Arsenal have not had a night like that in Europe since the Bayern Munich fiasco. One to forget very quickly – and as many negatives as there were in that match, it is important to not overreact to too many things.
The match started dozily for Phillipe Senderos, showing some obvious rust after not having played since October 7. Kanoute managed to pass Senderos only to shoot high over the bar. Arsenal looked like a group of pondering stragglers initially, but managed to gain possession soon after Kanoute’s miss, to start passing the ball around in their trademark way.
The possession paid off immediately when Bendtner, sidling down the right flank after a peachy back-heel from Eboue, sent in a cross to an inexplicably unmarked Eduardo, who refused to be distracted from the comical sight of Palop bundling over his own defenders. Holding his nerve, the Croat slotted the ball home for 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Arsenal had become comfortable on the ball after, pinging the ball back and forth, but Sevilla managed to demonstrate some skill in possession themselves. The game was an open affair; an exhibition of quality and control over the ball.
The only black mark, however, was the increasing regularity of Eboue’s antics. It seemed that any mere touch a defender made on the Ivorian made the winger bleed, and his complaints and tantrums noticeably affected Arsenal’s rhythm.
And so it showed: Gilberto hit a very poor clearance that found Keita, who drilled an astute outside-of-the-foot curler past Almunia from 20 yards. 1-1 and it wasn’t exactly ill deserved. Suddenly, Sevilla had taken the upper hand in the match, and started to dominate possession while Arsenal’s play became observatory-like at best. Toure and Senderos’ was not functioning; the two defenders lingering instead of hassling; pondering instead of closing down.
They were duly punished, but only by the most invalid of goals. Coming down the right wing, Jesus Navas dived dramatically over Traore to win a freekick on the flank. The kick was sent in for Luis Fabiano to effectively ghost in unmarked, and head in for 2-1.
Arsenal’s half was a shambles. Fabregas found no partners to his passing, and Nicklas Bendtner was the best of a bad bunch – the tall Dane managed to storm into Sevilla’s box before offloading to Eduardo, whose shot was saved. Denilson raced in for the rebound only to have his shot remarkably saved while Palop was still on the ground.
Halftime could not come for Arsenal soon enough, yet bizzarely, when they came on for the second, no changes to personel was evident. And the choice was called into question, with neither Eduardo nor Traore able to keep track of their players down the left wing. Eboue managed to jink into the penalty area and was upended by the Sevilla defense, only to be waved away by the referee. Replays showed that, for once, Eboue may have had a point in his protests.
Fabregas continued to be frustrated by not being able to find anyone to link onto his passes. On the sidelines, Rosicky was ready to come on, as Cesc complained of injury (a very early sub, by Wenger’s standards). Cesc was not looking happy with himself, though it was not quite clear how bad his injury was.
What was becoming an embarrassing fact was even when Arsenal beat Sevilla 3-0 at home earlier in the year, Sevilla never seemed as bad as Arsenal appeared at the Pizjuan. Sevilla were dominating Arsenal all over, particularly down the left flank left totally abandoned by Eduardo. A Navas cross was sent in, only for Senderos to play the cross with his chest – it looked like a handball; the referee called the penalty, but after a bemusing discussion, the decision was overruled by the very man who called it.
The defense continued to refuse to close Kanoute down, who had another shot off target. The only saving grace was that the score remained at 2-1, and that no matter how bad Arsenal were playing, they still only had the one goal deficit. However, that was never going to happen without any semblance of rhythm, and Eboue was destroying all of that, facing up to Poulson in another bout of handbags.
Once they finally got the ball, Arsenal could really only bomb a few crosses into an unmanned box. Yet still, Senderos continued to give away freekicks outside the box – retrospectively, it is a wonder how Sevilla did not put 5 past us. Walcott came on to replace the comical Eboue, in hope of injecting new life into Arsenal’s faltering effort.
If you thought it could not get worse, though, things got decidedly more pear-shaped, when Wenger was sent off from the touchline for allegedly berating the fourth-official. Stern as you like, Wenger refused to budge, finally being sent off a second time in the dying seconds of the game. There will be serious repercussions to come, I shudder to think what they are.
In the meantime, Arsenal continued to fail to create anything while Toure and Sagna muscled Kanoute off the ball for a penalty to be awarded, which Kanoute slotted as cool as you like for 3-1 to Sevilla, and game over.
Third-Gen ratings as follows:
- Almunia – 6: Flapped at some crosses, and padded the ball straight back in front of him at times, but still did his job where the defense often failed.
- Hoyte – 5.5: Had some good moments, though was as mired as the rest of the defensive effort.
- Toure – 6: Did what he could to keep the ship from sinking, but seemed to be influenced by Senderos’ hesitancy. Bonus marks for some attacking intent, though.
- Senderos – 3: The archetypal ‘Nightmare performance’. Hesitant on almost all Sevilla attacks; penalty was rightfully overturned but then adds to the comedy by picking up the ball in open play. You would hope he has something to learn from this performance.
- Traore – 4.5: Still very naive, and not ready for this level of football yet. Crucially, however, was not helped at all by Eduardo, who hardly ever backtracked down his flank.
- Eboue – 5: Had the odd moment of class – the backheel down the right wing to Bendtner was exquisite – but the rest of his performance was rediculous. Complained at the merest touch, gave the ball away, and wrecked Arsenal’s rhythm constantly.
- Denilson – 4: Quiet, very quiet. Like a sieve in midfield – was not at the races, today.
- Gilberto – 5: Seemed to be thinking of Old Ladies. An indifferent effort.
- Fabregas – 5.5: Passes found no-one, and no-one found his passes. Frustrated out of his wit, and the injury is worrying. Replaced on 55 minutes.
- Eduardo – 4: The goal he scored promotes him to a four. Almost refused to backtrack down his flank and help Eduardo. For this reason, is not a left winger, at all. A forgetful performance.
- Bendtner – 6: Best of a bad bunch – tried to get many moves started in the first half, but became very quiet in the second.
Substitutes: Rosicky, Walcott and Sagna. None managed to steer the game in the team’s favour, and Sagna had a small hand to play in Sevilla’s penalty.
Overall, a performance that must be put behind the team. Wenger reshuffled the pack, and paid for it. However, Arsenal remain in Europe, and should Sevilla come unstuck against Slavia Prague (who knows?), then Arsenal can still reclaim top spot.
After the match, Arsene Wenger said he was at a loss to explain why he was sent off during the touchlines, and added there was nowhere for him to physically move or to get into the stands. Kolo Toure, who did what he could to marshall a reshuffled defence, gave credit where it was due to Sevilla, saying:
“The ref sometimes helped them but when you go away it is always like that but they deserved their win. We gave everything but that’s the way football goes.
We knew that defeat would come but we need to start again and show character. To be a winner you need to come back from these hard things.“
Which is all too true from Kolo – the team must simply move on from last night. The match review is scathing, yes. But simply as a match in isolation, the performance warranted it. Eduardo and Senderos will be made aware how unacceptable a performance that was, Eboue must be punished for his behaviour, and Denilson and Troare will want to put that performance behind them.
Notes must be made on Senderos, Gilberto and Eduardo, though. For the new signing, a bit of leigh-way can be granted, but he must know that that was a simply unacceptable performance. Ditto from Senderos, who makes a lot of people nervous with his lack of confidence in his own ability. Where has the Senderos of 2005 gone? The young, no-holds-barred defender who closed down expertly, and quickly, even in the ultimately doomed season of 2004/2005? Is Senderos adequate backup to Toure once he and Eboue venture off to the African Cup of Nations?
As for Gilberto, it’s getting harder and harder to discernibly say his heart is still in it. From laxadasical clearances to less-commited backtracks, he’s certainly not the Gilberto of last season – has he been given the chance to be? Arguably not, but when you consider how excluded he looks in team huddles, the Italian omens are not looking too happy for one of my favourite players.
In the end, it is far from the end of the world. A team shorn of Gallas, Adebayor (rested), Clichy and Flamini (who should return for the Villa game) and replaced with budding squad players was always going to lack rhythm and impetus. Time to knuckle down and concentrate for the tricky trip away to Villa (the second component of the ‘tricky week’ not mentioned in yesterday’s blog).
At least the monkey of an undefeated run is off our backs, and it’s back to coming back from this, and taking points from Villa. Though that’s no easy task in itself. More analysis can be made once it’s clearer who’s returning to the side, and who is not.
In other news, Aliaksandr Hleb is once again Belarus’ Player of the Year. Congrats to him, and wishing a swift return from injury.
Let’s not get all doom-and-gloom about it, though. A poor performance, yes. But we’re still in the Champions League, and we’re still top of the English Premier League. Which is more than many teams can say. Until next time, Gooners…