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It’s difficult to blog after a poor result. Most writers prefer picking apart a performance where we can praise some players and perhaps mention that a few could’ve done a bit better. But when a team loses, and does so in the manner that we just witnessed, there isn’t anything enjoyable about discussing it. Unless you’re one of those Arsenal fans that goes straight to Twitter to whine.
I’m not one of those people – I don’t want to whine. But it’s pretty hard to watch an Arsenal game when the players don’t even look like they want to be there.
It was predictable that Arsenal would go behind in this game. Even after naming a very strong side, Arsenal still started slowly. There were plenty of passes between our defenders, but not much penetration into Bradford’s half. Wells, who caused problems with his pace and quick feet throughout the match, brought a foul out of Vermaelen after nutmegging him. The resulting free kick wasn’t cleared and Thompson’s finish was fantastic. Our captain has gradually regained form since a poor start to the season, but I was totally unimpressed tonight. Mertesacker looked composed, as one would expect (especially against the calibre of opposition!). But Vermaelen was run ragged; he made silly fouls all game and his only saving grace was managing to ghost in at the far post to score the equaliser.
Bradford stood firm at the back and continued to cause us problems. They would hoof the ball up the field and often manage to hold it up. They targeted Vermaelen and Gibbs rather than Mertesacker and Sagna, knowing that the former pair are weaker in the air. And the tactic worked. The tireless Hanson won plenty of aerial battles (or at least prevented the Arsenal player from getting good contact), and the ball fell to a Bradford player far too often for our liking.
The bright moments in the first half generally came from Coquelin and Wilshere. The former smashed an effort against the post and Wilshere kept picking holes in Bradford’s defence. One move ended up with Jack playing Gibbs in down the left, and his cross fell to Gervinho. Our centre forward managed to miss this chance. I don’t think I need to comment on it.
I don’t understand why Gervinho was a centre forward while Podolski was on the pitch, out on the wing. Podolski’s movement off the ball is minimal, but he can hold up play and his finishing is brilliant. Gervinho has pace and can get past defenders, but his touch is poor, and his finishing is worse. So why not swap their positions? To be honest, against a team like Bradford, these players should shine wherever they are played. Despite what some think, we have world class players and they shouldn’t have been made to look so ordinary.
The second half started in the same vain, with Bradford looking dangerous, but Arsenal began to create chances as the half wore on. Cazorla became more influential and the introduction of Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain had quite an impact (although I wish Wenger had done it earlier). The anonymous Podolski was taken off, and I didn’t notice. I also didn’t notice the introduction of Chamakh, who was woeful. If he had put in half the effort of his opposite number, Hanson, we’d have been raving about him. But his body language looks all wrong – he looks bored and he doesn’t seem to care about Arsenal winning at all.
Once we equalised, it looked like Arsenal was the only team that could win it. The momentum was with Wenger’s side and Bradford looked tired. But they held us to reach a penalty shoot-out. Although there is some skill in taking penalties, I think it comes down to confidence and experience. Both of which Bradford had in abundance, and Arsenal didn’t. Bradford have won three penalty shoot-outs this season, and Arsenal’s last one was against Roma in 2009. The only player which featured that night and tonight was Sagna, who didn’t take a penalty. As for confidence, Bradford were full of it, after holding a Premier League club for 120 minutes. So there was little doubt that Bradford would win once we reached that point in the game. We can moan about Wenger’s choice of penalty takers – e.g. Mr. “Completely-bereft-of-confidence” Chamakh took one, but our starting centre forward, Gervinho, didn’t – but Arsenal shouldn’t need penalties to beat Bradford. We should have won this game, even just by one goal, because we have the better players. The problem was that we didn’t have the confidence or desire to win the game.
We can’t blame this defeat on the board, or on Wenger. His team selection had its faults, as did his substitutions (Coquelin was great, why take him off?). But the players were the problem. We lost to Chelsea and Man Utd because they are better teams, and that is due to the manager. It’s his squad and his tactics. But losing to a League 2 side, with the quality we had on the pitch, isn’t Wenger’s fault. You can’t excuse the players when they performed with such little determination and confidence in their own ability. If every player had been up for it (as Wilshere was), then we’d have won comfortably. Unfortunately for us, they weren’t. And that’s another trophy that we won’t win.