Arsenal scrape through the ‘Group of Death’

December 13, 2013 in Competitions, Europe by Lizzi Hollis

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Last Tuesday night, all Arsenal had to do to qualify from the so-called Champions League ‘Group of Death’ was to not lose to Napoli by more than 3 goals. The Gunners did not fail to deliver, qualifying in the most boring, underachieving and stumbling way possible. A 2-0 loss away meant that Arsenal got out of the group at Napoli’s expense (as Borussia Dortmund beat Marseille 2-1) but only in second place meaning they will face Barcelona, PSG, Real Madrid or Athletico Madrid in the last 16. I’m a little bit nervous.

champions-league-per-mertesacker-arsenal-napoliAnd here’s why:

We lacked creativity
In Arsenal’s last 3 games, Giroud’s form has been questionable – missing out on goals in both the 1-1draw against Everton and failing to score an early chance that he should have converted against Napoli. The team selection itself was pretty dour, with Arteta and Flamini playing more defensive roles and Tomas Rosicky selected over Theo Walcott, which would have given the team an injection of energy early on.  The team may have been set up this way in preparation for a big League clash with Manchester City this coming weekend, but even new superstar Mesut Ozil and old faithful Santi Cazorla failed to get too excited about anything.


Arteta’s sending off
Personally, I think Arteta has been asking for a sending off for weeks but on this night he really didn’t deserve it. Yes, the first challenge was bad and definitely a yellow card, but the second was ridiculous and it’s clear to see that it was not a bookable offence. The injustice is even starker when you consider the six fouls committed by Valon Behrami, none of which received a caution. I’m not being a whiney Arsenal fan here, the point I’m trying to make with the sending off is the fact that something has been rattling Tet’s chain this season and I don’t think this red card is going to help his frustrations. To me, it is highlighting a deeper problem in his play and one that needs to be addressed. He has not been the fluid and insightful player he was last season.

The defensive players
Szczesny and Koscielny worried for the first time in a while as their old mistakes came creeping back in. The first goal by Higuain was a fantastic team goal and that should not be overlooked. As a pundit, Theirry Henry said we often put too much emphasis on fantastic goals scored by individuals and not enough on the skill, practice and foresight that goes into a team goal. I agree with this 100% and it was brilliant football to watch, but in my opinion Koscielny could have done better. The second goal however, was pure defensive sh*t. What was Koscielny thinking?! He didn’t think and he didn’t look, allowing Callejon to take a shot and fly the ball past Szczesny. The Polish keeper had a good first half, but as the game wore on he began to make thoughtless mistakes, the second goal included. In order to face the quality of whichever team we are pit against in the last 16, he must have his wits about him for the full 90 minutes.

Arsenal Szczesny Koscielny Mertesacker

The next round
This is what it all boils down to really. If we had done better in all of the above ways then we wouldn’t be facing a draw consisting of PSG, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. We might have gotten out of the ‘Group of Death’, but I don’t think we’ll survive the ‘Draw of Death’, with all 5 of the above teams having a better capacity to cope in the Champions League than the Gunners. For me, it would be worst to draw Atletico and PSG, who would draw out our weaknesses at set pieces and be able to launch creative counter attacks, which would probably outdo us on pace and agility. The best bet would be Barcelona, better the devil you know right? And with Messi out with an injury we could just about manage through to the last 8.