball and lay it off. He wasn't helped by Arsenal's inability to get crosses of any meaningful nature into the box.
Both full backs neglected their defensive duties on an ongoing basis last night, and particularly in the second half, but they were nowhere to be seen when Arsenal were attacking as well. I'd like to know exactly where they were on the pitch. With Andrey Arshavin putting in another ineffectual performance, there was pressure on Walcott to perform, and he was one of Arsenal's better players on the night. Everything may not have worked out for him, but at least he kept trying which could not be said of some of the other players.
When Cesc has a poor game, it's usually Samir Nasri who takes up the mantle for Arsenal, but he wasn't on the pitch, and nobody else seemed capable of doing it. I can't remember the last time I saw Cesc playing so poorly, but he did manage to improve towards the end, and he set Walcott up twice as well as missing a good chance himself. His deliveries from corners and free kicks were dreadful though, and I felt that they should have been left to someone else when it was obvious that they weren't working for him.
In midfield alongside him, Jack Wilshere had a fairly quiet game without doing too much wrong, but I just can't see the point in playing Denilson in a defensive midfield role. It's a role that Gilberto Silva used to be so good at, and he could do all the defensive work needed, as well as adding about 10 goals a season to the team.
In my opinion, Arsenal needs another defensive midfielder to challenge for Alex Song's spot in the team, and maybe make Song play a bit better at times. Denilson is not the player for that role, and he should not play in that position. I cannot see what he offers the team when he plays there, and he is a weak link for me.
The two central defenders played well enough, but they only had one striker to mark between, and all too often he managed to get in behind them from a long ball. In the second half in particular, as Arsenal pushed forward Ipswich looked for a quick ball over the top, and it paid off eventually. Surely with two central defenders marking one striker, one of them should have being dropping off to cover in case of that ball over the top.
When the goal came, it was after some ping pong in the centre of the pitch where Denilson and Song couldn't control the ball, and it fell to an Ipswich player who played it first time over the top for Tamas Priskin to run on to.
There had been a warning earlier when Djourou only just managed to get in a tackle inside the Arsenal box when the same player had broken from the halfway line. I have to wonder at times if there is any communication between the defenders, or even between the bench and the defenders. When an opponent exposes a weakness on the pitch, the team has to be able to adjust itself to cope with that weakness, and make sure it isn't exposed again.
However, with Arsenal last night, and in many other games, it seems to be a case of ignore the weakness and hope it will go away.
In the end, Arsenal had chances to equalise when they eventually woke up, and a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing prevented them from doing so. In the short time he was on the pitch, Marouane Chamakh looked better than Bendtner did for his entire contribution. I thought that Wojciech Szczesny was a little hesitant coming from his line a couple of times, but otherwise his game was solid. He did get away with picking the ball up outside the box at one stage, but there was little he could do for the goal.
Next up, Arsenal have to play away to West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday, and if they play as poorly as they did last night, they will really struggle. West Ham have a poor defence, and they are on the foot of the table, but their recent results have been encouraging, with the exception of the 5-0 drubbing against Newcastle in their last league game. They have since progressed in the FA Cup, and won the first leg of their Carling Cup semi final against Birmingham, which is more than can be said about Arsenal.
I still think that Arsenal will progress to the Carling Cup final with a resounding victory against Ipswich in two weeks time, but they should have done just that last night. Ipswich wanted it more, and they got the result that their performance deserved in the end. I would be surprised if they can put up such a good performance in the wide open spaces of the Emirates, and I expect Arsenal to be able to find the room they need to play. Arsenal will have to play with more desire, move the ball quicker, and their passing will have to be a lot better too if they are to win though.
They are perfectly capable of doing all of those things, but the games where they fail to do them seem to be increasing at the moment. Whether it's down to fatigue or not is hard to say, as most other teams have had a very busy schedule too, but the room for error is decreasing with every game played, and performances against perceived weaker teams just have to improve.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.