Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Disappointing cup exit shows rustiness of fringe players

No cup defeat is nice or welcome, but it’s hard for Arsenal to have any complaints about going out of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday after the 2-1 defeat against Southampton. The Saints looked like a more cohesive team with the much-changed Gunners line-up not creating enough to merit going through.
The main concern for Gooners from the performance was the showing from the fringe players in Arsene Wenger’s squad that needed the game time. It’s easy to criticism them, but in fairness it is difficult to come in from the cold and perform at your best without some match practise, especially against a well organised and in-form Southampton side. But, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable of Arsene Wenger to have expected more from Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell.
Rosicky’s off-colour performance wasn’t because of a lack of effort as the Czech captain buzzed around the field in his normal style, but he was just off the pace and his judgement wasn’t as sharp as he’d want, which unfortunately led to Rosicky mistiming a challenge in the penalty area and gifting the visitors their equaliser from the spot.
As for Lukas Podolski, he seemed to disappear as the match went on, and he was hardly involved in the early stages as it was. The German can be an incredibly frustrating player to watch as he is a good finisher and has an absolute hammer of a left foot, but he’s always had a strange ability to go missing. He seemed to pass that trait onto Joel Campbell in the first half, as the Costa Rican didn’t take his opportunity to stake his claim to be more involved in the first team. Campbell saw more of a ball in the second half but Arsenal looked so much more dangerous as soon as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on to replace him on the wing.
Of the fringe first teamers who got a run out on Tuesday, incredibly, the least rusty was Abou Diaby. Sitting deep in midfield, the Frenchman sprayed a few good passes from deep positions and gave a tidy performance in his first start since 2012-2013. I’m a big Diaby fan and am desperate for him to get some luck and stay fit for a sustained period of time. If he does, he showed fans on Tuesday that he can a valuable option in central midfield with a physical presence that’s unmatched by other midfielders at the club.
Despite the defeat, Abou Diaby wasn’t the only positive from Tuesday. With the North London derby on the horizon, I was staggered to see Alexis Sanchez start the game, but the Chilean gave another example of his considerable talent with an absolute peach of a free-kick. He lacked support from others around him up front for most of the evening, but he still looked like the most likely Arsenal player to make anything happen. He’s still acclimatising to English football, but four goals so far for Arsenal is a good start. He’d bring the house down with another on Saturday.
In a competition where Arsene Wenger usually likes to blood the youngsters, it was mainly the back four which had a youthful appearance with three 19 year olds alongside Francis Coquelin, who had to fill in at left back. Considering the inexperience, they dealt with Southampton pretty well as it was only a penalty and a long range thunderbolt that gave the visitors the win. Isaac Hayden stood out in particular with an assured first start for the club.
Even though they did well, the lack of cover in defence was exposed by Wenger having to field such an inexperienced back four. They all acquitted themselves well, but Arsenal shouldn’t be in a position where a collection of 19 year olds are the next in line after a couple of injury in defence.
Considering the lack of cover at the back, not having an extra game in the next round of the Capital One Cup could help the squad stay fresh, but in midfield and attack, there are plenty of Arsenal players who could have used a cup run to boost their chances of playing in more first team games. It’s a shame Arsenal are out, but a derby win on Saturday and this game will be quickly forgotten.