After Oldham knocked out Everton, Coventry beat Blackburn and Huddersfield embarrased Birmingham, the game against Burnley always had the potential to be a banana skin tie. The pitch was awful, the conditions not much better and the atmosphere electric – maybe what one might call a traditional FA Cup tie. Wenger went with a second string similar to those sent out by Everton and Birmingham and to be honest we got away with it. However, this is the 3rd round of the cup, the tie was a tricky one and we got through it with a 2-0 victory, despite Burnley being the better side, they just couldn’t break us down.
The difference between the two sides was quality in front of goal. This was exemplified after only 10 minutes. In the 2nd minute Lafferty hit the bar from a free header and within minutes Eduardo was sent clear by a fine pass from Toure, before almost walking the ball in. The guy is just so calm in front of goal, it seems he will score everytime he is put through on goal; when he missed later on he looked gobsmacked; that can only be a good thing. It says something that he is only one away from being the joint top scorer for us this season. This is what Burnley did not have in their side.
Their early chance came from some rather sloppy defending. Senderos was beaten to the ball from his lack of pace, Toure was caught on the wrong side of his man, leaving Sagna on the cover. The full back had lost his man and had Lafferty been slightly more accurate, the game would have been very different. From then on though the defence was fantastic. On many occasions this season we have shown grit and determination and today was no different.
I have been worried about this day for a while; the day Toure goes off to the African Cup of Nations. He showed today how much we will miss him with an awesome display; he led the back four brilliantly and made some crucial interventions. I was interested to see how Senderos would cope in a tricky tie such as this one and I have to say I was impressed. He dealt with everything in the air and his positioning countered his lack of pace; after his early lapse that is. The real question is whether he can show the same ability against Premiership strikers who will pose a far bigger threat than Burnley’s attack. Tuesday will give us a clear indication of what to expect as Tottenham will have a full strength side out, a big performance will be needed from Big Phil.
Otherwise, Wenger may go for Djourou, who was on the bench today, alongside Gallas. He has good pace and is decent in the air; he is actually very similar to Toure. He has played in the Premiership for half a season and this may have come about due to Wenger’s thoughts of using him in this period. Wenger could plunge him into the side on Tuesday but I reckon he will plump for the experience and leadership of Gallas now Song has gone for a month. Senderoes is always prone to the odd red card, Gallas the odd injury as shown in their Arsenal careers, Djourou will be ready to come in.
Whoever takes his place – Djourou, Senderos, even Sagna – at centre back will have a tough job to fill Kolo’s boots. He showed today his importance at the back, but also his ability to bring the ball out from the back and start attacks. He made Edaurdo’s goal with a sublime ball over the top and we have seen him do this throughout his role as a centre back in our defence. I hope Ivory Coast don’t do too well in the next few weeks, although I know how much it means to the Ivory Coast players to win such games.
We play Birmingham (h), Fulham (a), Fa Cup 4th round (tba), Newcastle (h), Man City (a), Blackburn (h). That takes us up to the 11th of February, the day after the Final in Ghana. Wenger will want Toure back asap after this as we play Milan on the 20th. Hopefully the squad we have can get through these fixtures ok.
One player I will not miss this month is Emmanuel Eboue. He was awful today; his passing, shooting and movement were all not up to standard. From the moment he blasted a shot inches wide of row Z, I thought: “here we go again”. He gave the ball away on countless occasions and failed to deliver a good cross of note all game. Hopefully Hleb or Walcott can come in and lay down their bid for his place in the team; that may cause him to buck up his ideas on his return.
I have to say, Traore also had a bit of a nightmare at left back. There is no doubt the guy is a fantastic talent but the pitch today called for sensible football, something we did not see from the frenchman. He was trying to be too clever on what was an awful pitch and when the ball needed to go long from our own area he tried to play his way out of trouble on far too many occasions. It is a good learning experience for him but a better performance will be required on Wednesday night. Diaby did not track back enough to help him but had some good moments going forward. He went past players a few times well but his passing was sloppy at times.
It was interesting to see the performances of Lehmann and Gilberto considering their positions at the club. Lehmann has been far more outspoken regarding his lack of playing time, but both have been out the side for an awful long time. Lehmann did what he had to do well, although he was rarely threatened with anything difficult after the early header. I feel he will be off soon if a good enough offer comes in, otherwise he will be here till the summer. Gilberto, as Wenger has said, is a model professional and will always give 100% when called upon. He has looked sluggish when he has come on at times this season but looked assured today. His passing was solid and he made some good interceptions. My only worry is how off the pace he has looked when called upon and the lack of drive and urgency in his game, something Flamini and Diarra have shown. He is definitely the Burnley fans’ no.1 player right now!!
I mentioned Diarra but what’s going on with him? Surely he would have been in the 16 man squad if Wenger wanted him to stay. He remains free to play in the FA Cup should he move on to an English side. Personally, I think we must keep him at Arsenal. He has done very well when he has started and in the Blackburn in particular he was amazing, dominating the midfield against a top Premier League side. Unless Wenger is considering using him a lot more in recent weeks I feel he might be off. He will play against Spurs but so will Traore, Senderoes, Eduardo etc. Due to his importance in the Carling Cup side, maybe Wenger wants him 100% ready, but for me there is something more to it. Hopefully he has been left out while his future is decided and Wenger can persuade him to stay.
I have mentioned Eduardo already and his calmness in front of goal but to expand it further, I call on people’s reaction when he went clean through. I knew he would score the first and was so excited when Bendter played him in during the second half. That is the sureness in the Croation to hit the back of the net. I was as surpirsed as he was when he missed and that bodes well for the rest of the season. I bet many more fans felt the same??? He also showed his passing game has come on leaps and bounds. It took him time to settle into the side but today he was coming short to link play, no more effectively than when he cut the defence wide open for Bendtner to score. That partnership has come on very well which is pleasing. With Van Persie out, Adebayor a doubt, it is good these two are playing well together. In games together they have scored many goals:
Burnley 0 Arsenal 2 – Eduardo x1, Bendtner x1
Arsenal 4 Everton 1 – Eduardo x 2
Blackburn 3 Arsenal 2 – Eduardo x 2
Sheffield United 0 Arsenal 3 – Eduardo x2
Slavia Prague 0 Arsenal 0
Sevilla 3 Arsenal 1 – Eduardo x1
Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0 – Bendtner x1
They have started together in 7 games together and scored 10, 2 for Bendtner and 8 for Eduardo. I know Eduardo has scored far more but Bendtner has played a part in a lot of these goals and the partnership is blossoming well for us.
Today Bendtner was not brlliant, pretty poor actually, but he took his goal well and had a few good moments when he linked up with Edaurdo. In the first half he was anonymous; he came short a few times but lost the ball most of the time. He had one great effort; creating a chance from nothing with an acrobatic overhead kick. The second half was similar as he came short a few times only to lose the ball. He played Eduardo through after some neat build up play between the two but summed up his afternoon shortly after. The ball was laid off by Eboue and the ball ran to Bendtner. He swung, missed the ball and ended up with mud on his arse. The pitch did not help but the whole thing was a disaster. As I said though, he got a goal after a brilliant run in behind and if he can get a goal in the middle of a poor performance, that is a good thing surely.
This team will be almost identical to the one that lines up against the enemy on Wednesday with a few changes.
All that is left, is to say goodbye to Toure and Eboue – good luck, I guess… (Id rather they were back soon) but it would mean a lot for them to win. Winning the competition would boost their confidence further which can only help us. Kolo, we will miss you, Eboue, not so much. Good luck Song, your career is turning around and this will give you even more experience.