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Wenger under siege as Frimpong red card costs Arsenal

Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2

Ramsey (og) 78, Suarez 90 (Frimpong sent off 70)

A late own goal and a Luis Suarez tap-in were enough to secure all three points for a workmanlike Liverpool side. The visitors benefitted greatly from Emmanuel Frimpong‘s sending off midway through the second half. Defeat leaves Arsenal goalless in their first two league games for the first time in 42 years, and a battling but limited performance will only heap further pressure on the under-fire Arsène Wenger, with jeers ringing round the half-empty Emirates Stadium at the final whistle.

Wenger surprisingly selected the supposedly Manchester City-bound Samir Nasri in the starting XI as a combination of injuries and suspensions forced four changes from the drab goalless draw at Newcastle last weekend. The Frenchman’s inclusion was doubly surprising after Nasri had been the target of an unflattering chant at St James’ Park, to which the player had subsequently responded on Twitter with some rancour. Theo Walcott joined Nasri in the front four, while Carl Jenkinson and Frimpong were handed their first senior starts in place of Kieran Gibbs and Alex Song:

Szczęsny

Jenkinson – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Sagna

Frimpong – Ramsey

Walcott  – Nasri – Arshavin

van Persie

For Liverpool, Luis Suarez was left on the bench as manager Kenny Dalglish opted to flood midfield and play Andy Carroll on his own up front, a role in which the giant striker had terrorised Arsenal when he visited with Newcastle last season.

April’s 1-1 draw at the Emirates featured the two latest goals of the 2010/11 Premier League season as Dirk Kuyt‘s 102nd-minute penalty – after that foul by Emmanuel Eboué – cancelled out fellow Dutchman Robin van Persie‘s 98th-minute spot kick.

Vermaelen had Carroll in his pocket throughout, but it was Liverpool who left with the three points in their pocket (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

All perspiration, no inspiration

Neither side could be faulted for effort but both lacked cohesion in a shapeless first half. Arsenal looked like a team in need of a fresh injection of talent. Liverpool looked like a side who had received a fresh injection of talent, but were still learning to play together. As a result, meaningful action was in scarce supply.

Szczęsny was the busier keeper throughout the game (image courtesy of arsenal.,com)

The muscular Emmanuel Frimpong occupied the holding role in midfield, and showed flashes of both potential and inexperience early on. He was lucky to escape punishment for a scything tackle on Daniel Agger, but was then booked for disputing a throw-in – a needless incident which he would later regret. On the plus side, he was strong in the tackle, fizzed with energy and showed a willingness to get forward, forcing a sprawling save from Jose Reina on the half-hour with a 25-yard pile-driver.

By then Liverpool, who had shaded the opening exchanges, had twice forced Wojciech Szczęsny into meaningful saves. Andy Carroll, who was otherwise comprehensively dominated by Thomas Vermaelen, rose above Bacary Sagna to force the Polish goalkeeper into a fine diving stop. And Jordan Henderson should have done better with another headed chance from 12 yards which lacked both the power and the direction to trouble Szczęsny unduly.

Another game, another defensive injury - this week Koscielny (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Carroll’s ineffectiveness was doubly surprising given Laurent Koscielny‘s early withdrawal with back spasms, to be replaced by Ignasi Miquel. The 19-year old Spaniard looked composed and assured on his league debut.

That Arsenal’s most threatening attacker was the want-away Samir Nasri summed up the paucity of Arsenal’s first half performance. In what is likely to be his last appearance for the club, the Frenchman seemed eager to leave on a good note, buzzing around eagerly in possession and carrying the ball 60 yards straight up the field before firing just wide of Reina’s post.

The rest of Arsenal’s front six were largely spectators. Theo Walcott was invisible, making just two passes before halftime; Andrey Arshavin equally so. Aaron Ramsey struggled to assert himself against Liverpool’s midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Charlie Adam and Henderson. Captain Robin van Persie was left to forage for scraps up front.

Sometimes a 0-0 scoreline at halftime is unrepresentative of the entertainment on offer. Not this time.

Frimpong’s dismissal makes the difference

Doubtless encouraged by Wenger in the dressing room, Arsenal started the second half more positively. Most noticeably Carl Jenkinson, who had understandably concentrated on his defensive duties in the first half, sprang forward more after halftime. Nonetheless Arsenal’s passing was too often inaccurate, their build-up too ponderous, and too frequently they did not get bodies forward into the danger area quickly enough. They would create just one real chance in the entire half, after Arshavin bundled Martin Kelly off the ball and, as Liverpool looked for a whistle that did not come, the Russian squared the ball for van Persie, whose first-time shot nearly squeezed through Reina’s legs.

He showed clear potential, but Frimpong's red card cost Arsenal at least a point (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

But just as Arsenal started to look like taking control of the game, the initiative was ripped from them in the 70th minute. Frimpong, who had steadily improved as the match had progressed, arrived late and with studs raised in a challenge with Lucas Leiva. It was not a malicious tackle but it was a dangerous one, and he was perhaps fortunate to receive only a second yellow rather than a straight red. His sending off means Arsenal will now travel to Manchester United next week without both their recognised holding midfielders.

Arsenal were forced to reorganise, with Arshavin giving way to Henri Lansbury. At the same time Liverpool sent on Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles in place of Carroll and Dirk Kuyt.

Having struggled to break down Arsenal 11-against-11, the tide now swung inexorably the visitors’ way. Suarez and Stewart Downing were thwarted by Szczęsny in rapid succession. A goal was in the offing, but when it eventually arrived it came courtesy of a huge slice of good fortune. Miquel tracked Suarez’s run into the box – replays showed the Uruguayan was marginally offside – but his attempted clearance cannoned off Ramsey’s chest and looped into the net.

A man down and without any attacking impetus, one goal was always likely to be too much for Arsenal to recover, but Suarez made the game safe bang on 90 minutes, accepting a tap-in from Meireles’ precise low cross. Cue the final whistle. Cue lingering camera shots of a rain-soaked and bedraggled Wenger. Cue the boos.

All is not yet lost, but both the team and their confidence need rebuilding fast. The last time Arsenal lost their opening league game of the season was in 2001, against Leeds. They went on to win the League and Cup double that year. Even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans will realise that is beyond the current squad, but all that matters right now is the second leg of their Champions League qualifier at Udinese on Wednesday night, for which the domestically suspended Gervinho, Alex Song and Frimpong will at least be available.

In the meantime, it is probably not being overly melodramatic to say that Wenger has 11 days – until the end of the transfer window – to save Arsenal’s season. He has never faced a bigger challenge in his time in charge of the club.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Wenger denied he was under any additional pressure after the game, saying:

I always feel under pressure but not more than usual. I feel the result is very harsh on us. The decider was the sending off and as well the offside goal.

You want the supporters to be happy and when you don’t win the game you can understand that they are not. But I think we had eight players out today and we still had a good performance. So it is not all doom and gloom, there are positives in the game today.

He admitted that Frimpong’s over-exuberance had resulted in a deserved second yellow:

I think Frimpong was a victim of his lack of experience and of his enthusiasm and heart. He deserved a second yellow card, he should not have gone into that challenge.

He was characteristically enigmatic when quizzed about Nasri’s future:

I don’t know [what will happen]. I always said that I would try to keep Samir Nasri and I have never changed my mind on it because I played him today, to the surprise of everybody. He loves the club, he wants to play for us, if we decide to sell him we will do it and we have to stand up for it. At the moment I am happy he is here.

And he was similarly equivocal about potential signings before the end of the month:

We look, you know? But we try to do the right things for the club. I think Koscielny and Vermaelen are a fantastic pair of centre backs but it’s very difficult as well because if you buy another centre back and then someone gets injured I have to buy another one. You cannot do that every time you have an injured player.

Normally I can find positives from any Arsenal performance – and there were two for me in this game – but this is the most depressed I have felt since 1994/95, where the club were in danger of being dragged into the relegation dogfight for much of the season before rallying to finish 12th. That season at least had the thrill of our defence of the Cup Winners’ Cup – although that too ended in agony courtesy of former Tottenham midfielder Nayim’s miraculous 120th-minute winner for Real Zaragoza in the final.

The vast majority of fans’ concerns over the summer have focussed on the need to reinforce the back four, and while greater strength in depth is still required, the current partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen has got off to a very promising start. One can only hope the Frenchman returns quickly, while the Belgian vice-captain has quickly reminded us what the team was lacking in his absence for most of last season. His aggression (both on the ground and in the air), his leadership and his willingness to gallop forward in support of the attack were deserving of a better result and showing from his teammates than this.

The other positive is Frimpong who, after his early booking, was proving Wenger’s belief in him well founded until the rash tackle which resulted in his dismissal. Given a bit more experience and restraint, his physicality and battling mentality will bring something extra to a team which has often lacked both and sorely requires them in the weeks to come.

Indeed, the performances of both Frimpong and the equally callow Jenkinson were encouraging, but the fact is they should never have been put in this position so early in their careers. For all that Arsenal need to concentrate on replacing Cesc Fàbregas and, presumably, Nasri (although French media reports suggest his move to Manchester City may now be in doubt – take that news with a pinch of salt), the departure of squad players such as Eboué and Denilson also needs to addressed as a matter of urgency. Both much maligned, each could have played a valuable role.

Arsenal’s current malaise is due to a combination of a lack of transfer activity – not just this summer but over the past few seasons – and bad fortune with injuries and suspensions, which saw Wenger deprived of Jack Wilshere, Alex Song, Abou Diaby, Gervinho, Johan Djourou and Kieran Gibbs. There is no point in complaining, though. So often the two go hand in hand. That’s football.

The most worrying aspect of the last week is that the team’s traditional attacking strength has evaporated against one side (Newcastle) which is likely to struggle at the bottom end of the table this season and another (Liverpool) who are adjusting to life with several new starters. It is a salutary warning to anyone who believes new arrivals will immediately transform Arsenal’s fortunes. They won’t – teamwork takes time – which is what makes the lack of influx of experienced players earlier in the summer so glaring now. There is much work to be done: in the transfer market over the next 11 days, in the treatment room and at London Colney for the next several weeks to arrest the decline and rebuild this Arsenal side. Wenger remains one of the very best in the business at doing exactly that, but the road back is a long one. How much time will he be allowed by the club’s increasingly impatient fans?

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

11 Responses to Wenger under siege as Frimpong red card costs Arsenal

  1. william says:

    They will be lucky to finish 5th this year

    • Tim says:

      Based on current form, that is a fair assumption. But with a full squad, some new transfers and a recovery of form and confidence this is still a good enough squad to finish (at least) in the top four. The return of Wilshere cannot come soon enough.

  2. Wenger is no longer fit to be arsenal manager. He lives in a fact free zone. Why was Frimpong not substituted when it was clear he was going to get a second yellow? Why is Vermalean not the captain, why has the club not purchased the centreback we all know is required, why was clichy not replaced, we are now playing Sagna out of position. Why is he not selling squillach and Chamakh instead of Bendtner, why has the club not signed replacements for Nasir and Fabregas when it was clear the two would be leaving. Why did the club spent 15 million on a young player who is not ready when the club is so depleted. For all these reasons and more, Wenger should leave tonight, not after the defeat to Udinese on Wednesday or the loss to ManU next weekend. Lastly, Ramsey,Frimpong, Jenkinson, Miguel, Chamberlain, Joe Campbell are all decent young players who may be good in the future, BUT they are not ready for the first team. At best they are good substitutes. Theo and Asharvin are clearly failures- best used as substitutes. If Arsenal had a football loving owner and not a silent investor, Wenger would be gone by now. I am also beginning to think that Wenger is compensated based on the club’s profitabilty and not footballing results. The club should prove me wrong by releasing details of the incentive/bonus part of his contract. Arsenal fans everywhere should demand that the ownership, board and coaching set-up of the team be changed immediately. This is a daylight fraud which should be stoped!

    • Tim says:

      It’s easy to blame Wenger for Frimpong’s red card and, yes, we all saw it coming. But surely it is up to the player himself to show some restraint, and the only way for him to learn is to keep him on the pitch. He was playing so well up until then, it could also have been a mistake to take him off – it’s not as if Lansbury was going to do any better.

      Wenger and the board are certainly to blame for not strengthening the squad enough over the last few summers, but the players must bear responsibility for their own actions. Was it Wenger’s fault Song was banned for yesterday? Or Gervinho? Of course not.

      I’m sure Wenger would have sold Squillaci if anyone was willing to buy him and pay his salary (which I’m guessing is not insubstantial). The same with Chamakh, who can still be a good player for us with a bit of confidence.

      Yes, we should have lined up replacements for Cesc and Nasri faster. Yes, the youngsters are not ready for the first team yet. Although Ramsey is – just not as a regular starter.

      There is nothing to be gained by publishing the details of Wenger’s contract. I cannot believe Wenger is compensated based on financial results. That makes no sense, as it is the board who have control over spending and the signing of players, not Wenger. It would be like paying me a bonus paid on what my boss achieves. Whatever Wenger’s motivations are, he has the best interests of the club in mind, which in his head includes not bankrupting the club. That is a laudable objective, even if the way he does it is misguided at times. By all means call for Wenger to be sacked – I happen to disagree, but I do recognise he has made a number of mistakes – but who would you replace him with? Be realistic – and be careful what you wish for.

  3. keith says:

    we are in real trouble lads but be carefull with what ya wish for who do u want to replace wenger and how do u know the board is not letting wenger sign older players cause there is no resale on them my heart is broken watching arsenal i know we should be a top team i tell you all now the best signing we can make is to bring back dein asap

    • Tim says:

      Indeed. It is all too easy to say that we should sack Wenger, but realistically who would we replace him with? I’m not saying he hasn’t made mistakes, but he now has 11 days to get us out of this mess, and some of the responsibility falls on the players he has shown faith in to repay him by playing out of their skins.

      Things can turn around very quickly – United won the first PL title after losing their first two games, and as I noted in the post we won the double after losing our first home game in 2001. I’m not suggesting for one minute we will necessarily emulate either of those feats this season, but the end of the world often proves to be anything but after a couple of confidence-building wins. We have to hope that starts on Wednesday. Stranger things have happened in football.

  4. Shrek2be says:

    I am extremely disheartened at sites like LG stoking fires on the “AW hate” issue. What such “fans” will probably never realize (or even if they do , they will acknowledge it only grudgingly) is Arsenal for all its players & trophies before AW was hardly what one could call a world famous club. Sure ,it was known in England and in Europe but who else knew abt it? Its their style of attacking football which AW bought with him which made the club very famous. He is human and certainly not untouchable.He has made quite a few mistakes but looking at the shoe string budget that he works with and still managing to keep Arsenal amongst some of the best in Europe is nothing short of a miracle. A lot of fans say that if AW went to Madrid or any other top clubs that have always wanted him, he would be fired immediately if he fails to deliver i the first season. What such “intelligent fans” don’t realize is that he would have also got a much larger budget to work with thus allowing him to buy the players he wants , the players he always possibly looks at as his preferred first choices , not his 2nd or 3rd choices.

    • Tim says:

      I agree. While the fan frustration is understandable, it is not constructive. I wouldn’t classify Wenger’s budget as ‘shoestring’ – talk to Moyes about that – but neither do we feast at the billionaire-fuelled top table.

      There have been mistakes along the way. Some are the board’s, some are Wenger’s and others are less ‘mistakes’ as a fact of operating in the real world. This is not Football Manager. Things go wrong. That’s life.

      While I’m depressed about the current situation and I recognise that dealings this summer have been far from ideal, it’s not as easy as some pundits (ahem Savage, Claridge) make it out to be. They know as much about running a club as I do about being a top-flight player.

      Fans should want the best for their club. I fail to see how the constant cries to sack Wenger/the board will deliver this.

  5. Shrek2be says:

    For a lot of fans based back in London, if Arsenal buy British “grit & character”, we will start winning trophies. As if !!!!!!!!!!? If British players were so good, they would have at least reached the semi finals at the WC. But we all know the result of the media over-hyping these players.
    I used the term shoestring because in comparison to other top clubs ,we are the poorest of em’all in terms of buying power. That term can be applied to Everton when we compare all clubs regardless of quality.

    Tim , I don’t know how long you have been following Arsenal or where you are from. I am from India and have only followed football and especially Arsenal from the 2002-2003 season. This means I essentially bothered to watch a football match for the whole of 90 mins by keeping my arse in one place instead of cribbing about the Indian cricket team’s fortunes. When I read some comments on other blogs that AW is responsible for accepting mediocrity instead of showing ambition , its pathetic to say the least. When I look at Arsenal’s recent history , they were only a typical English club. With him we became a world class club. I hope if he leaves in the future , he leaves it on a winning note. Its the least he deserves

    • Tim says:

      I’m a Londoner now living outside London who has supported Arsenal for about 35 years – so I’ve seen both the good times and those periods when we were shockingly mediocre. Arsenal have always been a big name in English football, but only under Wenger have we become a major European force and a team admired for the way we play the game. Sometimes people forget – or have never experienced – what it is like to have watched Arsenal when the best we could hope for was a scrappy 1-0 win and a shot at the League Cup. Those of us who have, though, know exactly what we have in Wenger, even though many of us are of course frustrated with the current situation.

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