Reaction: Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal
So I’ve just got in bed after watching Arsenal go missing at Hillsborough in the League Cup. For 85 minutes I watched the worst performance we have put in for quite some time. I say 85 minutes, it was actually 90, but 4 of those were time added on at the end of the first half. Unusually for me, I switched off before the end of the match.
I'll be honest: I don’t rate the League Cup. For the so-called ‘big teams,’ it’s more of a distraction that a chance for meaningful silverware. The main incentive is a Europa League spot, and when you’re aiming to finish top 3 or 4, that’s no incentive at all. The financial rewards are negligible too: it’s not even a trophy that many clubs could profit from through merchandise sales, unless the winner is a team who don’t often challenge for any silverware.
That said, no football fan likes seeing their team lose, and when the nature of such a defeat is as tonight’s was, it’s very, very disappointing. Let’s put aside the two injuries for the moment: experienced players like Mertesacker, Debuchy, Flamini and Giroud just did not show up tonight. One of the constant criticisms of Arsenal is a lack of leadership on the pitch, and I think that was the big problem tonight. Nobody took the game by the scruff of the neck, and because of that there was no cohesion and no real determination throughout the whole team.
I also think the youngsters who played did nothing to suggest they have top level futures. Kamara, Bennacer and Iwobi showed none of the desire and excitement you would want from a debutant, and this is symptomatic of a lot of the youngsters who have come through the Academy. By comparison, you look at the likes of John Stones and Ross Barkley who, as soon as they got a chance in the first team, stamped their authority on games and did everything in their power to make it impossible for the manager to not pick them. That’s a culture some of Arsenal’s young players do not have, and it’s a big concern for me that we have little potential coming through.
Wednesday players well, let’s not forget that, closing down all over the pitch and taking their chances when they had them. But it was another one of those games where we let them do it. Flamini, the hero against Spurs in the previous round, was guilty of poor passing, poor marking and poor tackling. Debuchy, who reportedly had been unhappy at his lack of first team opportunities, showed why that is a situation which is unlikely to change. On several occasions he lost the ball while facing his own goal, passed the ball to a Wednesday player, and of course scored an own goal and picked up a yellow card. Hector Bellerin is safe for the time being.
The big concern from the game though is the pair of injuries to regular first team player. Theo Walcott has been sensational this season, and his absence will be noticed. With Aaron Ramsey out, Oxlade-Chamberlain had an opportunity to get a run in the side, but from the moment I saw him still stretching as the match kicked off, it was clear he wasn’t fully fit.
This now means the team is dreadfully short of forward and midfield options. With Welbeck, Wilshere, Rosicky and Arteta also out, our strength in depth is suddenly looking very lightweight. One more injury could see us having to deploy Gibbs and Bellerin as wingers, and that may in fact be how Wenger chooses to close the next two or three games.
On the plus side, a number of players had a well-earned rest. Özil, Alexis, Cazorla, Bellerin, Monreal, Koscielny, Coquelin and Gabriel should all return on Saturday against Swansea, and barring any further injuries, should be able to pick up where they left off and take us on another good run between now and the November international break.
Tonight has to be put into context. Players needed a rest. Mertesacker has been unwell. Three youngsters made their debuts. Two key players picked up injuries. And, in the grand scheme of things, the League Cup is an added bonus, not a key goal for Arsenal. As long as we maintain a good push for the Premier League, few fans come the end of the season will rue tonight’s defeat.