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See below for match highlights followed by Arsene Wenger’s post-match interview.
Tuesday’s match with AZ Alkmaar was full of déjà vu on so many levels. Arsenal created a similar amount of chances to most of their other matches this season. Also, our inability to take our chances and kill the game off with the second goal was reminiscent of last season. The goal conceded in the final minute was not only reminiscent of the kind of things that happened last season but also to the first Blackburn goal a few weeks ago.
We never looked comfortable all evening when balls came flying into the box. Five of the eleven goals Arsenal have conceded in the league this season have come from set plays and it is, without doubt, our most glaring weakness at the moment.
Robin van Persie had two quality chances, one after he calmly brought the ball down in the box and made enough space to get a shot off right at the keeper. Another went just over the bar after deflecting off the keeper. The goal came from high pressure from Arshavin with van Persie eventually pulled it back to find an open Cesc coming on unmarked at the far post.
It really is so disappointing to completely control and an away tie in the Champions League only to concede in the final minute from a deep ball into the box because of a momentary loss of concentration. Of course, Arsenal should have been awarded a penalty when Dembeledu clipped Carlos Vela from behind in the box in the 84th minute. From the replay, it is obvious that Vela was fouled, and even more disappointing was that the referee looked to be in a very good position to make the call.
Vito Mannone continued in goal despite the apparent fitness of Manuel Almunia, who did not look very pleased on the bench this past weekend during the Birmingham match. It’s obvious now that Almunia has fallen out of favor with Wenger after a few shaky performances earlier this season. It appears he has SERIOUSLY fallen out of favor.
Mannone has deputized well, but if Arsene doesn’t want to go with Almunia, then, for me, it has to be Fabianski. Mannone has done well to get experience in both the league, against smaller teams, and in Europe, but I would not be comfortable heading into the knockout stages of the Champions League or big league matches against Chelsea or United with him in goal. At least, not yet. The achievement on his part is that I could easily see him developing that kind of confidence in me if he continues to play well and cuts out some of the mental errors.
Yet, this should prove a great learning experience to this side, who seem to have already gotten used to pounding teams that are not of their calibre. Luckily, this was hardly a must-win match for is, in the way their match against Lyon was for Liverpool. An away point in the Champions League to the Dutch champions isn’t anything to worry about and with three matches remaining, Arsenal stand one win away from certain qualification.
However, in the league this absolutely would not do. We are four points off the lead with a game-in-hand. If we secured the points-in-hand, the match is against Bolton, tentatively scheduled for December 2nd unless we should progress past Liverpool in the Carling Cup, then we would be level with the Chelsea side all the pundits have been falling all over themselves about for the last two months.
But, with the way the club is generally playing, and considering the strength, or lack thereof, of our remaining Group Stage fixtures, it is fairly easy to not get too upset over last night’s result. I’m disappointed, sure, but getting a learning experience from a draw is better than getting from a loss and I believe this result will prove a lesson, especially to the younger players.
In other news, Samir Nasri came through his return to action in the Reserves’ 2-2 draw vs Wolves last night along with Lukasz Fabianski. Nasri set up the opening goal by Gilles Sunu. Also, some of the press seems to be coming around and recognizing the potential of this Arsenal side. Arsenal have a big week ahead of us, away to West Ham on Sunday, Liverpool at home in the Carling Cup on Wednesday, and, of course, the early-kickoff North London derby on Saturday, the 31st.