No Defence For Keeper Vito Mannone, Literally… (w/ Player Ratings)

Standard Liege (2) – (3) Arsenal
Bendtner (45′), Vermaelen (77′), Eduardo (81′)
Maurice Dufrasne Stadium, Belgium

Well how the hell do you analyse that?

Arsenal were simply diabolical in the first 5 minutes.

Vito Mannone was making only his second first team appearance in the Arsenal side tonight and he was literally left exposed as Arsenal decided to neglect all defensive responsibility and self destruct.

He must have been wondering where was the defence?

After only 2 minutes, a Standard Liege corner was headed away for Eduardo to try an audacious backheel into the path of Fabregas. It didn’t come off, and the ball landed at the feet of central defender Mangala to smash the ball into the bottom corner.

Not the best start.

Then only minutes later, Gallas hacked down Jovanovic just inside the area and the referee awarded a penalty. On first glance, I thought it was a blatant dive but replays showed Gallas made clear contact and that the referee had in fact made a good decision. Jovanovic picked himself up and coolly dispatched the spot kick.

So after 5 minutes Arsenal were 2-0 down. You had to watch it to believe what happened, and Arsene Wenger must have been absolutely seething.

Ironically before the game, I was wondering if Arsenal were capable of keeping a clean sheet. I was worried if we’d concede silly goals like we have recently and my fears were realised in dramatic fashion.

But in a strange way, the 2 goal deficit actually worked in our favour.

Champions League new boys Liege couldn’t believe their luck, and understandably sat back and were intent on defending their lead. And that helped us.

From then on Arsenal bossed the game.

It was literally attack versus defence and you have to give the Belgians credit they defended well for the most part, and could be considered unlucky on all 3 goals.

The first Arsenal goal came from great work from Diaby, who showed great strength to beat several players before feeding Bendtner with a top quality goal before the Dane finished well. Up to that point, Standard Liege had defended well and I couldn’t remember their goalkeeper Borat Bolat making a notable save.

Talk about getting out of jail.

So that goal set-up the second half perfectly. Arsenal were chasing and Liege were going to be even more content on sitting back and protecting their lead. There was a lot of huffing and puffing but we couldn’t get the final ball right. We had a lot of set-pieces but Fabregas couldn’t find his range and all of his deliveries were over hit. The crosses (as usual) from Clichy, Eboue (and Sagna when he came on) were very poor. I don’t know why they bother crossing it to be honest.

But the pressure paid off and Liege were fouling more and our equalising goal came from a Fabregas freekick which was for once on the money.

The ball was floated in and found Song on the back post who scrambled the ball into the path of Vermaelen who capped off a fine performance with a goal from 2 yards. Replays showed that Song was not offside (as Eduardo made no contact) but he did seem to handball it. Standard Liege were livid with the linesman but I’ll take it!

From then on Arsenal’s tails were up and only 5 minutes later they scored another.

A corner from Fabregas wasn’t dealt with and Eduardo coolly poked the ball into the net inside the 6 yard area with his knee. An unorthodox finish but classy and deliberate all the same.

So a hugely entertaining game where Arsenal left with all 3 points.

I don’t think I can really say more than that…

Player Ratings

Vito Mannone: 7/10
Can’t fault him for any of our goals and therefore can’t fault his overall performance. He was let down and completely exposed by his more experienced team mates but wasn’t really troubled after the quite frankly crazy first five minutes.

Emmanuel Eboue: 7/10
Full of running and always there to support the attack but was shaky when defending.

William Gallas: 6/10
Looked nervous in the first half and the unnecessary hack to concede the penalty was silly at best. Settled as the game went on but still looked shaky at times.

Thomas Vermaelen: 9/10
Man of the Match for me. By far the best defender tonight and a solid performance overall. Saved Arsenal’s bacon a few times from mistakes from Clichy and Gallas and didn’t put a foot wrong. Scored that vital second goal and minutes later almost scored another with a beautifully executed backheel.

Gael Clichy: 7/10
Full of running but was caught out a few times on the break. Guilty of letting a few crosses into the box when he was in control of situations but on the flip side made a couple of vital last minute interceptions in the second half which could have put the game beyond Arsenal.

Alex Song: 7/10
Had a mixed evening tonight. Seemed to suffer from the side’s collective ‘shell shock’ in the first few minutes but still managed to have a relatively solid performance. Was exposed heavily but fellow midfielders such as Diaby which didn’t help.

Abou Diaby: 6/10
Apart from the run and pass for Bendtner’s goal very poor. You know he has the ability but his decision-making at times is woeful. Will hold onto the ball and lose it instead of making a simple pass and never really makes an effort to get back and help out his defence.

Cesc Fabregas (Captain): 7/10
Didn’t really make the impact he usually can and his delivery on set-pieces (apart for the ones for the two goals ironically) were all over hit. Kept the team flowing though which was important and never shirked responsibility.

Tomas Rosicky: 8/10
Very impressive considering it’s his first start this season. Followed on from his influential performance on Saturday and was the one who was making things happen. Played in Bendtner in the second half with a stunning 50-yard ball which really should have been our equaliser. Encouraging signs for Arsenal if he can stay fit.

Nicklas Bendtner: 8/10
Found it tough tonight against a Standard Liege side that defending deep but was enthusiastic and always willing to run for the side. Took his goal superbly and that gave Arsenal a platform to build on in the second half.

Eduardo: 7/10
Things didn’t really come off for him tonight but was there to bury the chance when it came his way. That was the first real opportunity he had throughout the entire game and he finished it like we know he can.

Aaron Ramsey: 8/10 (Replaced Rosicky 70′)
Looked bright and unlike his Arsenal team mates wasn’t afraid to shoot. Disposed a Standard Liege defender to create a shooting opportunity and did the same again later, but his pass to Bendtner in the middle was over hit. Solid shift though.

Bacary Sagna: 7/10 (Replaced Eboue 80′)
Solid enough for a 10 minute stint.

Jack Wilshire: 6/10 (Replaced Eduardo 83′)
Not enough time to make an impression.

What Does This Season Hold For Arsenal?

2 defeats in 4 games leaves Arsenal in a strange position.

The start of to the campaign couldn’t have been better. A fantastic 6-1 win at Goodison Park really did surprise a lot of people. We thrashed Portsmouth 4-1 a week later and in between the two Premier League games we managed to beat Celtic away, something which teams like AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona had failed to do in recent seasons.

And I was particularly excited about the currently squad.

Vermaelen was clearly a brilliant signing. Hungry, quick and great in the air – the Celtic game really showed us what he was all about. This guy was obviously a winner and his determination and ability were hugely impressive. Another great signing by Arsene Wenger.

But with that, it seemed that two of his young protégés were now ready to step up to the mark.

Denilson and Song looked a lot more mature and composed in midfield. Alex Song in particular has looked a far better player this season and his tackling ability has really impressed me, and along with Vermaelen has been one of our best players so far for me.

But the confidence and winning start to the season came crumbling down at Old Trafford, and again at The Eastlands.

I didn’t write after the Manchester United game because I was livid. Nothing I would have wrote would have made any sense, although in fairness I suppose you could argue that I’ve never made sense anyway.

But I was livid for so many reasons.

We were the better team by far but we had let United off the hook, big time. We should have inflicted them with their second defeat in the Premier League and emphasised our intent for the season but a combination of bad luck, quite frankly shocking refereeing and stupidity from our own team threw all the hard work away.

Remember, we were dominating the Champions at their own ground and United were so worried about our attacking threat they actually played 5 in midfield. At home!

After taking the lead into half-time with a wonder goal from Arshavin, we dominated the first 10 minutes of the second half – which culminated in THAT Robin Van Persie chance which for all intents and purposes would have finished the game as a contest. United were not a threat at all but with only a solitary goals advantage a single mistake would change the game completely.

And unfortunately, we had two.

Rooney was charging down (away from the goal) in the penalty area and for some strange reason Almunia decided to take out the fat scouser. It was a ridiculous decision from an experienced goalkeeper who should know better. United had nothing and to gift them a penalty was unforgivable and I still get angry about that. Yes, Rooney started to fall before contact was made but why give him an excuse to fall to ground? This is Wayne Rooney we’re talking about here. Pure idiocy plain and simple.

As you would expect, Rooney dispatched the penalty and the game completely changed. You don’t give a team like Manchester United any sort of encouragement and as expected the goal rejuvenated them and then another moment of stupidity gifted them the winning goal.

I know my criticism of players in the past has probably been over-critical but I honestly don’t know why Abou Diaby plays for Arsenal. I was cursing his performance well before he stupidly headed in that own goal because he is such a lazy player. And I was even more infuriated when he stayed on the pitch as Denilson, Eboue and Arshavin were substituted. This guy has no big game intelligence and might be good against whipping boys like Portsmouth but doesn’t have the desire and drive to be top class.

He’s been around longer than players like Denilson and Song but for me, Diaby never looks like improving. I’ve said this for years now and my opinion hasn’t changed one bit. He is a liability and the problem is these mistakes keep happening time and time again. I honestly wonder how Wenger has so much patience with the guy. If you thought Adebayor was a lazy player, Diaby takes the biscuit. There’s no doubt he has some ability, but unfortunately we only see it when he’s bothered – which quite honestly isn’t enough.

And we have to mention the refereeing, because it was disgraceful. We should have been awarded two penalties (on Van Persie and Arshavin) in the space of 2 minutes but nothing was given. And I couldn’t believe how many fouls Valencia got away with in the first half without even getting booked. Evra did get book eventually but it took around 1,274 fouls before his name was in the book. And of course, Arsenal picked up 6 bookings to United’s 2 even though the home side produced a lot more fouls over the 90 minutes.

We all know about the disgusting songs aimed at Arsene at Old Trafford too, and the ridiculous sending off so I won’t go over old ground again.

Then we come to the Manchester City game.

I always look to see who the referee is before an Arsenal game, and funnily enough I was confident when I saw Mark Clattenburg’s name come up. I’ve always thought he was a decent referee, but not yesterday.

I only caught some German highlights yesterday and obviously it only showed the major incidents, so excuse me if I am incorrect in my interpretation of the game.

What I saw wasn’t a white-wash from Citeh.

Their opener came from a lucky Almunia own-goal. Can you blame the Spaniard for the goal? Who knows. People have said that he didn’t shuffle his legs over enough and others just put it down to back luck. And it looked like Micah Richards was offside (not unlike Gallas was for our disallowed equaliser at Old Trafford). When it rains, it definitely pours.

Manuel Almunia hasn’t had the best start to the season, and has only kept one clean sheet in 6 games so far which was against Celtic at Parkhead. And to be fair, Gallas and Vermaelen were immense that day and he didn’t have many saves to make. The problem is should a top-class keeper be conceding so many goals for a side like Arsenal?

The second half saw Tomas Rosicky’s introduction and it seemed like his presence gave Arsenal the charge they needed, and Robin Van Persie scored an excellent goal after turning Lescott (not for the first time this season) and drilling the ball into the bottom corner with his weaker foot.

From what I saw from the coverage, the reason Arsenal lost was partly because they were unlucky and partly because they were hell bent on going for the win. And our attitude to never give up and always score is one of the reasons why were are were we are.

That’s not a criticism, but an observation.

It looked like Arsenal had a hell of a lot more chances than City did. Van Persie came close several times, including a shot which hit the post. Gallas had a header cleared off the line and Shay Given (as you would expect) showed his quality and was called to make several top drawer saves.

On the balance of play, a 4-2 defeat is pretty harsh.

But now to the encouraging news.

Yes, we’ve lost 2 games in 4 and in seasons gone by, I would be the first to criticise the team for a lack of effort, heart and desire. But that doesn’t seem the case this season.

The biggest problem I’ve had with Arsenal teams that have lost games (remember Fulham and Hull last season) was the lack of desire. I couldn’t care less how much ability you have, if you didn’t give 110% when you wore an Arsenal shirt then I found that extremely annoying. Regular readers will know that I loved players like Ray Parlour because he would die in an Arsenal shirt. Obviously, I don’t really want to see our players actually dying but determination is paramount for me.

And that hasn’t been our problem this season.

If we apply the same attitude over this campaign then I won’t be worried about what the season holds for Arsenal. For me, the reasons for our defeats have been down to a combination of bad luck, and the desire to win.

Leading 1-0 at Old Trafford, if we closed the game out we probably could have left with all 3 points. Even at 1-1, when we gifted them a goal we probably could have left with a point. But that’s not in our nature, and unfortunately we were punished for it.

It was the same story in the blue half of Manchester. We pegged it back to 1-1 but got caught on the counter-attack trying to score the winner. In both games, at the vital times we were on top but then got hit with a sucker punch. Don’t get me wrong, along with the back luck we have to eliminate the stupid individual mistakes from players like Diaby and Almunia, but we’re not a million miles away from everyone else.