Monday, 23 January 2012

Sub Par Mea Culpa

I would normally leave the Emirates after a 2-1 defeat to Manure feeling mighty depressed. That I didn't on this occasion is probably due to my more realistic expectations for the season: we're not going to win the league.

After a first half in which we were very nervous (poor passing, tentative tackling, hoofed clearances), I thought we were lucky to reach half-time only 1 goal down. The Mancs had played well enough to be 2 or 3 up, damn them.

Of course, all teams miss chances, which we proceeded to prove in spectacular fashion when first van Persie and then Rosicky passed up near open goals early in the second half. We deserved the equaliser for our spririted fightback, but we were obviously flying on a wing and prayer.

Both our full-backs were having poor games, in part because Carrick was allowed enough time in the middle of the park to launch long balls to their wingers. Ramsey and Rosicky weren't closing him down quickly enough. Arguably, van Persie should have dropped deeper and compressed their lines.

Wenger has come in for much criticism for his substitution of The Ox, both at the time and subsequently, but it seemed a reasonable call to me. The youngster was great in attack but he left Djourou (and then Yennaris) badly exposed, and it's likely he was running out of gas. Theo was left on, I think, because he offered his full-back more cover.

I'd personally have gambled in leaving the The Ox on, at least for another 10 minutes, perhaps bringing Benayoun on into the middle and pushing Rosicky out wide.

It looked like Wenger was going to make a double sub of Park and Arshavin just before the equaliser. Presumably the idea was to chase the game by getting Park to push on Carrick, which is largely what he did when he finally got on the pitch.

Putting the Russian on instead of Benayoun or Miquel looked ambitious. We should perhaps have tried to hold out for a draw. I'd have been happy with that in the circumstances. Few fans seem to have noticed that Wenger subbed one attacker with another, or that he pushed Mertesacker up for the last 10 minutes. He was trying to win the game, not lose it.

Arshavin was adjudged to be responsible by many for Manure's winner, but the real error was Vermaelen drifting into the centre instead of coming out to double-up on Valencia. An echo of his error for their first goal. He instinctively positions himself as a centre-back, and why not.

Our fundamental problem remains a lack of full-backs due to injury. This makes us vulnerable down the flanks, but it also limits our ability to create 2-on-1 situations in attack, a key feature when playing 4-5-1.

One thing that did occur to me while watching the TV highlights later is the unfairness of asking a manager to justify a substitution. If he gets it right, particularly if the sub scores an 89th minute winner, he is congratulated for his tactical masterstroke. This ignores the fact that what the substitution achieved may not have been what the manager intended, i.e. he may have benefited from luck more than judgement.

Conversely, if the sub concedes a goal, the accusation thrown at the manager is essentially "you did that!" Both attitudes assume far more control on the part of the manager than is credible. Given that stress is the result of expectation exceeding control of outcome, you can see why managers react peevishly when asked to justify their action.

The response among Arsenal fans has been over the top. As usual, all you can hear is the shouting. The Gooner even suggests this is evidence of "the onset of senility." If he had tried to send on Pat Rice, maybe.

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