Birghton 2-3 Arsenal
Arsenal made hard work of defeating Championship Brighton at The Amex Stadium yesterday as shocking defensive errors once again undermined the Gunners attacking efforts.
Arsene Wenger made several changes to the side that had beaten West Ham 5-1 in midweek, but the least inspiring of these was the inclusion of Andre Santos at left back. The Brazilian’s performance was absolutely abysmal. Santos just never seemed to know what he was doing or where he was on the pitch and as a result he was continually caught out of position. For Santos, positioning is everything as he does not possess the pace to get back and recover. Last season, the Brazilian’s apparent lack of understanding when it comes to defending, was slightly compensated for by his attacking capabilities which have become so crucial to the full back role in the modern game. However Santos no longer supports the attack in the way he used to last season and actually, doesn’t really get forward at all, leaving many Arsenal fans perplexed as to why Wenger decides to play him at all. If the manager decided to rest Kieran Gibbs, surely he could look beyond Santos and instead select someone from the youth ranks. There must be a player there who is a more accomplished left back than Santos, a player such as Jernade Meade, who performed so well in this position, on his Champions League debut against Olympiacos. Yet despite his reputation for giving young players a chance, Wenger seems surprisingly reluctant to introduce anyone from his youth team. For example, having heaped praise on Serge Gnabry in pre season and witnessed the impressive performance of Thomas Eisfeld against Reading in the Captial One Cup, the manager still persists with having the completely ineffective Andrei Arshavin on the bench instead.
Having persevered with Santos and subsequently endured 79 minutes of abjectness, Wenger finally decided to replace the Brazilian with Kieran Gibbs and the huge gulf in class which exists between the two was immediately apparent. Gibbs’ presence not only shored up the defence as Arsenal finally had a player at left back who knew what he was doing but the Englishman also brought his hunger, passion and desire into the game as he was more than happy to throw himself into challenges, fully committed as well as supporting the attack with intelligent and incisive forward runs. Such forays added another dimension to the Arsenal attack and therefore enabled the Gunners to pose a greater attacking threat.
The away side had earlier taken the lead in the 15th minute thanks to an exceptional piece of counter attacking play. As Szczesny collected the ball from a Brighton cross, the Pole, who normally tends to hold onto the ball for a few seconds, this time immediately threw it out to Thomas Rosicky. The Czech international, returning to first team action after a lengthy injury, has been sorely missed as he possesses the ability to carry the ball forward, committing the opposition’s midfield and defence and so is a vital cog in the Arsenal midfield. Rosicky sprinted forward, carrying the ball from the edge of the Gunners box, into the final third, before laying it into Podolski on the edge of the Brighton penalty area. The German international then passed the ball back to Giroud who curled a wonderful shot into the top corner.
However the lead did not last long and in the 33rd minute, Brighton were level. David Lopez collected a short corner and crossed into the box for the completely un-marked Will Buckley to head home. The goal perfectly highlighted Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies once more. Wenger insists on his side employing zonal marking when defending from set pieces, however for this to work, every player has to attack the ball. Yesterday, every single Arsenal player simply stood still as Buckley waltzed through. Giroud, at the near post, should be the first player attempting to head the ball clear, but the Frenchman did absolutely nothing as it came into the box. Per Mertesacker was also culpable as with his immense height, the German should be dominating the penalty area, making sure that he wins every aerial challenge. However he does not appear to have the stomach for the fight and as long as Arsenal have players like this, they will continue to struggle to defend from set pieces.
In a mirror image of the first half, the Gunners once again took the lead in the second period, through Giroud, only to be pegged back once more thanks to more atrocious defending. First, Abou Diaby’s delightful clipped ball over the Brighton defence was brilliantly brought down by Giroud, before firing home with his second touch. It was an excellent goal by the Frenchman, as he displayed brilliant movement to get into the position in the first place, exquisite skill to control the ball as it came over his shoulder and then great strength to hold off the Brighton defender before unleashing his shot.
Yet, only six minutes later and Brighton were on level terms once again. Ashley Barnes was afforded far too much time and space on the right flank, by Santos and Arsenal were made to pay, as Barnes’ wonderful cross found Ulloa in between both Gunners central defenders, to head the ball past Szczesny. While Santos should have closed Barnes down and prevented him from delivering his cross, Mertesacker completely lost his man in the middle of the goal and was made to pay. Wenger must surely expect more from a man who has accrued so many caps for Germany.
The manager was at least able to call in the cavalry with 22 minutes remaining, with Wilshere and Walcott entering the fray. Immediately, the Gunners possessed more energy in the midfield and carried more of an attacking threat too. Yet it was with the introduction of Gibbs that Arsenal really began to apply the pressure and as the Englishman surged forward with 85 minutes on the clock, Giroud’s acrobatic effort to steer Gibbs’ cross was deflected behind. Brighton could only clear the ball from the resulting corner straight to Walcott, whose goal bound volley hit a Brighton defender and flew into the net to send Arsenal through to the next round.
Once again as with the game against West Ham, the Gunners attacking play was rather impressive at times, particularly their first goal which was reminiscent of so many Arsenal goals of yesteryear. If they continue along this path the Gunners will pose a threat to any opposition. However, if Wenger’s side continue to defend with such reckless abandon, their ambitions will continue to be undermined.