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Arsenal On Right Track As The Derail Orient FA Cup Express

FA Cup 5th Round Replay
Arsenal 5 – 0 Leyton Orient

1 – 0 Chamakh (7)
2 – 0 Bendtner (30)
3 – 0 Bendtner (43)
4 – 0 Bendtner (62 pen)
5 – 0 Clichy (75)

Arsenal progressed to an FA Cup quarter-final meeting with Manchester United, cruising past a Leyton Orient side whose dedication to trying to play football in the correct manner put most of the Premier League to shame. That they were on the receiving end of a five goal hiding is probably the best indicator why few other teams try to play this way at The Emirates.

Nicklas Bendtner garners most attention with a thirty minute hat-trick on a night of surprising scorers, Marouane Chamakh grabbing his first goal since November whilst Gael Clichy found the first time since Noah came up with the blueprints for the Ark.

On the back of the defeat at Wembley, Russell Slade feared a backlash. From the kick-off it was apparent that this Arsenal XI were in no mood to succumb to another cup shock inside three days. Abou Diaby returned to the line-up and was sparky early in the match but it was a much-maligned Rosický who provided the impetus for the breakthrough, seizing on a loose pass, surging into the area where Chamakh pass the cross into the net.

Instead of opening the floodgates, that led to a period of Arsenal sitting back, content to pass the ball and absorb any counter-attacks which Orient may progress. Probing the visitor’s defence, the second arrived with half an hour played. Diaby foraged on the left side of the Orient penalty area before finding Gibbs whose cross was turned into the net by Bendtner, soaring high to head the ball back in the direction from which it came leaving Jones grasping at air.

It was all very comfortable for Arsenal and just before the half-time whistle blew, it became a procession. Orient dithered and Rosický intervened. The ball broke to Bendtner, who cut in and curled his effort beyond the despairing dive of Jones and into the bottom corner. Three goals to the good and it was all too easy.

The second half brought little respite for the visitors. Denilson stung the hands and chest of Jones before Diaby provided a glimpse of the sublime skills he possesses, a one-two with Chamakh followed by some twinkling toes through the Orient defence before skewing his shot narrowly wide.

The fourth was soon to follow. Gibbs broke on the left and inside the area was unneccesarily tugged to the ground by Whing. Bendtner claimed afterwards that he was on penalty duty anyway but this one was his and he duly drilled the ball into the net for his hat-trick.

It was to be his last contribution of note as Arsène withdrew the dane five minutes later, a signal for his team selection on Saturday perchance? Rosický had been withdrawn following a blow to the head which had left him dazed and confused whilst Diaby’s return to fitness is being taken as gingerly as those of others in the squad, lasting little more than an hour.

It left the finishing line-up looking somewhat stronger in midfield than the beginning, Nasri and Wilshere entering the fray. Was that an unnecessary risk on the part of the manager or simply an indication of the toll that the recent run of fixtures has taken on the squad’s fitness? The latter more likely but a more typically English team might well have left the move dropping into the former’s category.

The fifth goal was a collector’s item, Gaël Clichy’s shot drilled low and into the corner with fifteen minutes to go. It topped off the evening with the strike a signal of a/be-musement that the full back had scored.

Post match Arsène was pleased with the win following the Carling Cup final defeat but was more intent on focussing the players onto Sunderland. Whilst he denied Bendtner was likely to start against Sunderland, it would be a surprise if he did not,

It puts him in contention to play against Sunderland. That for us, is a vital game.

The last sentence is the key. It is all very well us getting excited about next week’s encounter in Catalunya but a win on Saturday is equally important. With United travelling to Liverpool on Sunday, for them to know Arsenal are a point behind puts pressure on them that has not been necessarily there before.

Whilst Liverpool are not the force of previous seasons, Dalglish has turned their results around to bring the club to sixth in the table with a decent home record the driving force. Dropped points put Arsenal in a strong position to overhaul United in the coming week.

’til Tomorrow.

Arsenal Held By Spirit Of The FA Cup

FA Cup 5th Round
Leyton Orient 1 – 1 Arsenal

0 – 1 Rosicky (53)
1 – 1 Téhoué (89)

Leyton Orient showed the spirit of the FA Cup is alive and kicking, snatching a late equaliser at Brisbane Road to gain a finanically lucrative replay at The Emirates next week. For Arsenal, it is no doubt a game that they could do without as it robs the squad of any chance of a rest in this hectic spell of fixtures.

Uncomfortable questions are being asked after another below-par performance by the ‘second string’ in this competition. The previous rounds have seen them rescued at home and away by sufficient numbers of the normal starting XI to get the club this far.

Even so, the makeshift team had the better of the majority of the match and were within minutes of achieving their objective, a win at the first time of asking. The lead which could not be established in the first half arrived courtesy of Tomàš Rosický’s first goal in over a year, not piledriver from distance for which he is perhaps more noted, instead a deftly guided header inside the far post from the edge of the area.

That it took until the 53rd minute for the first goal to arrive sums up some of the wretched luck that the forwards are suffering from. Chamakh might have had a hat-trick if he had arrived to connect with the ball a second earlier following good work on the left by Keiran Gibbs. Or if he had been able to connect more completely with a shot. Or if his header in the opening minutes had been directed more powerfully than looping into the arms of the Orient goalkeeper. It was that sort of afternoon for Chamakh; everything was a second out of sync.

He was not the only one. Bendtner snatched at an early shot, driving wide rather than on target. Arshavin had an effort which was not held onto but no-one could capitalise on the mishap. It all summed the first half up; lots of effort, control and possession for Arsenal; no goals scored but then none conceded to counter that.

Rosický provided the breakthrough eight minutes into second half. Bendtner had a shot blocked, regathered possession and forged his way to a decent position by moving to the right of the area. The cross came back and the diminutive Czech international provided much needed guile in his finish.

At that point, the thought must have been towards a quarter-final date at Old Trafford, the chance to relive some beautiful FA Cup memories and erase the nightmare of the last visit at that stage of the competition.

Orient would not let Arsenal minds wander. The desire for an equaliser and the same prize drove them on, the hosts becoming more threatening than before Arsenal scored, the introduction of the lively Téhoué a catalyst for the Eastenders.

And yet Arsenal could have secured victory around that time. Arshavin strode purposefully down the Arsenal right and as lone striker took on shooting responsibility, glancing the outside of the post with the goalkeeper beaten.

The first warnings of a frenetic closing phase of the game came when Téhoué fed Revell whose shot inched wide of the post with Almunia scrambling. Orient then claimed a penalty, the referee had a good view that Squillaci had put his face in the way of Téhoué’s ferocious drive.

It seemed that Arsenal might hold on. That proved false hope as Téhoué shuffled between two defenders with sublime close control and drilled his shot under Almunia. The equaliser arrived and credit to the French player is being lost in criticism of Almunia and Miquel for not stopping a thunderous drive or being beaten in the first instance, forgetting that Sagna also missed his tackle if that is the case with the young Spaniard.

The reaction to the draw has been almost one of defeat. Blame is being cast around individually, forgetting that this is a collective sport. Moments of brillance and madness impact the outcome but teams win and lose together. Instead old prejudices are surfacing against individuals which bear little or no semblance to the truth of yesterday’s performance.

Quite simply Arsenal missed a creative spark. Rosický, before injury robbed him of prime playing years, might have been able to fulfil that role. Now he is marginalised too often to be a major influence in such fixtures, better suited to the wider midfield positions.

Crucially though this is a side that rarely plays together and it shows. A lot of the questions being asked can be answered by a team not playing together much, understandings not being forged with a lack of time spent on the pitch together.

The result and performance are not a condemnation of the lack of depth of the squad, most if not all could seemlessly integrate into the first Xi. The impact of that is not the player coming in but the one dropping out.

It is also becoming more apparent that the three-pronged attack does not work as effectively with Bendtner and Chamakh; the Dane dislikes playing on the right and the Moroccan is surrounded by same fug which obscured Andrey Arshavin’s footballing world until a few weeks ago.

With the replay three days after the Carling Cup Final, Arsène will look to rotate once more. It is a relatively quick chance of redemption for this XI and with home advantage, they ought to take that chance comprehensively.

In the meantime, the rather important matter of a Premier League fixture with Stoke City on Wednesday is to the fore. Even before that, there is a live blog at 8pm tonight with Real Social Dad joined by myself, Arseblog and Arsespeak. Click here to join the chatter.

’til Tomorrow.

Orient Preview & Szczesny Wants To Stay In Pole Position

Arsenal travel to Brisbane Road this afternoon not having lost to Leyton Orient in nearly a century. If that 96 year run continues, it will be no surprise with the whole club bouyed by the midweek victory over Barcelona.

It is crucial that the players do not believe that stepping onto the turf is enough this afternoon. They had enough warnings against Leeds and to a lesser extent, Huddersfield, to know that is not enough. Orient have been beaten once in twenty games so have belief in themselves which makes Brisbane Road a trickier place to visit than perhaps it normally would be.

Even so, a much changed Arsenal side should win this tie. It would be a surprise if many from Wednesday started this afternoon. With Stoke visiting The Emirates next week, this is the opportunity for Arsène to completely rotate the squad.

Indeed, those such as Djourou and Fàbregas could probably do with a complete rest, omitted from the bench as well. That won’t happen; Wenger has proven this term that the first XI might be rotated but only down to the bench in a number of cases, just in case things don’t go to plan.

Or if the going gets a bit tough. One thing that can be expected is that Orient will not try to outpass Arsenal. That, as they admit, is going to result in a thrashing. Instead, Stephen Dawson has offered the previously unheard of thought that Arsenal ‘don’t like it up ’em’. It truly is an astonishing insight.

It gets better as Dawson believes the Arsenal players will be so preoccupied with Birmingham and Barcelona that they will opt out of 50:50 challenges. A shame Dawson cannot read as he might have worked out that few of the players involved in those two games will be playing today.

There are some question marks about the midfield. I cannot believe that Nasri is fit enough to start and with such a busy time upcoming, a hamstring injury requires a rest, precluding him from being on the bench. It means that Rosicky will probably start with Fàbregas held in reserve.

Talking of which, Miquel would have benefitted from a cup tie or two earlier in the season which would have given him the opportunity to play, resting Koscielny. The Frenchman will probably start given Djourou’s injury scare post-Barcelona but will no doubt be grateful for a rest in coming weeks.

The team I expect Wenger to go with:

Almunia; Eboué, Kosicelny, Squillaci, Gibbs; Rosický, Denilson, Wilshere; Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin

Personally, I would slot Sagna into the centre and rest Koscileny but that is not a path Wenger will follow.

Question marks about the squad are nothing new yet whatever the circumstances, the players have pulled through for the manager in this competition. None of the half a dozen clubs which has ended Arsenal’s interest in the FA Cup during Wenger’s reign has come from outside of the Premier League. Only Cardiff have even got a replay out of him, such is Wenger’s parsimony.

One man who won’t mind being rotated today is Wojciech Szczesny. Well, he might do but then knowing he will be back in goal on Wednesday night softens the blow somewhat. For deputy Manuel Almunia, it is a turnaround he would not have considered following the closure of the September transfer window and the non-arrival of Mark Schwarzer.

Szczesny has shown all of the right attributes so far in his short time as Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper. He is not without making mistakes but his judgement is right more often than it is wrong, and he has a little luck on his side. The Pole might have taken Gary Player’s maxim to heart and is not leaving anything to chance,

If I am given the chance to stay the No 1 I would be very happy to [continue]. There is very good competition at the Club so I can’t say there is no threat. I know that I have to be at my very best because if there is any slip up or drop in my performance, other goalkeepers will be happy to take my place.

I can’t demand playing time at a Club like this being 20-year-old. I know that when my chance came I had to take it with both hands and try to take the No 1 spot.

His emergence highlights a bizarre goalkeeping season for Arsenal. Almunia had been more consistent than in previous seasons and was injured for a lengthy spell. Fabianski replaced him, performed better than was expected before being injured for a lengthy spell. Szczesny stepped up to the plate and has not disappointed.

Whether or not he is the long-term solution remains to be seen. His performance on Wednesday suggests that he might be. It was a continuation of those matches before but it is still too early to say for certain that he will be first choice next season. If, however, he is a member of a trophy winning side, it will surely be impossible for Wenger to drop him for the start of the next campaign?

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

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