Carling Cup: Arsenal 2 -1 Bolton

So here we are in the last eight of the League Cup, a competition we apparently don’t take seriously, for the ninth consecutive year.

I think it’s fair to say we didn’t stroll though last nights game, at times it was hard work, but the experienced players in an all changed starting XI made the difference on the night. They showed their quality and with a few of them making returns from injury lay offs they even helped, along with a few youngsters, to show that our squad is perhaps slightly stronger than it is sometimes given credit for.

The stand out players for me on the night were Ju Young Park, Yossi Benayoun, Thomas Vermaelen and Nico Yennaris. If you’ve read a fair few other match reports this morning you may well be asking why I’ve not mentioned Andrey Arshavin in that list, or you may well have been at the game and decided yourself that the Russian was the best player on the park. Judging by a lot of the tweets I’ve seen that seems to be the general opinion and whilst Arshavin’s quality was certainly a key element in our victory I still can’t help but feel slightly frustrated with him at points.

To be honest it’s not even his actual football so much, apart from those short passes that don’t quite make it to their intended recipients leaving me wondering if the little fella thinks that either some of our players are a little quicker than they actually are or if he sometimes doesn’t calculate the weight of the pass relative to the distance the ball needs to travel? But as I say it’s not just that, what I have a real bugbear with is the amount of time he spends on the floor. I’m not sure if Opta have a stat for it but surely the midfielder must spend more time on the ground after being fouled and/or falling over than any other player in the league. If you’re not hurt, get up and get on with the game.

I’m aware that all sounds a little negative on my part given we won, again, last night and I certainly don’t mean to it’s just I find it hard to fawn over a player who undoubtedly has so much more to give. But credit to him because he was the catalyst for both of our goals and playing behind the striker rather than being stuck on the left flank obvioulsy suits him, but that’s not really a surprise because he isn’t a winger.. 

Drifting out to the right and receiving the ball from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the Russian moved towards goal unopposed by the backtracking Zat Knight before drilling a low shot past Ron Weasley-a-like Adam Bogdan and into the bottom left hand corner and put us back on level terms after former Gunner Fabrice Muamba had put the Trotters in front only six minutes earlier.

It took just three more minutes for the Gunners to get in front and it was Arshavin who set up the winner…

The impressive Park had made a few offside runs and as Arshavin picked up the ball and moved forward the South Korean had once again strayed into an offside position. Arshavin held on to the ball long enough for the Striker to check himself and then released the ball for Park to run onto and curl a lovely shot past Bogdan. It was a great finish and a goal the player’s performance deserved.

I know he has only played two games since his move, both coming in this competition, but on the evidence of last night Ju surely storms ahead of Marouane Chamakh in the pecking order. He was always looking to be involved always wanting the ball and whilst a few of his strikes on goal failed to give the Bolton stopper any real trouble it was heartening to see a striker who is prepared to perform his primary function and as long as your attempting to score goals will surely start to flow.

Yossi Benayoun was outstanding in my view, the Israeli has made only three starts for the Gunners since signing on a season long loan from Chelsea on deadline day and this is certainly his best of those performances so far. The former West Ham man worked tirelessly all night, I would wager he covered more ground than any other Arsenal player. Like Park Yossi has found his first team chances limited and whilst he is ineligible to play against his parent club at the weekend he certainly did enough last night to let the boss know he can play a pivotal role this season.

Another plus was the return of Thomas Vermaelen, the man just exudes class as a footballer and crucially a centre half. It’s such a rare problem for Arsene Wenger to have and whilst it’s one of those so-called good problems the gaffer must be suffering a slight selection headache when considering what his first choice centre back pairing will be. Mertesacker has improved with every game he has played in is starting to look assured at this level whilst forming an impressive partnership with Laurent Koscielny, in my view the ever impressive Laurent Koscielny. So the boss has to make three in to two, but that choice may now not need to be made until we play Marseille next Tuesday after Tommy was withdrawn after eight-five minutes last night and replaced by Daniel Boateng. There was some initial confusion after the game when it was suggested the Belgian had suffered a calf strain but it now seems that he was suffering from a touch of cramp and asked to come of as a precaution. Either way Wenger thinks the defender will be a little short for the trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and after two months on the sidelines that shouldn’t be a surprise. You can’t not play for two months and then play two games in a week. We may see him named amongst the subs on Saturday but I really would be surprised to see him start. *Update – It now seems the club are saying he will be fit, in which case a quick return to the starting XI may not be such a surprise after all. Tommy to partner Mertz, with Koscielny moving to RB?

Iggy Miquel gave an assured performance at left-back and Franny Coquelin went about his work quietly but professionally. AOC had a fairly quiet night in relation to his recent performances and Emmanuel Fimpong was not quite at the races before being replaced by Ryo. The Japanese youngster really got the crowd excited but you can still see just how raw he is and we shouldn’t be expecting to see him make massive inroads to the first team in the near future – but all the youngsters mentioned above are exciting prospects we’ll see much more of.

To finish off I just want to mention a player who I thought was brilliant last night and hasn’t maybe received as much praise as he should have…

Young Nico Yennaris gave a solid performance at right back, it is of course very early days and I’m not suggesting he should be coming into the first team on a regular basis as cover at right back during Sagna and Jenkinson’s lay-off’s. I’m not even 100% sure right back is the lads bet or preferred position but last night he did himself and the side proud and certainly didn’t look out-of-place and I look forward to seeing him develop and improve along with the other lads I’ve mentioned above

So another positive night for the club, we’re still not out of the woods but we may have come to a bit of a clearing which allows us to regroup and get our bearings. We’ve seen again the good work the club does at youth and academy level and had a peak at some of the players who could well be first team regulars in a few years, whilst a few summer accuasitions have maybe shown that their signings were a little shrewder than we may have previously considered.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Debuts, returns and a battle of shorts.‏

 

Tonight see’s Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers return to North London in the Carling Cup a month after going down three nil during their Premier League visit.
 
With the Gunners on a good run of six victories in the last seven matches, a run that stretches back to the 3-1 win over Shrewsbury in the previous round, a win tonight would see Arsene Wenger’s side book a quarter-final place for the ninth consecutive year.
 
Ahead of the game the gaffer has been talking about last seasons League Cup final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City and has suggested that it will be impossible for him to ever overcome the hurt of that defeat telling Arsenal.com
 
“Yes [the Birmingham game] will hurt me forever because we never forget disappointments, that’s part of life at managerial level, you do not only have successes but disappointments too”
 
Whilst it may not completely banish the memory of  Obafemi Martin’s late winner I would imagine that seeing his side once again reach Wembley and go on to finally win the competition would go some way to numbing the pain. It’s quite amazing the amount of grief Wenger has been given for not taking this competition seriously during his time at the club but as I said above, we could reach the last eight for the ninth consecutive year.
 
During that time we’ve also reached two finals, I could be wrong but I can’t imagine any other side has had more success in the countries secondary cup competition during that period. Wenger himself maintains that he always takes the competition seriously saying –
 
“We have always taken the competition seriously” (Well I told you that’s what he said)
 
The Frenchman went on to say – “We use it as an opportunity to give a chance to some young players and people relate that to not taking it seriously but it is the opposite”
 
“Because we take it seriously we want to always offer two things – the desire to win and the opportunity for our fans to see some of the players who represent the future for this club
 
I really don’t think you can argue with that, if we were merely handing out first team debuts to our whole starting eleven and crashing out in our first game then you could criticise but the truth is most of the top sides and even a clutch of smaller clubs have gone on to follow suit and replicate our philosophy. The difference with Arsenal is that the quality of players we field, those ‘kids’ and ‘reserves’, are still a class above what other clubs have to offer when it comes to those categories.
 
Tonight will see that tradition of blending youth and experience continue and on paper we look set to field what I think is an exciting side and one I’m looking forward to seeing.
 
We’ll see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come back into the team and if he performs anywhere near the level he produced on his full debut against the Shrews that in itself will make for an exciting evening, but alongside AOC we’re also set to see the return of Thomas Vermaelan make his return from a two month injury lay-off.
 
It’s seems as if it will be down to the boss to decide between the Belgian and young Spaniard Iggy Miquel for the left back position. Whilst neither player is a natural in the role, we’re in a position where we need to make do and mend as such and while one of the pair will be an auxiliary fullback for the evening the other looks set to partner another returnee, Seb Squillaci, at centre half. How timely that the man who looks like Skeletor returns from injury as we approach Halloween…
 
We can expect to see young Nico Yennaris make his debut at right back and make up the back four with Skellaci, Tommy and Iggy while Lukasz Fabianski will once again take his place between the sticks. The Pole has recently spoken of his desire to regain a regular starting birth in goal ahead of countryman Wojciech Szczesny in the build up to Euro 2012 and whilst it would take something spectacular from Fabs and something catastrophic from Szcz for that to happen it doesn’t hurt to have one player chomping at anothers heels, it can only boost the performances of both which is good for the club.
 
I expect we’ll see Emmanuel Frimpong and Franny Coquelin start in the middle but I’m not overly sure who’ll make up the midfield trio, I’ve heard suggestions of Thomas Rosicky but the Czech isn’t in the 18 man sqaud so that rules him out. It seems likely then that Yossi Benayoun will come in to add a touch of experience alongside the two youngsters.
 
I’ve already mentioned AOC, he’ll take his place on the right of our front three alongside Ju Young Park in the middle and Andrey Arshavin on the left (I’m guessing)
 
As I said yesterday we could really do with the South Korean replicating his international form and providing a tangible alternative to RVP if and when we should need one. It’s been a little surprising that he, AOC and Benny have seen their first team chances limited considering they are three of our few summer signings so they all have a point to prove tonight and hopefully they’ll all take their chance. It’s also a great chance for Arshavin to try and turn his recent cameo apperances in the league into something a bit more substantial, it’s certainly no good having the Russian replecating his performance in France last week.
 
It’s a strong side (if I’m right that is) and one I’m very much looking forward to watching. As well as the players I’ve mentioned above the squad also includes Ryo, Vito Mannone, Jernade Meade, Oguzahn Ozyakup, Sanchez Watt, Chuks Aneke and Daniel Boateng. Hopefully we can see Ryo & Chuks get a dedent run out at some stage too.
 
I’ve no idea what sort of side Owen Coyle will field this evening, the Trotters are really struggling and the Scot could either send out a strong side in the hope that a cup run will help reinvigorate their league form or he’ll give his senior players a breather and a send out a second string. To be honest I’m not too fussed I think our side should have enough to see off any whatever team they face tonight and if I’m honest I’m more intrigued by the battle of the shorts between Coyle and Pat Rice…
 
It’s bound to be cold tonight, because it’s late October and that’s how things work, and with both men favouring a pair of shorts and proving that they’re real men, real old school football men, I do wonder if one or indeed both will back down or if they’ll stand toe to toe…
 
I most certainly won’t be wearing shorts, I’ll be wrapped up nice and warm and if I get cold I’ll just ask Big Dave to put his arms around me…
 
Ok, I’m going now before this turns weird(er)…
 
Enjoy the game, and if you’ve not got a ticket but fancy getting down to support the Gunners you can do so by clicking here.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

Fighting Back

It’s difficult to believe that any club fighting its way to wining the league championship would ever take the opinion that everyone is against them but during the 1990/91 old Division One season that is exactly what George Graham instilled in his players – A solid belief that no one wanted to see the Arsenal crowned league champions for the second time in three seasons, that the national press were against them because “Nothing ever comes out of Highbury“, the Football Association were against them having fined the club £50,00 and two precious points for their part in the brawl that took place at Old Trafford in the October of that campaign. George even went so far as to suggest that the fans were not fully behind the team and in his famous teamtalk at London Colney he reiterated to his players the importance of getting the fans on their side, he even assured the squad that he would play his part in this, that he would get the fans backing the team during their title run in.

Having been at an age where the politics of football held little to no interest for me I can’t honestly say I vividly remember a feeling that we were coming under attack from all sides back then but from the ten thousand times I watched my VHS copy of the season review aptly titled ‘Champions‘ that defiance and felling that it was ‘us against them’ has always stuck with me.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re unlikely to be crowned Premier League Champions this season and while the club have certainly helped stir the fans current irritation with price increases, transfer impotence, the teams poor form etc in recent months (I don’t want to go into too much detail less I defeat my own purpose here) and as a collective we do certainly have a belief that the written press and outlets such as Sky Sports News are against us. That they’re ready and willing to pick up the tiniest of sticks and prod poke and beat us with them. But more often than not we’re assured by our perceived detractors that this simply isn’t true and we’re paranoid (Usually at the foot of an article laying into our inability to do anything but the opposite of all they implore us as a club to do).

This week I’ve enjoyed what to me looks like the clubs attempts at a resistance…

It began with CEO Ivan Gazidis speaking at a Sports Industry Group breakfast at the start of the week.Ivan spoke not only of owner Stan Kroenke’s full involvement with club matters and the muted Americans apparent plans to share his thoughts with fans and media alike when next on English soil, he also spoke of his backing for the boss in the wake of last weekends defeat at Ewood Park. The South African/British chief exec rounded on Wenger’s critics assuring them that the Frenchman is – “As focused on delivering success as ever. He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager, that’s nonsense

We all know that as a public speaker Ivan is somewhat silver-tongued, it’s a natural environment for the former Deputy commissioner of the MLS. W also know that behind the scenes he is frustrated by the hammering the club is getting from all directions and whilst he may have similar views to the rest of us when it comes to expenditure on playing staff and some of Wenger’s methods he is, professionally at least, a company man and wouldn’t be earning his crust if he didn’t attempt to dampen the fire and get the clubs PR reputation back on track. It may have been an odd thing to say but I quite liked his defence of Wenger when he said – “He’s not broken. To see him portrayed as some kind of idiot is damaging to the game“.

Maybe it’s not what Ivan meant but for us all to now round on Wenger and portray him as some kind of fool in the way that Steve Howard would (and does) after all he achieved in the game is somewhat shortsighted and in an age where anyone and everyone in a position of responsibility at football clubs is only a poor performance away from the dole queue it is important for the game that those with the reputation and longevity of Wenger, Ferguson and the like is giving lesser mortals less than a cat in hells chance of getting anywhere near the types of career those two have had.

Ivan’s backing seemed to stiffen the lips and harden the resolve of our boss and our players. After the clubs Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night Arsene himself came out with some of the old fighting talk, dismissing suggestions that he had received a so-called vote of confidence and that speculation surrounding his longterm future at the helm of the Gunners was foolhardy, he told his inquisitors: “My record? I have just managed 14 years at this club and I have kept them 14 years in the Champions League and I wish it lasts another 14 years

Maybe it was the heat of the interview battle and the line of enquiry from those who talk a good game of club management without ever have come any closer to doing so then a game of Championship Manager, but Arsene did himself a kind of disservice forgetting that he has now been manager of this great club for fifteen years. However he knew how long he had been schooling footballers, when asked if he had plans to add a defensive coach to his staff the gaffer quipped “I’ve just completed 32 years of coaching – I don’t want to answer this kind of question

Then is now doubt that the club was going on the defensive in the media at a time when we’ve been unable to do so on the pitch. It was all very batten down the hatches and keep the enemy at the gates, but it wasn’t overly doing much to win over the fans.That coup de grace came yesterday.

On Wednesday morning The Sun newspaper ran a story on it’s back page which suggested that the perceived poor attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night was the fans making it known to Wenger, Gazidis, Kroeke and the world that they were unhappy. Coupled with an almost full page picture of empty Emirates seats “journalist” Charlie Wyett mocked the attendance figure of 46,539 for a league cup third round fixture against a side that is three divisions below us. True it was the lowest attendance the clubs new home has ever seen but the paper seemed unwilling to level this against other attendance figures such as Manchester City’s paltry 44,026 at the United Stadium last week for their first ever UEFA champions League game against Italian side Napoli. They didn’t mention that more fans had attended our fixture on a Tuesday night then were in attendance for Tottenham’s Premier league win over Liverpool on Sunday lunch time.

Now Wyett & Co were content to dismiss our attendance figure as little more than laughable and yesterday the club stuck two fingers up at them with the release of not only a thank you to the fans for their support at the game but also the attendance figures for every Carling Cup game played this week and a selection of last weekends Premier League games to.

This was the clubs best bit of PR in a long time and it was fantastic. It certainly got the backing of the fans and has produced a little of that ‘us against them’ spirit.

Wenger has told his players that it is their responsibility to lead the crowd not the other way home and I hope we see that in our game against Bolton Wanderers tomorrow afternoon and that the fight back starts here.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Year of the Ox

Arsenal: Fabianski – Jenkinson – Miquel – Djourou (C) – Gibbs – Oxlade-Chamberlain (Aneke – 90) Coquelin – Frimpong (Ozyakup) – Benayoun – Park (Ryo – 72) – Chamakh

Goals: Gibbs – 33. Oxlade-Chamberlain – 58. Benayoun – 79.

Shrewsbury Town: Smith – Grandison – Jacobson – McAllister (Richards – 72) – Goldson – Wright – Hazell (C) – Wroe – Ainsworth (Taylor – 78) – Collins (Bradshaw – 72) – Morgan.

Goal: Collins – 16

Well there were a couple of collectors items on show at the Emirates last night – Two English goalscorers for the Arsenal for the first time since Sol Campbell & Franny Jeffers scored in the FA Cup victory over Farnborough Town in 2003 and there was a goal scored by an Arsenal player from outside the box, I’ve no idea when we last saw that? Denilson at Goodison Park on the opening day of the 09/10 season?

The first half of this third round Carling Cup tie wasn’t pretty, but I think it’s worth remembering that Shrews keeper Ben Smith pulled off two top quality saves from Marouane Chamakh within the first ten minutes. Had either of those early chances gone in the complexion of the game could have been different but as it was the League Two side made the gulf in league status look miniscule.

While Graham Turners side grew in stature and began to sense an upset may have been on the cards, our players, a decent mix of youth and experience, started to mimic our first choice XI perfectly. The Shrews were knocking it about comfortably and we just couldn’t get a foot hold in the game, allowing our opponents plenty of space which they made the most of. Mark Wright had a shot which Lukas Fabianski seemingly choose to completely ignore as if there was no ball in play and Marvin Morgan had a shot blocked by Kieran Gibbs who was doing his best Gael Clichy impression, pushing high up the pitch and leaving gaping holes on the left side of our half. Buoyed by their early efforts Shrewsbury took the lead after seventeen minutes.

I mentioned Marvin Morgan as the  Shrewsbury danger man yesterday and it was indeed the big forward who whipped a lovely ball in from the right flank, captain for the night Johan Djourou made no attempt to win the ball in the air and James Collins was on hand to head it past Fabianski. I’ve no idea what has happened to Djourou, I can only imagine he has been spending far too much time with Manuel Almunia because the Swiss centre half has seemingly caught the Spaniards penchant for indecision and an indifference to perform even the most basic of tasks expected from him.

I’ve always been a fan of Djourou’s and whilst he has suffered from those mind farts on occasion during his Arsenal career it now seems his brain has completely shat itself.

Shrewsbury seemingly had us on the ropes and pushed on for a second goal which they were unfortunate not to get especially when Fabianski, seemingly inspired by Djourou, stood idly by as McAllister’s effort dribbled along the ground and towards goal. Either the Polish keeper had a vision of the future or was just incredibly lucky not to concede a second as the ball went just inches wide of the far post.

Somehow we rode our luck and got ourselves back into the game as the clock ticked towards half time. Shortly after the half hour mark. Carl Jenkinson, who suffered football mutilation at Old Trafford a few weeks back, crossed in a lovely ball from the right which pinged off Chamakh and onto the head of the unmarked Kieran Gibbs who directed the ball inside the post and past Smith to put us back on level terms.

It was somewhat a relief that half time came, but mainly that was from a personal perspective because I had two pints of cider inside me looking for an exit. As the ref blew to signal the end of the half I made the dash to the gents and there was another of those collectors items, I was in there alone and when I came out there was no snaking queue.

The second half was far more enjoyable and the difference in class began to show. I had spent most of yesterday looking forward to seeing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make his full debut and in the second half his quality really began to shine through. In tandem with Franny Coquelin, who I thought was outstanding and is maybe starting to edge his nose in front of Frimmers in the pecking order, the former Southampton youngster began to torment the opposition and excite the home crowd in equal measure.

Frimpong, himself an obvious crowd pleaser, encouraged by the fans to shoot whenever he had the ball at his feet did just that but Smith was equal to it. I’m not sure if the players had been told to test the keeper from distance or if they were just taking a punt but AOC soon joined in. His shot from twenty-five yards out sneaked underneath Smith into the back of the net and put us in front for the first time in the match. The Ox had the bit between his teeth now and was suddenly everywhere looking for the ball and trying to do something with it. In fact he had another decent effort on goal but this time Smith got his gloves to it. AOC certainly deserved the standing ovation he was given when he was replaced by Chuks Aneke late on, it was a fantastic home debut and hopefully has gone some way in proving that Wner was right to spend big in order to secure the midfielders signature.

By now Arsenal were well and truly in the driving seat but whilst Shrewsbury began to tire they certainly didn’t show any less commitment.

With just over ten minutes of the game remaining Yossi Benayoun bagged his first Arsenal goal, although for a brief moment it looked as if the Israeli had taken too long to get his shot off. Substitute Ozzy Ozyakup cut back from the by line and after what felt like an eternity (in football terms) Benny prodded the ball home to finish off the Shrews and put us into the fourth round.

Ryo got a twenty-minute run out and somewhat disappointingly he didn’t get too involved, but it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. The Japanese winger was making some decent runs and looking to be involved and I think we were all hoping to see something spectacular from the lad. He’ll get more chances and during his brief time on the pitch did enough to make us all want to be there when he does.

As I said, Chuks Aneke also made his debut replacing the Ox with just a minute plus stoppages left on the clock and while the game had all but petered out by then the front man was everywhere on the pitch looking to get as many touches of the ball as possible which was really heartening to see. The youngster certainly is a big old unit and watching him tower over guys much older than himself I began to wonder if Wenger is attempting to put together a new breed of big powerful players?

Whilst Chuks is surely the offspring of NFL legend William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry it’s worth noting that both Frimmers & AOC are big lads for their age. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with that, could well be nothing.

Flicking on Sky Sports news when I got home last night I was appalled (but not at all surprised) to see them running with the strap line “Wenger told he won’t be sacked“. This is so far removed from the truth I wonder if it might actually be slanderous (it isn’t), Ivan Gazidas nor anyone else has given the Frenchman the so-called ‘vote of confidence’ or any thing like it. Our Chief Exec was asked if Wenger’s tenure was in danger at an event and responded that it certainly isn’t. That does not constitute Wenger being given assurances over his future, it isn’t as if Ivan said ” I called him in, we had a chat and I let him know he was safe for now but we’re keeping a close eye on things“. Knowing the power Arsene has at the club I wouldn’t be surprised if the person clearing their desk after a conversation like that was Ivan.

I’ve made my feelings about Wenger’s future beyond this season known and I stand by that but as I’ve said I will never abuse le gaffer or call for his head. He has done far too much for this club and whilst I’m not totally sure he can I certainly wouldn’t put it past him pulling something out of the bag. I just hope that both the boss and the players use this criticism as a springboard, close ranks and stick it to every doubter out there. It was fantastic when towards the end of the game last night the home supporters gave a rousing rendition of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger“.

Lastly, I just want to touch on last nights attendance. There were 46,539 inside the grove last night and for a third round league cup tie against a side who are in what is effectively the fourth division that is incredible. I posted a picture of the number of empty seats around Dave and I in the top-tier last night and there were a fair few sections like that but lets put this into context –

Arsenal v’s Shrewsbury Town – Carling Cup Third Round – 46,539

Man City V’s Napoli – UEFA Champions League* – 44,026 *This was big spending City’s first ever Champions League game an they couldn’t fill the United Stadium.

So which attendance figure is embarrassing? Which group of fans has more passion Samir?

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Shrewsbury Town Preview

So tonight see’s our reintroduction to the Carling Cup. Whilst this seasons competition is now at the third round stage this is our first participation since last years final and we all know what happened there don’t we.

Since our late capitulation against Birmingham City, who this season are gracing the Championship, our form has resembled that of a side destined to partake in a relegation scrap. Remember that as we kicked off at Wembley we were still right in the title race, still in the FA Cup and despite facing a trip to the Nou Camp still in with a chance of progressing to the quarter finals of the Champions League thanks to an outstanding 2-1 victory over Barcelona in our first leg tie. Our form in ALL competitions since that final has looked like this –

P – 22. W – 6. D – 8. L – 8. F – 31. A – 38. – WDLLDDWDDLWLLDDWLWLWDL

It’s certainly not pretty is it.

So yesterday saw a lot of discussion about the kind of side we should field against League Two opponents Shrewsbury Town in this evenings game.

Many Gooners have been calling for the side that was beaten by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Saturday to be utilised again tonight for seemingly two reasons – A) Some kind of punishment for the woeful second half performance up in Lancashire & 2) Giving the side a taste of victory which will help them kick on in the league.

To be honest I can see the merits in both these arguments but have to say that ultimately I disagree with both. Firstly, putting a team out in what would be the footballing equivalent of the village stocks surely gains no real purpose. The players will not respond to what would be perceived as public shaming and I can’t imagine it would make le gaffer very popular. Also it just isn’t the Fenchman’s way of doing things is it, in fact I was pretty surprised that he has come out and spoken in, what is for him, critical terms in the wake of Saturdays shambles. It isn’t very often that Wenger speaks in this way publically and maybe it’s something we should welcome? He certainly hasn’t hung anyone out to dry or pointed fingers at individuals but maybe a sharp little poke of the stick like this can help focus the players a little more, the opposite hasn’t seemed to achieved that. It certainly isn’t the answer to the problems, far from it, but it’s maybe a form of accountability?

With option two, giving the side a taste of victory, again it doesn’t really float my boat. No disrespect to Shrewsbury Town but if it takes a victory over the side from the fourth tier of English Football to inspire our best players then we’ve got serious problems, also why should we should we allow back slapping and self-congratulation for something that we would expect to see? Imagine we send out the strongest possible eleven players we have available and they struggle against the Shrews, never mind how the media et al would react, how would we react? I imagine we would soon be hearing about protests before Saturdays home game against Bolton and the sale of black scarves would sky-rocket.

On the whole I think it’s the perfect time to play a mix of players who are considered ‘first team’ and some of those who are on the fringes of being such.

I said yesterday that I would like to see a line up of – Fabianski – Jenks – Djourou – Mertz – Andy Santos – Frimmers – Benny – AOC – Ryo – Chamakh – Ju.

I would include our most recent defensive signings because whilst they may both be international footballers there is no doubt they are still adapting to English football and personally I think it would be more beneficial for the German & Brazilian then Kozzer & Gibbs. The XI named above is made up of players who have and/or will make first team appearances this term, be it due to injuries, suspensions or form and whilst some of the younger lads should certainly be included in the match day squad for games like this and indeed on the bench I think we need to be giving game time to those who are going to need it most.

I’m not ruling my select XI out but according to Jamie Sanderson at Young Guns Blog Wenger is set to name the following line up – Fabianski – Jenkinson – Djourou – Miquel – Gibbs – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Frimpong – Coquelin – Benayoun – Chamakh – Park.

So not too dissimilar to my projected line up and certainly a side I would be happy to see take the field tonight as those players who differ from my selection are equally as deserving of a run out and equally as likely to make in roads on the first team this season.

Jamie Suggests that we’ll see the likes of Daniel Boateng, Nico Yennaris, Chuks Aneke, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Sanchez Watt & Emi Martinez on the bench tonight with Ryo joinig them due to his lack of fitness.

I have to say I’m hugely excited about seeing Ryo and AOC this evening, I know that over the past fifteen years we’ve seen many exciting prospects come through our ranks, often through this competition, some have disappeared into the football wilderness, some have moved on to other clubs and some have become first choice players but these two have such a buzz about them. We certainly shouldn’t be heaping too much pressure on the youngsters at this stage but if they can hit the heights as many are predicting then we could be in for a treat.

I won’t lie, I know little about Shrewsbury Town aside from Joe Hart played there. Apparently they’re flying in league two and their danger man is Marvin Morgan who has bagged seven goals so far this season, so he may well be one to watch.

I know there will be many empty seats tonight and the crowd will have a lot of families and young supporters but despite all the negativity currently surrounding the club and the disappointment we’re dealing with this is still a great chance to get behind a group of players who cold be pivotal to us in the longterm and I hope we can get behind them and give them the support they need and see the Gunners march through to the fourth round.

Thanks for reading.

Paul. (Follow @Up_TheArsenal on Twitter)

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