Saturday, 29 October 2011

Time to shoot for the (blue) moon...

Carling Cup Quarter Final Draw:
Chelsea v Liverpool
Manchester United v Crystal Palace
Arsenal v Manchester City
Cardiff City v Blackburn Rovers

After two fairly fortuitous third and fourth-round home draws against Shrewsbury Town and Bolton Wanderers, it was about time Arsenal got a tougher test - arguably, that was somewhat inevitable anyway, given the quality left in the last eight. However Manchester City represent perhaps the greatest challenge of all the teams still in the Carling Cup - the strength in depth of their enormous squad means that even a second string City side would rival the Arsenal first team in terms of big-game experience. We do at least have a chance at the Emirates, but you would still hope that Wenger will field a stronger - or at least a more experienced - eleven than the team that featured against Bolton.

Having said that, the team performed fairly well on Tuesday, fighting back from a 1-0 deficit with spirit and determination. At right-back Nico Yennaris marshalled Tuncay effectively, and Miquel did the same to a lesser extent on the left. He struggled on occasion against the lively and inventive Gael Kakuta, but then, as a centre-half, the young Spaniard was effectively playing both out of position and out of his comfort zone. Vermaelen played well before going off after 85 minutes while his partner in the middle, Sebastian Squillaci, also did a decent job. He made his first start of the season and betrayed a lack of match practice by picking up a yellow card on 26 minutes, but otherwise remained largely error-free.

For once Coquelin and Frimpong were less effective, struggling to dominate the midfield, and both were guilty of dwelling on the ball and being caught in possession too often. In particular, Fabrice Muamba - himself an ex-Arsenal player - seemed keen to demonstrate his abilities. Darren Pratley also showed his Championship footballing education (five seasons at Swansea) by battling well.

Given starting places in the first eleven and a brief to create chances, both Benayoun and Arshavin (the latter finally given licence to attack from the the centre rather than the wing) displayed trickery and guile. Chamberlain and Park similarly were out to impress, and both were full of endeavour. After his heroics against Shrewsbury the young winger perhaps felt the weight of expectation and didn't quite manage to produce the moments of magic that have lit up recent England U-21 prformances, for example. Our South Korean striker - also in fine international form - has clearly undergone a steep learning curve since joining from Monaco. He looked useful, however, and capped his display with a finely taken goal. That will certainly give Wenger selection dilemmas, particularly in comparison to the troubled Marouane Chamakh. After the game Arsene said that he now considers Park to be ready for the Premier League, and indeed the South Korean has a place on the bench at Stamford Bridge with Chamakh conspicuously absent from the matchday squad.

The Bolton win was merited but far from emphatic, and the Trotters threatened regularly - looking worryingly potent for a team currently mired in the Premier League's relegation zone. As such Arsenal will need a more composed display if they are to get past City to reach the semi-finals of the Carling Cup. The team also flagged visibly against Bolton as the second half waned. Admittedly, this competition has to realistically be lowest in the list of priorities for the Gunners this season - at the same time, however, many feel that only another crack at the elusive three-handled trophy will finally expel the demons still haunting the team after last season's capitulation to Birmingham.

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