[Referring to a suicide pill they have both been given, after being captured by French revolutionaries]
Baldrick: I’m glad to say you won’t be needing that pill, Mr. B.
Blackadder: Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words “I have a cunning plan” marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?
Baldrick: They certainly are.
Blackadder: Well, forgive me if I don’t do a cartwheel of joy; your record in this department is hardly 100%. So what is it?
Baldrick: We do nothing…
Blackadder: Yup, it’s another world-beater.
Baldrick: No, wait. We do nothing… until our heads have actually been cut off.
Blackadder: And then we… spring into action?
The quote above is from one of my favourite TV-shows ever “Black Adder the Third”. Watching our team struggling to score a single goal against a Championship side at home just a few days before one of the strongest (if not the strongest) European teams arrives in London reminded me of a repeated line “I have a cunning plan” that Baldrick (played by Tony Robinson) usually said whenever he and his master Black Adder where in trouble. The line was used from good intentions, but it only rubbed salt to Blackadder’s wounds.
I want to believe that our performance against Blackburn was exactly that – a cunning plan that will inject all complacency of the world in Bayern in order to make them underperform at Emirates on Tuesday. It can also be used as metaphore for our transfer policy in the January transfer window regarding attacking options.
There is a huge hole in that “cunning plan” – this team of ours, one that was named the “best he has ever assembled” by Arsene Wenger, haven’t made any positive upsets this season in terms of beating any opponents that are better than us (FAnchester United, Manchester Oilers, Chavs) while on the other hand have had too many negative surprises (Sunderland, Swansea, Schalke, Norwich, Aston Villa). More disappointingly they have suffered two big humiliations in terms of being knocked out of both domestic cups by lower division sides (Bradford in League Cup, Blackburn in FA Cup). Or, to say it more properly: this Arsenal would lose against Inter 0-3 at home as well as The Invincibles did, but this Arsenal would never win in the reverse fixture, not to mention winning the game 5-1.
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We can hide the truth behind the fact Wenger was resting Sagna, Mertesacker and Podolski while Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott were given just 20 minutes or that Mike Dean was the referee today, but it won’t change the fact we lost to an opponent that conceded seven goals at the Emirates only a year ago. But that side of ours had the likes of Van Persie and Henry in the squad.
Arsene Wenger made a few surprises in starting 11. Coquelin was given an opportunity at right full-back in the absence of Jenkinson while Sagna was on the bench. Koscielny and Vermaelen were in the starting line-up despite the expectations that neither of them would start in order to stay fit for Bayern. Midfield and attack were mostly predicted – Diaby and Rosicky took places of Wilshere and Cazorla while Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho started on the wings instead Podolski and Walcott.
We were almost shocked at the very start. Markus Olsson had a great chance to score after Pedersen’s cross from the free-kick but he sent the ball wide from the left side of our penalty box. We started to take control of the ball but millions of corners and more than 70 percent of possession didn’t give us any clear-cut chances. Koscielny’s header didn’t have enough power as French defender was coming back to the ground when he hit the ball.
In the middle of the first half, we saw real action in front of Kean’s goal. Rosicky’s corner was met by Diaby, it was powerful header, but Kean made first great save of the game. Another one came after Vermaelen’s header that didn’t promise too much. For the best chance of the first half we had to wait until 43rd minute. Rosicky made a brilliant through pass to Gervinho who was running onto goalkeeper. He was one-on-one with Kean (with two Blackburn defenders coming close), he had all the space one could ask in order to finish but his shot went wide, taking Gervinho’s confidence with it.
We went with the same team in the second half as well with one tactical change – Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain swapped their positions. Again, it was the visitors that had the first chance and again it was after Pedersen’s cross. Scott Dann sent a header to the goal but Arteta cleared it off the line. We tried to respond via Giroud, Diaby and Oxlade-Chamberlain but those attempts didn’t bring anything except further frustration. Diaby’s long shots – strong or weak ones – were going off the mark. Rosicky made an attempt as well but it was weak one. Diaby had another header too but it went over the bar as well as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s bicycle-kick.
Wenger already decided to make a few substitutions in order to break our opponents when Rosicky almost scored. Arteta nudged the ball to Rosicky who was approaching the D-zone from the left side. The Czech midfielder sent a powerful diagonal strike that a well-stretched Kean couldn’t get, but it only cannoned off the bar. Very soon after that shot Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott entered the pitch in order to replace Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and Gervinho. We still had 20 minutes to save ourselves from another replay. And we did it but not in a good way.
Just a minute after substitutions took place, we conceded a fatal goal. A long ball came to our box where Pedersen out-jumped Coquelin to make a chance for Olsson. Olsson fired a shot that was deflected by Sczszesny but only to Kazim-Richards who made another attempt to score. The ball had hit the ground before deflecting from the left post into the net.
Blackburn had already parked the bus in front of their goal but now it was comical. We were attacking in numbers with no fear from counter-attack as Rovers had no attacking ambitions left. Giroud was the first one to try to equalize but his header went over the bar. Monreal made one of his terrible attempts to score after Walcott’s cross but like every other time today, his final touch was clumsy. Giroud tried again as well as Diaby but neither of French players managed to put one past Kean who added couple of saves to his account. The vital one came just a minute later when Wilshere’s cross from byline was met by Walcott’s header but our best goal-scorer sent it straight into Kean.
Giroud had a brilliant chance but his shot was deflected by Scott Dann. A final attempt to give us another try in this season’s FA Cup went wide with Arteta’s shot in the last moments of the match. Arteta’s missed chance was probably the one that took last chance for some silverware in 2013 with itself.
But, who knows, maybe it will turn out that our cunning plan is to lose to Bayern as well so we can concentrate in taking the fourth spot. They say it’s like a trophy these days, don’t they? And, if we fail to win the fourth spot, that will mean our cunning plan is to underperform in order to chase away clubs who want to sign our best players. Or to get “An Alliteration Award”-trophy for being knocked out from cup competitions by Bradford, Blackburn and Bayern.
Well, forgive me if I don’t do a cartwheel of joy…
on any regrets over team selection…
No. We had 11 international players on the pitch at the start of the game. When we made the changes we were at 0-0.
on the performance…
We had a lot of the ball and [Blackburn] defended well. I believe we had 70 per cent of the ball, we had 16 shots at goal, they only had one shot at goal. For us it’s a typical cup game where it’s important not to concede and keep a clean sheet and I think we made a massive mistake on the goal. In a game like that it was down [to us] to keep a clean sheet and score in the final 15 minutes.
on the mistake on the goal…
I do not want to go too much into detail but I believe we were really guilty on the goal.
on losing to Bradford and now Blackburn…
If you look at the Premier League teams who went out against lower-league sides you will see it happened to many of them. We were not good enough to win the game, it is as simple as that.
on whether that is acceptable…
Not one defeat is acceptable. You are in this job to win every single game.
on the reaction of the fans…
I can understand it. You do not want your fans to be happy when you lose at home to Blackburn when the team has one shot at goal.
on where this defeat ranks…
It is very painful and very disappointing to lose a game like that. What is important now is to focus on the next one.
on missing out on two trophies…
Of course it is disappointing. It is very difficult to accept but it happened and we had enough chances to win, but we didn’t. Offensively we lacked ruthlessness and calm in front of goal. We didn’t make enough of our corners, and we were vulnerable on one mistake.
on how difficult this season has been…
The season is not over. For you maybe, not for me.
on facing Bayern Munich yet…
I think it is important to focus on our next game and it is a good opportunity to show that we have character and are men who can fight for each other. That is all you can do. You take a distance in terms of what people say and show how strong and good you are in the next game.
on lifting the team…
It is not difficult at all. It is our job. If we feel sorry for ourselves we would be completely wrong. We have a massive game on Tuesday night and we have to show that we some response in the team.
on the reaction to the defeat…
I leave all the headlines and the definite thinking to you. Football is much more unpredictable than that and I believe that 16 years without losing against a lower-league team, no one has done it so that means now up until now the record has been quite good. It is very disappointing that the two [defeats] have happened in the same season but I prepared these two in the same way that did in the 16 years before. If you lose a game people will be very unhappy, I am as well don’t worry.
Coquelin Koscielny Vermaelen (c) Monreal
Wojciech Szczesny | 5.5: Conceded a goal after making a save. He possibly could have done more with Olsson’s shot.
Francis Coquelin | 5.0: Was out-jumped by Pedersen before we conceded. Often tried to do something in attack given that the Blackburn bus didn’t require too many defenders.
Laurent Koscielny | 5.0: He was nowhere near the goal when we conceded so Blackburn had one player more in front of our box. Made a chance for Giroud that his country-mate missed.
Thomas Vermaelen | 5.5: He wasn’t very decisive when we conceded as he mis-judged where the ball was going to end. He didn’t do anything in attack.
Nacho Monreal | 5.5: He owned the left side of the pitch, mostly because of Blackburn negative tactics, but failed to do anything with the ball in the final third. His crosses were awful as well as goal-attempts as his touch was too heavy.
Mikel Arteta | 5.5: Missed the final chance of the game. Did his job in the middle but was too slow with passes as well as Diaby.
Abou Diaby | 5.5: He wasn’t scared to take a shot which is a good thing but the problem is none of them resulted with goal. His passing wasn’t good either as he usually slowed our game and stubbornly refused to use his weaker foot even when it was logical solution.
Tomas Rosicky | 7.0: Our best player today by far. He seemed to be a bit rusty at the beginning but he was getting better and better as time passed. Created a wonderful chance for Gervinho and sent a couple of great crosses from the corner but it wasn’t meant to be. Was taken off by Wenger although Diaby was the one that should had been substituted.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 6.0: He was trying in the first half but failed to do anything concrete. His link-up with Giroud wasn’t the best one and that didn’t change when Oxlade-Chamberlain swapped positions with Gervinho.
Gervinho | 5.0: He couldn’t score from his clear-cut chance and that was the moment when he ought to have been substituted. He made a few good runs on the left wing without a proper cross or shot and completely disappeared in the second half when he was sent on the right side.
Olivier Giroud | 5.0: He was mostly invisible in the first half and ineffective in the second. His first-touch passes were off the mark in almost every occasion.
Jack Wilshere | 6.0: Created one good chance after he went in but didn’t have enough time to create an equalizer.
Theo Walcott | 6.0: Had his chances but couldn’t save us again.
Santi Cazorla | 5.0: Too slow and without proper decisions when it comes to both passing and shooting.
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