It was one of those matches we have been getting used to in the previous eight years, slumps that we knew would happen. The problem is, we were not the only one to know that. Our opponents announced before the match that they were going to beat us on penalties and so they did it. Sure, someone could find excuses for tonight’s defeat in the absence of Koscielny, Diaby, Walcott and Giroud, missed opportunities, cold weather in Bradford, unlucky penalties from Chamakh and Vermaelen…but all those excuses are beaten by the simple fact: Arsenal lost to the fourth-tier side (and not even the best one). The truth is, whereas Arsenal is a great club and always will be, this Arsenal is not a great team. Current lack of winning mentality and world-class players is a direct result of Arsenal’s transfer policy in previous years. It would be naive to think we are going to sign reinforcements that would propel us to a Champions League spot. It’s not going to happen. Our nostalgia for the days of The Invincibles will be fed by Thierry’s loan, while it is unlikely we are going to spend money on a proper striker and a defensive midfielder because Wenger will stick with Gervinho and Diaby. I will be the happiest Gunner out there if it turns out I’m wrong.
Given that we are going through years of negative selection, it’s no wonder that this team can’t make more than two victories in a row and it’s no wonder we managed to win only 10 matches (in 90 minutes) out of 25 played this season (40 percent). At some point in tonight’s match, I started feeling sorry for Jack Wilshere. He could turn out to be our Steven Gerrard – he could dedicate his career to Arsenal, pick up armband eventually, wear it until his retirement and fail to win the Premiership.
Bradford have had a decent cup streak so far but they are a fourth-tier side. In any circumstance, 11 players in Arsenal shirts that are playing against fourth-tier side should go out on the field and impose themselves from the very first minute and score at least four goals before half-time. This team can’t do that because they rarely show up on the field before the 30th minute. Is it because a) they consider that they are paid enough only for 60 minutes of football, b) they were prepared so badly in pre-season that they need at least 30 minutes to turn their engines on or c) our manager is not capable of motivating them?
We had a preview of what would happen in the early exchanges. One of the rare Bradford players that looks like a very decent Premiership player, Nahki Wells, made Sczszesny save his shot. We started to take over, but we were shocked by another conceded goal from a set-piece. Jones took a free-kick from the left side of our defense and delivered a cross into our penalty box. Atkinson ran between Gibbs and Coquelin and flicked-on the ball to Thompson who smashed it to the roof of the net. Jones made more problems for our defense only a few moments later, but Gibbs cleared it away.
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We were trying to equalize but it wasn’t looking promising. Podolski’s free-kick that had hit the wall from a very promising position exemplifies what had happened during the larger part of the first half. However, we started to press more as the end of first half came closer. We needed some initiative in order to break Bradford’s wall and Coquelin was the first one to show how to break some bricks. He went past couple of defenders and then fired low shot that Duke couldn’t reach. Unfortunately, his shot was saved by the left post of Duke’s goal. Coquelin’s miss was one thing but what Gervinho missed a few minutes later is hard to describe. Wilshere and Gibbs combined with the latter making a low cross. Gervinho found himself in-front of the empty goal but that was too much for him. He barely touched the ball and it went wide.
We were nearly punished on the other side of the pitch. Duke’s distribution was simple – he kicked the ball as long as he could so the big man in Bradford’s attack, James Hanson, could flick-on for his quick and gifted partner in attack Wells. Wells went past Vermaelen but failed to finish it properly – his poke went just wide. It was the last chance in the first half-time in which we failed to have a shot on target, against a fourth-tier side.
We were struggling to find a proper chance in the second half. Ramsey, who was supposed to be a right-winger again, couldn’t find his shooting boots while Gervinho couldn’t find his walking boots. Even when the Ivorian used his pace, his touch of the ball – too clumsy – and decisions had let him down over and over again. Wenger tried to change something by introducing Chamakh, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky for likes of Coquelin, Podolski and Ramsey. It was a good move given that we started to dominate mostly because of Rosicky’s decent link-up play with Cazorla which enabled us to create some space in-front of opponents’ goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first one to test Duke’s abilities but he was denied by the hosts’ goalkeeper. Chamakh tried with the header, Oxlade-Chamberlain tried with the shot but there was no equalizing goal for us. It seemed Wilshere had got angry because of it and made a solo-effort in order to equalize but his shot was deflected by Duke. Unsurprisingly, there were neither Gervinho nor Chamakh anywhere close to put the ball inside the net. Oxlade-Chamberlain missed another chance and it seemed like Bradford had earned semi-finals. However, we managed to grab a goal when nobody expected it. Cazorla took a corner, the Bradford defender cleared it back to Cazorla who had enough space to put delicious cross to Vermaelen at the far post. Our skipper headed his first goal of the season in order to equalize. Cazorla nearly cancelled extra-time with two powerful shots from outside the area but both times Duke managed to save it.
It was all Arsenal in the extra-times. We had the ball during most of the time but we couldn’t put it passed Matt Duke. Sagna managed to do that only to have his header cleared off the line. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gibbs and Cazorla tried to score but none of them managed to score our second goal of the night. Cazorla’s left-footed shot from about 30 yards almost broke the crossbar. The hosts tried to reach the penalties because they seem to be unbeatable on the penalties and they did it.
After Doyle scored the first with Sczszesny guessing right – the Polish goalkeeper slightly touched it – Cazorla tried to score after he missed a number of shots during the game. Unfortunately, Duke had read his intention and saved his shot to the left goalkeeper’s corner. Then it was Jones who converted penalty comfortably while our Moroccan no-goal-machine Marouane Chamakh had hit the right post of the goal. Sczszesny saved Darby’s shot while Wilshere slotted his penalty for 2-1. Connell made it 3-1 and gave huge burden to Oxlade-Chamberlain who had to score in order to keep Arsenal in the match. The young Englishman put the ball in the net but Bradford still had a chance to secure semi-finals with Ritchie Jones taking fifth penalty. However, his shot was saved by Sczszesny and Thomas Vermaelen could make things even in the fifth series of penalties. The Belgian stepped up but his penalty hit the left post of the goal and Bradford had qualified for the semi-finals. There it was – the only realistic chance for a trophy wasted by the so-called the best team Wenger has ever assembled (that phrase should go with the Bendtner’s about “the best striker in the world”).
on the game…
It’s disappointing, but congratulations to Bradford. They defended well [and] started stronger than us. In the second half of extra-time it was all us but we couldn’t convert our chances. They defended very well.
It was a typical cup game on a difficult but playable pitch. We lost on penalties, that unfortunately happened tonight. I cannot fault the effort. We have put the effort in [and] have given absolutely everything until the last minute. It was a typical English cup game and Bradford got on top of us in the end. We missed three penalties – that’s a lot to take.
They defended very well in their own half. The pitch was a bit slippery to get in behind. They defended very deep and played the ball forward. There was no space, no room.
on if he feared the worst when the game went to penalties…
When it goes to penalties, you know that you can win and you can lose. When you miss the first penalty, of course it’s difficult.
on if there is a psychological problem…
I don’t think so, no.
I feel we gave a lot. It’s difficult to make the game the whole time. We played with a very offensive team. What is disappointing is [we played] basically over an hour with five strikers basically, and couldn’t score. We created a lot of different situations. You have to say they defended very well. It’s difficult to play this kind of game. I know people will say ‘it’s League Two’, but a cup game is a cup game. In football you always have a chance if you give everything. They did that tonight and we put ourselves in a difficult situation by being 1-0 down.
on where the result leaves the season…
Where it leaves our season is to focus on the next game. Sport is about that. Win the next game [and] focus on the next game.
on if the team are embarrassed…
You feel embarrassed when you don’t give everything. I feel the team did fight and will be more disappointed and frustrated.
Sagna Mertesacker Vermaelen (c) Gibbs
Wojciech Sczszesny | 6.0: Couldn’t do much when the hosts scored. Made a couple of clearances and saved two penalties in the shoot-out.
Bacary Sagna | 5.0: Couldn’t create anything in attack, had his shot cleared off the line. The hosts scored from his side.
Per Mertesacker | 4.0: Was terrorized by Hanson in the air.
Thomas Vermaelen | 5.5: Our skipper scored his first goal of the season but wasn’t the best in defense with giving away the foul from which Bradford had took a lead and problems with handling Wells.
Kieran Gibbs | 5.5: More or less, similar like Sagna with the exception of the fact Gibbs created couple of chances in the second half, including a sitter for Gervinho.
Francis Coquelin | 6.0: Had a decent try that ended up on the left post. Was energetic but whole team suffered from bad-performance-itis in the first half.
Santi Cazorla| 6.5: He wasted a lot of shots and then missed a penalty as well. His shot against the woodwoork was the best move of the match, too bad it didn’t end with goal.
Jack Wilshere | 7.5: He had quiet first half but in the second he tried to carry his team-mates on his back. Energetic, looks like he cares, fights for Arsenal until the very last moment. Converted a penalty.
Aaron Ramsey | 4.0: He. Is. Not. A. Winger. Tried something but never got rewarded for his shots.
Lukas Podolski | 4.0: Arguably the worst player on the pitch. Fired promising free-kick straight into the wall.
Gervinho | 4.5: He had some space and a couple of crosses after Rosicky came in. However, his touch was horrible.
Marouane Chamakh | 4.0: Horrible. It is very hard to pick what was the worst Chamakh ability – his first touch, heavy as ten elephants with overweight-problems, his lack of quick decisions which frustrated his team-mates, especially Oxlade-Chamberlain. Rounded horrible performance with missed penalty in the shoot-out.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 6.0: Injected pace, tried to do something, opened the space in the right wing so our attacks went through that side of the pitch during bigger part of the match.
Tomas Rosicky | 7.0 : Had a great connection with Cazorla. Injected more creativity and forward balls. If only he took that Chamakh’s penalty… He should feature more in the forthcoming fixtures. We need some sharpness from the midfield.
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