Lessons Learned From Arsenal’s Win Over Brighton
I spent the best part of yesterday evening in Best Western Hotel, V.I., Lagos watching my elder sister launch her new clothing line, NeneKester, and it was a proud moment for me and the rest of my folks gathered in the arena. I tend to wonder what would have happened if Arsenal played Brighton yesterday instead of Saturday…
It was pulsating, nerve-racking and relieving at the end. After 90 minutes of football in the Amex Stadium, the Gunners had enough in the tank to see out the threat posed by a spirited Brighton side that gave Arsene Wenger’s men a run for their money. Beating Newcastle in the Third Round gave the hosts some confidence, but as Wenger rightly said, Arsenal’s quality saw them through.
Kudos most go to the hosts for never giving up despite falling behind twice. Even after Theo Walcott scored the goal that sealed the tie, the Seagulls had made claims for a penalty and on another day, it probably would have been given. C’mon, I’ve seen worse.
The only household name in the Brighton setup turned out to be that bloke whose girlfriend was shagged by John Terry. Speaking of Terry, he had a red card in the Champions League semifinal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, nine months later, Shakira had a son for Gerard Pique. Coincidence? Maybe…
The FA Cup Fifth Round draws have been made and the Gunners will play against npower Championship outfit, Blackburn, in the Emirates this time, after two away draws on the trot. With the eyes firmly on the prize, the Gunners will hope to see off the Rovers with a quarterfinal berth up for grabs.
Nonetheless, I want to throw some light on the lessons learned from Arsenal’s victory over Brighton and I’ll categorize them into the negatives and positives.
Same ol’ Defensive Shit, Different Game
I still have vivid memories of the early part of the season where Arsenal went through three league games without conceding a goal. Everyone, and I mean, everyone lauded Steve Bould for the great work he had done in tightening the gaps and closing the loopholes in the Arsenal defense.
The club also adopted the zonal marking system, that allows the Gunners to station themselves in strategic positions in the penalty box with everyone’s eyes firmly fixed on the inswinger. When Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott scored a header early on in the season, some questions were asked on the zonal marking initiative but the club remained persistent with it.
Well, one some days, it works for Arsenal and on other days, it sure doesn’t. Saturday turned out to be one of ‘em other days.
Brighton had a corner on the right hand side and as instructed, the Gunners moved to their several zonal marking positions. When the corner was swung in, Ashley Barnes, that was supposed to be marked by Abou Diaby, followed the ball with lethal intent and Per Mertesacker, as we all know, has the reaction time of a petrol tanker trying to make a U-turn.
With the ball floating into Wojciech Szczesny’s six-yard box, an unmarked Barnes to the ball before the goalkeeper and nodded the ball to an unguarded net. While a large percentage of the blame will probably to go Szczesny that could have done better in that situation, fingers should also be pointed at Diaby and Mertesacker for not doing their jobs probably.
While majority of the fault for the second goal will go to the useless Andre Santos, Mertesacker’s poor positioning and lack of awareness allowed Leonardo Ulloa to execute a timely diving header that left Szczesny for dead. The Big Friendly Giant has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performance in recent times but his form is currently going through a slump.
He needs to pick himself because with Thomas Vermaelen still out injured, Arsenal is one defensive injury away from playing Sebastian Squillaci.
The Enigma That is Andre Santos
When Andre Santos arrived on the shores of England on the summer transfer deadline of 2011, we had learned that he was an attacking fullback from Fenerbahce.
That description is very right about Andre Santos. He’s a flamboyant player, has a decent technique, has some excellent footwork, has good off the ball movement and can swing in a cross from time to time. These are the traits of a wingback / winger, not fullback.
As a fullback, Andre Santos is a shockingly ineffectual player. He doesn’t think before diving into a tackle, has poor marking skills and his positioning is as woeful as hoping for Andrey Arshavin to head a corner kick. To top it all off, the Brazilian
fullback winger is a walking time bomb and usually explodes on the pitch because there are times where he’s nowhere to be found.
Arsenal fans have been pleading for Arsene Wenger to sign a striker, holding midfielder and probably a more experienced goalkeeper, but the boss has to a new left back to his wishlist.
Against Brighton, Andre Santos was so appalling that he had to make Laurent Koscielny work extra hard to cover his tracks while he was high up the pitch offering little or no assistance to Lukas Podolski.
Andre Santos’ putrid positioning paved the way for the corner kick that led to the equalizer. He was also in No Man’s Land when the cross came in for the second equalizer. In attack, he launched the ball into orbit when a pass to a better teammate was a more plausible option.
Dear Mr. Andre Santos, thanks for the nice tweets, cuddly smiles and great Emmanuel Eboue-esque attitude off the pitch but on it, you’re becoming a liability with each passing game.
Theo Walcott’s Selfishness Late On
This isn’t meant to be a big deal because the introduction of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere changed the outlook of the game. Jack Wilshere’s presence in the midfield was a huge plus and Theo Walcott’s late goal settled the tie.
However, there was a moment late on when Walcott would have granted Olivier Giroud a chance to score his first ever Arsenal hat-trick but he chose the selfish option to blast a shot from an incredibly acute angle that was parried by the goalie as expected.
Arsenal is a team renowned for having large reserves of selfless players that do their bits to feed their center forward the ammunition he needs to score goals on a consistent basis.
In the days of Robin van Persie, every Gunner on the pitch gave 110% percent to ensure that he broke every goalscoring record on the go. Many a times, it took an Alex Song over the top projectile, Gervinho cut back and most of all, a plethora of Walcott assists.
Perhaps now that Theo Walcott has signed da ting, he can learn how to pass da ting (via Charlie Melman of Bleacher Report)
Lukas Podolski’s Efficient Performance
Since his arrival to North London, Podolski has had his hot and cold moments while strutting his stuff down the left. Despite the fact that he’s the Premier League’s most substituted player, his output on the pitch has been in one word – efficient.
He’s not your everyday winger that intends to wow the crowd with dribbling skills, fancy footwork and the rest of the lot. He’ll rather pass when he needs to and of course, shoot when the chance arrives.
Against West Ham, Podolski scored a sickening thunderbolt from quite some distance and ensured that he had a great day in the office with a superb hat-trick of assists to Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Against Brighton, Podolski looked like a subdued figure but he still managed to notch up an assist for Giroud and curled in a free kick that hit the cross bar.
He has taken his tally for the season to 11 goals and 11 assists. If that’s not efficient, then I don’t know what the word means.
The Return of Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby to Full Fitness
On their days, Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby can be world beaters, but they have the same fundamental problem – their inability to stay fit. Diaby’s career went downhill after that horrendous tackle he suffered in May 2006 while Rosicky’s problem began when his hamstring twanged in January 2008.
Since then, these players had suffered niggling injuries and constant set backs, robbing Arsenal off their services for the best part of their careers. Unlike Diaby that probably has his best years ahead of him, Rosicky, 32, is rapidly on the decline but it was good to see Little Mozart get some game time on Saturday, now that Cazorla has become synonymous with first-team action.
Diaby is returning to full fitness and looked out of sorts against Manchester City and Chelsea. Against Brighton, he made a rear foray forward and dinked a lovely ball to Giroud that swiped in a finish that buildup deserved.
With Arsenal’s rapidly increasing fixture list, the return to full fitness of Rosicky and Diaby has become a breath of fresh air.
The Red-Hot Olivier Giroud
Four goals in one week. Not bad huh?
Olivier Giroud has gone through his adaptation period and he’s repaying the faith Arsene Wenger had in him to splash out 12m for his services. He’s more or less Arsenal’s only center forward and arriving into the club as van Persie’s replacement put a great deal of pressure on the French forward to deliver.
With his attack partners, Walcott and Podolski doing their bit to share the goalscoring burden, Giroud has been liberated and his confidence levels have certainly increased to the extent where he now attempts to try to score in different ways. His first goal was a peach of a finish and he showed off his strength and technique in his second. ‘
There was even time to attempt a bicycle kick that would have been a masterpiece.
Besides the recent run of goalscoring, Giroud’s importance to the team is unrivaled, as he offers Arsenal a focal point in attack, links up well with his teammates and holds up play perfectly.
Arsenal fans can only hope that the goalscoring run continues as Giroud is now seven goals short of hitting the 20-goal mark.
The Fifth Round encounter against Blackburn is scheduled to take place in the middle of February, shortly after the visit of Bayern Munich to the Emirates. At that stage last season, the Gunners lost to a resurgent Sunderland in a pitch good enough to rear cattle.
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