Eduardo Sinks Arsenal
Champions League Group H, Matchday 4
Shakhtar Donetsk 2 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Walcott (10)
1 – 1 Eastmond (27 og)
2 – 1 Eduardo (45)
Arsenal missed the chance to qualify for the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League, squandering an early lead that leaves them needing to match Shakhtar’s results in the final two matches to ensure first place in the group. It would be easy to put the result down to the absence of two key midfielders but this is the essence of the squad system; you have the personnel to cope with that in place. Quite simply, the overall performance was not good enough.
Arsene was more damning in his post-match comments,
I felt we moved out of the game altogether and moved into the game altogether so it was more of a team problem, a kind of complacency problem more than an individual problem
In the early exchanges it did not seem that this was going to be the case. Srna tested Fabianski with an early free kick that the Pole comfortably held in his chest. At the other end, Nasri’s toes twinkled into space and curled an effort against the upright; it seemed that the changes wrought by the manager would not have a negative impact. Indeed, the return of Jack Wilshere was to have early rewards.
From a scrambled clearance, Walcott laid the ball back to Wilshere. The youngster clipped a ball around the defence and into space inside the Arsenal half; Walcott did the rest. Outsprinting the full and centre backs, Walcott was clear and with aplomb – the sort that we became accustomed to from Thierry Henry in such positions – he curled the ball around the goalkeeper and into the net. One nil away from home in the toughest fixture in the group phase, it was all that Wenger could have hoped for beforehand.
He would also have wanted the defence to keep a clean sheet for the following fifteen minutes to take the sting from Shakhtar’s response. That was achieved but with a lot of luck along the way, not least when Jadson hit the woodwork, Djourou having blocked his initial effort. The defending was nervy; the midfield was not coping with its defensive duties particularly well whilst the back four were at times desperate in their marking.
Shakhtar once more tested Fabianski, Chygrynskiy bringing another save from the Pole. The equaliser came with the hosts dominant. Chygrynskiy met an inswinging corner, Eastmond’s shoulder deflected the ball into the net. Replays showed that the original header was at best going towards Fabianski; an own goal declared by Uefa. Shakhtar were rocking, Arsenal rolling. Both full backs were being stretched and tested by the Ukranian’s movement, neither coping particularly well. Eduardo tangled Clichy in a blur before shooting, once more Fabianski stopping the effort.
The nadir of this came with what turned out to be the winner. Clichy switched off when attempting to shepherd the ball out of play. It was an elementary mistake that was avoidable; in such circumstances, the agricultural clearance into row Z must be the preferred option, especially with the defence needing to regroup. The Frenchman dallied, Srna exploited the weakness and found Eduardo who bit the hand that used to feed with a comfortable finish past Fabianski.
For all of Shakhtar first half dominance, they retreated into their shells in the second. Wilshere bundled an opening on the edge of the area and with the top corner beckoning, curled his effort wide. Pyatov comfortably held a Walcott effort minutes later, a scene that was to be repeated throughout the half.
Perhaps the clearest opening of all game as the game entered its’ final quarter. Squillaci found time and space, his header straight at Pyatov when a metre either side would have been the equaliser. Carlos Vela’s late effort would have brought due reward for a lively cameo but it was not to be.
There were too many sub-standard performances last night. Whilst we can observe that a draw might have been a reasonable outcome, little argument can be made that Arsenal enjoyed the majority of the play in the second half because Shakhtar chose to defend their lead and look to hit the visitors on the counter-attack. Defensively, the inclusion of Eboue and Djourou changed the four too much. I can understand the resting of Koscielny following two ninety minute outings in three days but presume Sagna has some sort of niggle otherwise it is not clear why he was relegated to the bench.
Clichy though was caught out on too many occasions. Sometimes the criticism of the Frenchman seems knee-jerk but last night was poor. The winning goal is down to his error but there were other times where his defending was not to an acceptable standard.
Even so, there were positives for Wenger to draw upon. Fabianski was once more solid, unable to stop either goal and at fault for neither. Indeed, the Pole made several important saves to prevent the team being overrun and a collapse ensuing. Likewise, Djourou was the star defender. I think it was his best game for the first team since returning. The odd slip aside, he was impressive in the air. Had Koscielny not been injured recently, I wonder if Wenger would have played him instead of Eastmond who seemed a little overawed at times.
As things stand, Arsenal must match Shakhtar’s results to top the group. Avoiding defeat in Braga means Arsenal qualify. A win though is essential to avoid a tough Round of 16 tie with the likely destinations Madrid, Barcelona, Munich or Lyon should runners-up spot be the eventual outcome of this group.