I’m not quite sure what Wenger’s tactics were for the 2nd leg tie against CSKA Moscow. If it was to ‘park the bus ‘to nullify any threat until halftime, it didn’t work. If it was to stifle and frustrate the opposition and rely on their own ability to counter attack, that didn’t work either.
In fact it didn’t appear that the North London club had a plan or had been briefed tactically. It was as if they had met up in the dressing room, laced their boots and took to the field. Everything that I mentioned before the match seemed to unfold and in particular, it was Arsenal’s zero intensity that made it a nervous night for fans.
Arsenal’s trademark, is as a side that indulges itself in an intricate passing game, sometimes too intricate, with one too many passes but that was completely absent here.
It was as if the ball was infected, no one wanted it and passes were hurried and ill-conceived. One stray pass after another in key areas had the alarm bells ringing out loud and one sensed that Arsenal were on the verge of one of their famous implosions.
From the whistle, CSKA Moscow were motivated and organised. They set about the task of overturning the deficit with energy and purpose. Arsenal on the other hand, didn’t commit sufficient numbers going forward and when they did attack in the first 45, it broke down quickly due to exceptionally poor passing. In defence they gave away space and stood off the opposition, all the wrong things they continue to do, week in and week out and the fans looked on expecting the worst.
After 39 minutes Chalov rattled in a palmed rebound from Cech and it seemed as if a Spurs fan was writing the script. Five red and white shirts huddled together and an additional two or three that could have but didn’t put a foot in, helped to gift the Russians a goal. At this stage, you felt that the momentum of the home side would prompt a spontaneous burst of Cossack dancing, by contrast, the feet of the Arsenal fans were as lifeless as the players.
1-0 at halftime and Wenger had much to think about but what could he do, when the collection of players that comprise his defence are individually and collectively incapable.
There was more of the same in the second half and on 50 minutes, Nababkin followed up Golovin’s speculative long-range effort, which was pulled down by Cech but only on to the boot of the advancing Russian.
2-0 and the jitters started to engulf the visitors. The defence faffed and flapped presenting CSKA with a few more opportunities which were only a whisker away, yet no one would have begrudged them increasing their lead.
Then on 75 minutes, Arsenal went back to the manual to fathom out how to attack. Welbeck linked up with Elneny and then received a delightful return, which the former United man finished with a bending right-foot shot. Then, in the 92nd minute, Aaron Ramsey walked through the defence to put the tie beyond doubt with a trademark finish.
I have been harsh on Welbeck all season, mainly because I feel he needs too many chances to get on the score sheet but I can’t fault his efforts or application in this match. He was lively, caused problems and was open to a pass in key areas but I still need convincing. We need to see more displays like this and less of the inconsistent ‘Fanny Welbucket’ who manages to spoon the ball over the bar from three years out.
Whilst I’m in the mood to contemplate a portion of humble pie, Elneny also impressed with his appetite going forward, his vision and passing was excellent and he assisted with the goals of Welbeck and Ramsey. So Arsenal are through and with an aggregate of 3-6, which implies that it was fairly comfortable, which it certainly wasn’t.
Top teams have been turned over this week and no advantage can be taken for granted. Arsenal more than any other team can easily surrender an advantage with little encouragement or effort. I doubt there is a solution to the obvious problems and only significant recruitment will make Arsenal more robust.
What is more pressing is the current form of Jack Wilshere. Wenger has said that he wanted to see the midfielder impress and dominate in the middle but recently, his touch has deserted him. There are whispers that he has been carrying a couple of knocks in recent games but he was next to invisible here. His vision was nowhere to be seen and his touch was way short of his own high standards. In fact, he gave the ball away so often that one could be forgiven for thinking that Alexis Sanchez had taken to the field.
He looked dejected, preoccupied, sad and desperate, trying to get involved but failing miserably. A few months back, the Arsenal contract offer looked insulting but on recent performances, it would appear justified. Roy Keane questioned Wilshere’s fitness and said his career was ‘drifting’:
“Has he been offered a contract? If I were him I’d sign it, if he thinks he’s going to get big offers in the summer, I’d be surprised.”
These comments are no major surprise to anyone because the Irishman has gone on record to say that Wilshere is overrated, but the player’s form has dipped at exactly the wrong time to press home any advantage he may have had and I personally feel that Wenger will now release him in favour of a more consistent performer. How ironic that Golovin put on an eye-catching display and showed an energy and dominance that was lacking in Wilshere’s game.
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