We know that many of our first team players are in the proverbial “red” and need a break. We also know that the Carling Cup is low on the list of priorities. Arsene made a point stressing the first aspect following our weekend 1-1 versus Fulham, so changes were certainly expected.
Just how many changes were open to debate.
Would Arsene resume making mass changes to the side, or would he retain at least a few of our regular starting eleven, with a view to resting these players in the upcoming dead rubber CL fixture in Piraeus? A match with less riding on it than this one, regardless of how one views the Carling Cup…
Arsene named the following starting eleven: Fab, JD, Kos, Squil, Miquel, Frim, Coq, Benny, OC, Ju and Chamakh.
Mannone, TV, Yennaris, Eastmond, Ozyakup, Gerv, and Arsh made up the bench.
Of that starting eleven, only JD and Kos have been recent first teamers – and that often as right back, not centre back. In the entire squad, only TV can be considered a first team regular. I had particular concerns about Coq and Frim together in the midfield, and I hoped to see at least a couple more first-teamers involved, but it is what it is.
Benny was designated captain for this match.
Mancini also made a raft of changes, but sprinkled some of his first-teamers in the lineup as well. Kolo and Nas returned to the Ems wearing sky blue, and Dzeko, deJong, Johnson all started in a changed, but not as weak as I hoped, lineup…
Just prior to kickoff, we held a moment’s silence for Wales manager, and former Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, and Sheffield United midfielder Gary Speed, who took his own life at age 42 on Sunday morning. City then kicked the match off.
The visitors applied the early pressure, but we took the first shot on goal, a tame Miquel effort from range which Pantilimon had no difficultly with. Ten minutes in and Johnson shot over Fab’s bar after good work from Dzeko.
Just a minute later, Ju had a great chance to open the scoring from Coq’s fine cross, but Pantilimon saved at point-blank range…Through the first 20 minutes, we had by far the best chance, while City shaded possession without troubling Fab. City continued to press and Dzeko had a shot blocked. We won a corner on 25 minutes. OC took it, but Savic headed clear. Then OC shot from about 30 yards out, but Pantilimon pulled off another great save.
We did nothing with the corner, and City went down the other end to win a corner of their own, which they couldn’t convert…
As we passed the 30 minute mark, the game opened up more. City and we traded successive breaks, but neither could get past the defence. Mancini must not have been pleased with how the match unfolded, as he brought Aguero (a first teamer) on for Kolarov just past the half hour. He quickly won a corner, as City ramped the pressure up and kept us pinned back. When we relieved the pressure, we put a series of crosses into the City box, but all were cleared, often by the first defender.
As we entered the final five minutes of the half, it remained anyone’s game. Our young side had the two best chances to score – and should have been at least a goal to the good – and contained City’s side relatively well. City had a late spell of pressure which ended when Fab claimed Dzeko’s cross from the right flank. The added minute passed without incident and we went into the break level.
We kicked the second half off with an unchanged side. Dzeko had an early chance, and went close, shooting just wide of Fab’s left post. OC then came to the fore, first winning a corner, and then forcing Pantilimon to punch his shot clear.
Hargreaves earned the game’s first booking for a foul on Frim. City cleared the free kick and broke, but Squil was alert to clear before Aguero could line a shot up. As we approached the hour mark, the match remained there for the taking. Surely Arsene had to consider changes.
While OC was lively throughout the match, Ju had the one early chance, then nothing. That was still more than what Chamakh contributed. With Arsh on the bench and Arsene talking about how he feels “sorry” for the latter not getting much playing time, it seemed a logical move to bring him on for perhaps Chamakh…
Dzeko had another chance from a Zabaleta cross, but couldn’t get his effort on target. This started another spell in our half for City, as they won a couple of throws before Hargreaves shot over from a decent position…We then broke, but that ended quickly when Chamakh shot wide from close range.
On 67 Arsene made the first change, but it Gerv on for Ju. Gerv got right into the thick of things, but his notorious poor finishing saw one effort go way over the bar. He then won a corner and OC worked a shot, but couldn’t trouble Pantilimon. We continued to apply pressure, although we didn’t really look like scoring. We did get a warning when Dzeko got on the end of another Zabaleta cross, but headed it over.
As the match entered the final ten minutes still deadlocked, extra time loomed. Arsene brought TV on for Miquel in the second change. Even though our finishing was poor, we defended solidly and restricted City to mostly half-chances. JD cut a Dzeko cross out, leading to a break which earned us a corner.
But it was from this corner that we conceded. Our set-piece deliveries were not great, and this one by OC was cleared at the near post, with Dzeko picking Johnson out, and latter finding Aguero, for a simple finish. 0-1 down, with only six minutes to go.
We tried to respond and Gerv shot wide from inside the City box. With three minutes of regulation, Arsene made the final change, bringing Arsh on for OC – who I thought had an overall solid game. At this point, City sat back in order to try and pick us off. We came forward, and Frim won us a corner. Arsh took it, and found TV at the back post, but the latter stretched to reach it and could not get his header down and on target.
As we entered the minimum three minutes of extra time, Chamakh won a corner. We sent Fab up for the corner, but Pantilimon was able to collect the delivery and our keeper was almost stranded. As it was, he made it far enough back to head the ball away before Aguero could get to it and score. We then got a free kick, which Frim took, finding Arsh who shot on goal and forced Pantilimon to save.
That was basically that. The final whistle went a few seconds later, and we were out of the Carling Cup…
While I am certainly disappointed to have relinquished the opportunity to win the cup we should have won last season – the first for this crop of players – last evening’s performance was positive and encouraging. For all my reservations about the composition of this starting eleven, I am quite happy to hold my hand up and say I got it wrong.
The team played quite well, I thought this mix of kids and second/third stringers largely outplayed City’s side and deserved better than to lose. But, as we have so often seen with our first team, if you don’t take your chances, then you open the door for results such as this.
When you don’t take your chances, and the opposition is able to bring a quality forward such as Kun on, well…
As I saw, our two biggest problems were misfiring forwards, and poor set piece delivery. Perhaps better delivery would have seen us score at least one goal. Ju had that early chance, and then very little afterwards. Chamakh made absolutely no impact again, and once again gave no evidence that he can once again function as a reliable goal-scorer. And if he cannot be counted on for that, then just what is the point of keeping him in the squad?
Ju did little to show he can effectively deputize for Robin – albeit he has had very few opportunities to do so. But as long as Arsene persists with Chamakh as second choice, we are unlikely to really see what Ju can actually do. However you look at it, this is something we will need to sort sooner rather than later. Someone is going to have to step up and take responsibility for scoring goals in Robin’s absence, and at the moment, we don’t appear to have anyone we can trust to do it.
Second striker issues aside, I thought most of the rest of the team played well. Of the kids, OC and Coq were particularly impressive, Frim did well – particularly when let Nas know he was there – and Benny showed he may really help us with more regular starts. Kos was excellent at the back, as was the much-maligned Squil, who defended calmly and competently in a makeshift back four.
I was pretty critical of Squil on more than one occasion last season, but he did well tonight and deserves credit for a good performance.
One thing that should not be overlooked is that while we are no longer in the league cup competition, we did accomplish what was probably the first priority – resting much of the first team – while performing credibly with a shadow side. Szczesny, Santos, Mert, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Theo and Robin all got the night off. That’s eight first teamers who needed a rest.
As I said at the start, I would not have rested that many first teamers at once, but Arsene did and we should have them rested and ready for the DW.
So farewell to the Carling Cup for another season and many of us will not be too bothered. Personally, I would like to see us win it at some point; not because it is such a big deal, but because that is the only domestic trophy not on Arsene’s resume, and I would like to see his team win it before he is done here.
So, we’ll try again next season. Hopefully many – if not all – of the young players we saw tonight will be first team regulars when we play our next Carling Cup tie. Even though we lost tonight, we were not outclassed and this experience will hopefully serve the kids and squad players in good stead.
We visit the DW this weekend, and we owe Wigan for our last two trips there: the catastrophic folding of a 2-0 hand into a 3-2 loss last season, and the 2-2 where we conceded an equalizer just after Wigan had been reduced to 10 men. Our last trip to that area was the dreadful capitulation against Blackburn.
Wigan is in similar relegation trouble, and we cannot afford to lose to them if we want to be taken seriously as title/top four contenders this season.
Hopefully a rested first team will be able to get the job done.
Written by Oliver