Reflections on Kyiv

By on September 20, 2008
If you cant defend, you might as well score.

If you can't defend, you better score.

It wasn’t pretty, but it will do.  A very rare point from a trip to the eastern edges of the continent is nothing to cry about for Arsenal supporters; especially when one considers our trips there over the last ten years.  In fact, it almost wasn’t a point at all.  Another late, game-winning goal from William Gallas may prove crucial in how this group actually ends up in December.

Kyiv were determined to clog the midfield, marking tightly and being content to go forward mostly in counterattacks.  Arsenal, as excpected, held the lion’s share of the possession but were unable to break through consistently.  Cesc never hit his stride in the match, and while the defensive midfield tandem of Denilson and Song proved effective enough in our half, they didn’t provide much assistance to Cesc in going forward.  This allowed the well-organized Kyiv midfield to really swarm and press him.  Overall a frustrating night for the Spaniard, who, after 2 games in 4 days following a two-match international break, seems to still be finding his legs a bit.  Thankfully, this isn’t a lineup we should see regularly, even away in Europe, when either Nasri or Rosicky are fit.

Theo Walcott once again proved himself a handful wide on the right.  The kid has been absolutely irrepressible so far this season and he is only going to get better and more confident as he continues piling up performances like he has in the last two weeks.  Kyiv didn’t have the legs to keep up with Theo, especially their left-back who resorted to Bolton/Barton-type tactics of dealing with technical superiority.  The final late sliding tackle on Walcott easily could’ve been a sending-off and should’ve been in light of the fact that he had at least 2 book-worthy offences already in the match.  As Arsene and the young, but mature Theo know, he’s going to have to deal with this all season long and for many to come.  He has already shown his ability to take it in stride and not let it put him off his game and that bodes well for his future.

The Kyiv result is made all the more bitter because of two things: the misses and the penalty.  Fabregas, van Persie, twice, and Adebayor all had chances in the first half which should’ve been converted.  To not convert two or three quality chances inside the box in a tough Champions League away match should cause concern; it’s an all-too-chilling reminder of Arsenal’s profligacy in and around the box in recent years, something which we all hopefully look for signs of its disappearance every August and September.  While so far this season, Arsenal don’t seem to be falling into that trap as much, Kyiv shows that the “Battle of Overplay” is not yet over.

I’ve mentioned this before as something that disturbs me about the club: lack of urgency.  Even at one-nil down, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency in the team’s game until we hit the 80th minute.  At that point, they go into the football equivalent of a blitzkrieg.  Now, you can’t attack completely balls-out like that for thirty or forty minutes, as it left us exposed in the back a few times (once leading a to a poorly executed 2v1), but even a sliver of that urgency would be more than welcome as soon as the team finds themself gone down.

As for the penalty, I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.  Bangoura seemed to get away a bit of slickness at Sagna’s expense.  You can’t blame Cantalejo too much for calling it the way he did, as it looked very much like a penalty in real-time.  However, on the replay, it seemed pretty clear that Bangoura instigated the whole thing by wrapping his arms around Sagna and even pulling him down.  Sagna’s natural instinct would’ve been to break his fall by putting his arms out, which did very much look like he was pushing Bangoura down from behind.

So, should Arsenal feel aggrieved that they held the most possession, created the most chances, and went behind on a dodgy penalty?  Of course we should, but it’s become such a common scenario in recent years that, more than feelings of aggrievement, we tend to just feel a sense of quiet exasperation.  That it took place in an away match to Kyiv from which we still took a point will just keep that exasperation a little quieter than usual.