Monday, 14 January 2013

"Ten Men, We Only Had Ten Men"

It's been a while since that song was sung with any gusto hasn't it? There was a time under Wenger when a red card used to get a positive reaction from the side and we'd see increased work rate, players over performing out of position, a calm approach to our play and invariably we'd get three points.

I am of course not referring to this present Arsenal side. Despite playing in front of 58,000 of their own support they never believed for a second that they could get anything from the game once Koscielny had stupidly seen red. Players didn't seem to know what was expected of them and we took the lazy option of sitting deep and inviting pressure. Even if we had nine men we shouldn't have conceded that first goal, it was schoolboy stuff. We were too busy throwing our toys out of the pram instead of focusing on the task at hand. Our players were like statues when City were in possession and they toyed with us at times, much like we did with them in our 3-0 win at The Manchester City Council Ground a few years ago.

What I didn't quite understand was Wenger's adapted formation. Ox was scarified (not literally)probably due to inexperience but maybe on reflection Cazorla might have been the one to lose out because our lack of work rate would have been upped had Ox stayed on. In the successful Wenger years we used to adopt a very straightforward 4-4-1 formation, that one was a superb finisher and we'd see players like Kanu playing centre midfield. We've won difficult games in the past with ten man for an entire second half. Ones that stick out:

Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2
Lee Dixon gave us an early lead before Shearer levelled. Then not long after Adams was dismissed and we faced an uphill battle at one of the then top sides in English football. Ian Wright popped up in the second half with the winner and we saw out the rest of the game, even with nine men (Dixon needed treatment) for a few minutes.

Liverpool 1 Arsenal 2
Remember the infamous van Bronckhorst 'dive'? The game poised at 0-0, days after losing 3-1 at home to Newcastle, we'd have been forgiven for caving in but that wasn't in this sides make up.  As it seemed to do time after time it galvanised the side and before you knew it we were in the lead. Ljungberg was chopped down by Dudek, when presented with a clear goalscoring opportunity but the Liverpool keeper didn't see a card, instead he had to settle for picking the ball out of his net. Minutes after half time and it was 2-0, Pires rinsed Gerrard and searing in like freight train was Ljungberg to make it 2-0 and mental scenes in the away end *one of my favourite all time celebrations. Litmanen got a goal back but it was to be Liverpool's only shot on target and that was even with Stuart Taylor in goal. That side went on to win the league.

Arsenal 2 Everton 1
Maybe the best time to catch Arsenal with ten men would be on the opening day, when forward are lacking that match sharpness. Campbell saw red after 25 minutes but nine minutes later we took the lead through another Henry penalty. Then on the hour mark Pires doubled our lead and if you check the clip out it's easy to forget how we'd still have players flooding the box in search of another goal. We did conceded to a late Radzinski goal it was a pretty comfortable three points and we'd not lose a game all season.

Now I could go on but you get the point. We used to have strong characters and big performers. Players like Parlour, Ljungberg, Lauren, Cole etc would give everything, you'd literally have to peal them off the pitch. I only felt Wilshere put a shift in yesterday but there we too many that appeared happy to play it safe and not force the issue. This is something that is problematic when we have eleven players, so I wasn't filled with optimism or any form of hope after ten minutes yesterday. It's as if Wenger has forgotten what used to work so brilliantly for him, even the papers don't bother with the old Hall of Shame red card count. We used to have physical talent footballers but now we are lightweight and on occasions found wanting. Players of former sides believed in the manager and I'm not sure this current squad have the same amount of faith in Le Boss. It's a while before we have a week off but with Swansea and Chelsea in our next two games it could be a catastrophic few days, let's hope we turn it around.

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