I can quite comfortably say that the 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen from an Arsenal team. There were slightly mitigating circumstances because of injuries and changes to the team, plus it was in the least important of the four competitions, but that doesn’t change the fact it was not good enough both quality-wise and effort-wise from the Gunners.
I don’t think it’s a sign of things to come or a result that will affect the overall positivity surrounding the club at the moment, but it was just incredibly disappointing to see such an insipid performance from a team representing Arsenal Football Club.
Looking back at the week preceding the League Cup exit does show that the club is a good place, so while a cup defeat is always diapoitning, the biggest worry for the fans and Arsene Wenger is about the injuries picked up by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. Within 20 minutes, both had to be replaced because of muscle injuries, and with Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Danny Welbeck all unavailable, the Gunners’ squad is being stretched ahead of another big week with Bayern Munich and the North London derby following the weekend trip to Swansea.
It leaves the manager with very few options on the right of midfield, with Joel Campbell the only real recognised option left. The Costa Rican hardly inspired confidence that he’s ready to step and contribute with his showing in Sheffield on Tuesday night. The hope will be that when playing alongside Ozil et al, he’ll be able to raise his level compared to when he was playing alongside a few young rookies at Hillsborough.
While I understand the frustration at Arsene Wenger’s team selection on Tuesday, the sight of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott walking down the tunnel with injuries highlighted exactly why he left out so many key players. It wasn’t out of disrespect to Sheffield Wednesday, it was to give his big guns a break and protect them for the bigger games ahead. We’d never hear the end of it if Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez made an appearance and then missed the next week because of picking up a knock in the Capital One Cup.
The loss of both quick options in the front three did contribute to Arsenal’s inability to create any chances in the game on Tuesday. I felt for Olivier Giroud as he had no service for the whole evening. He was fantastic against Everton because the midfielders looked to get the ball into him and play around the Frenchman. Despite running across the centre-backs and offering himself to receive the ball, Giroud never got it on Tuesday as the midfield seemed incapable of playing a forward pass. It was an incredibly tough night for youngster Glen Kamara on his debut in central midfield as, alongside Mathieu Flamini, there was no urgency or creativity in the middle of the pitch for Arsenal.
Arsenal’s back four did have a more experienced look to it, but was found wanting as the lack of game time afforded to three of the four that started the game really showed as they looked rusty. In particular, Mathieu Debuchy struggled. It’s a shame to see such a good player suffer a decline in the way he has done, but Hector Bellerin won’t have lost any sleep about his place in the team following the Frenchman’s performance.
It’s hard to have cohesion when a team is thrown together because of injuries and the need to rest others, but none of the youngsters and reserves stuck their hand up demanding to be involved in the first team more often. Some need to find form fast as the injuries picked up at Hillsborough now mean that Arsene Wenger will be relying on those who let him, and the travelling fans, down massively on Tuesday night.
Finally, a quick word on the abomination of a kit that Arsenal wore on Tuesday. It is an atrocious effort from Puma, and while it shouldn’t really make a difference, a large part of me thinks that it would have been harder for Arsenal to put in such a lethargic performance had they been wearing red and white (which was possible because of the hosts’ traditional colours) as it would have served as a constant reminder to the players of who they were representing.