Match report: The wait goes on

Wembley

Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City

As a football fan you roll with the highs, but you also have to cope with the lows. Barcelona, a few weeks ago, was as good as it gets. Yesterday, losing in the last minute to an amateur defensive error, was of course the opposite.

You could line up the disappointing aspects of that game and ask them to form an orderly queue, but for me the most frustrating thing was the way we played. We had good, short bursts in each half, and plenty of possession, but overall the Arsenal that we wanted to see just wasn’t there for enough of the game. We did make Ben Foster work at times, and scored a superb equaliser, but we just didn’t do enough. I have no idea why.

Of course, credit to Birmingham. They hustled and harried, knew our weaknesses, played to them well, and it worked. We were undone by bad defending at a set piece and by a freak defensive howler. Had we played better it may not have mattered. But in a tight game like yesterday’s, those mistakes were pivotal. They deserved to win and you can’t begrudge them a first major trophy since 1963. That’s a lot more than a six year wait.

We missed Walcott and Fabregas, but that’s no excuse. Most of our best XI was out there but how many of them can you say played the game of their lives? Wilshere was tireless again but he couldn’t do it all on his own. There’s little point hauling players over the coals but I do look at Rosicky with increasing frustration these days. I don’t think he’s done enough in recent weeks to merit a starting place in a cup final, and he struggled again yesterday. But there you go – he wasn’t the only one.

As for the goals, well both were easily avoidable. It was not the finest hour for Koscielny or Szczesny. I imagine they’re feeling particularly blue this morning.

It was a big test, and we failed it. Wenger desperately wanted to win this to push on and hush the naysayers, but the wait goes on. He’ll be as frustrated as anyone that we did not rise to the occasion. Were we hampered by the ‘need’ to win something? We could debate that until the cows came home.

The fans filing out at the end were pretty mutinous (‘Wenger get your chequebook out’ being a familiar refrain). There’s nothing wrong with letting off steam at the end of a bitter defeat. It was pretty hard to be anything other than downbeat.

I dipped into the interwebs and sure enough, there are already acres of newsprint dedicated to the potential psychological effect of this defeat on our prospects for the rest of the season. Certainly, it will be hard to shake off. But luckily for us we have a very winnable FA Cup replay on Wednesday. Better that way than a ten-day wait to stew on things.

The reaction again the O’s will be interesting. The team Wenger picks will be interesting.

Ah well, onwards and upwards.

Need a pick-me-up? Own an iPhone? Here’s a wallpaper made from the ’92 away shirt to cheer you up.

Yours, Disappointed of London

Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

Another big game, another defeat, and the unwelcome stat about our record against Chelsea and Man Utd can be dusted down, edited and bandied about. I’ll spare you the pain of repeating it but it doesn’t make pretty reading.

I was confident, if we played as we are capable of playing, that we would give Utd a very good game last night. We never crumbled defensively and we acquitted ourselves well physically (a little more robustly than was needed at times, even), but we were horribly toothless and in the end, nobody can complain that we came away with the mandatory nul points from Old Trafford.

It has become a familiar refrain for the fans and you have to wonder whether the same sense of fatalism when encountering these fixtures has also affected the players. We played well within ourselves from a creative point of view. No doubt Utd’s gameplan partly involved cutting off the supply lines and disrupting our rhythm at the earliest opportunity and those two things made our performance disjointed. Well it worked. We found no real way through and didn’t look like finding one.

No, they are not the best Utd team ever seen but they play for each other, they do not let up and they adapt very impressively from team to team and match to match. They are unbeaten in the league all season and while that might be a little fortuitous (we had a bit of that luck ourselves in 2004 to remain unbeaten) it also tells you that they retain the art of not losing even when not at their best.

Oh for a bit of that ourselves. We have now lost five league games and when playing below our best, it is clear to all comers that we are beatable.

At some point or other the discussion will loom as to whether this team is merely experiencing growing pains, or whether more unpalatably, too many of them are simply not good enough or lack the required mental edge to move up a level. You will forgive me for not having that conversation now.

One or two players deserve a mention of sorts. Szszesny came in for his first ever league start in the game you would least want to make your debut in and did very well. He’s a tall lad – much taller than the Flaps – and he has a commanding air about him. He was a little nervous as you might expect but given the circumstances, I thought he was superb. He made several good saves and could not be cricitised for their goal. For all that, the merry-go-round that is our goalkeeping situation cannot be doing anyone any good. I know Fabianski was injured last night (albeit not enough to not be on the bench) and will no doubt come back on Saturday, but the fact that some of us were talking about retaining Szczesny as number one on the back of one performance tells you all you need to know. Arsene, who is our number one? Who will be our number one next season?

Clichy came in for a bit of flak too (from me as much as anyone) and is another of those players who divides opinion. He looked shaky at times last night but in his defence, he had zero help from the man in front of him, Arshavin, who had a stinker of a game. I’ve defended the Russian all season but last night it was something akin to a miracle that he lasted as long as he did.

Overall, a really disappointing, but let’s be honest, not unexpected result.

We simply move onto the next game against Stoke. I don’t know what to expect from that as much as I didn’t know what to expect from last night. We could be one thing or we could be another.

All I do know is that we are still up there – eye-rubbingly, perhaps remarkably – in contention and with Man Utd & Chelsea locking horns on Sunday, we can go top of the table.

Yes, I know. It’s all a bit nuts.