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In the position where Vieira and Petit were once imperious…


AT 2-1, there was a bit of dark humour exchanged in my row. Not the world’s cleverest gag but one that went along the lines of “There’s still time for another… it could yet end 3-1.”

Enough said really. Accepting that it is great to get to be in the Champions League, even better to be in the knockout stages and even better to be in it so often and that on the night Monaco played very well and are no mugs, this was about as bad a night as one can imagine. Painful beyond belief, agony watching the same counter-attack goals go into the same goal that I’ve seen so many times before.

Unlike those in the TV studios I don’t have the benefit of countless replays and angles to demonstrate where I think it went so wrong. But I would like to make two points.

The first is that in the position where Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit once stood as impossible to dislodge giants who talented young midfielders such as Stephen Hughes could only dream of unseating, we are now somewhat shambolic. We have no idea who our first choice players are principally because the prospect of ever being in a position where everyone or even nearly everyone is fit is so remote that we don’t even need to think about it.

I’ve no idea how many different combinations we’ve had in central midfield this season but I’ve pretty good idea that the three (yes, three) we saw last night of Coquelin and Cazorla, Oxlade and Cazorla and finally Oxlade and Rosicky were not part of some great master-plan. There were, no doubt, other reasons why we got caught twice on the counter attack last night, but I struggle to think such an unbalanced look in the middle of the park (particularly given how attacking the wings were), helped.

The criticism such as it is is not aimed particularly at any one player: it is not their fault if they’re injury prone. But the fact that the five of Arteta, Flamini, Wilshere, Ramsey and Diaby just might miss a few games over the course of a season is hardly a great surprise. In which case buy a player who, generally speaking, has a pretty decent injury record. Maybe one who in the 10.5 years since his league debut aged 17, has managed an average of 30 league appearances a season. Not bad when you consider those he would have missed through suspension or just not being picked.

Back in August I did take a vow not to mention Cesc every time something didn’t quite go to plan. But with the combinations I mentioned above, I’m feeling on relatively safe territory when it comes to the “where would he have fitted in?” question.

The second point is that the substitution of Giroud after an hour was weak, weak, weak. He was having a nightmare, particularly in front of goal. And those in the crowd who for reasons that escape me are always looking for him to put a foot wrong were having a field day.

But, he was getting in the right positions and we were creating openings with him on the pitch. And leaving aside the argument as to whether he is the only true centre-forward at the club, he is clearly our best one. While it was right to introduce Theo, it was insane to remove Giroud and it did us few favours.

Why? Because Welbeck just isn’t as good as Giroud. He’s better than Giroud on the wing but up front I can’t think of a single attribute where Giroud is not the superior player. And so we were largely clueless from the hour onwards and when our goal came it was one of those where you could hardly say it was coming.

It was a sweet strike from the Ox and an absolute lifeline. But the stats show very few teams recover from a two goal deficit in the home leg.


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