03 August 2014

Arsenal 0-1 Monaco: Again with the set-pieces...

Feh. Why do we bother hosting this thing? I mean, if we can't win our own tournament, what's the point, really? Despite winning the first match resoundingly, we finish second after failing to score a single goal in the "final", allowing Valencia, the putative whipping-boys of the field, to win it. Oh well. Just as Saturday's result proved conclusively that Yaya Sanogo has become the best striker in Europe as well as in Arsenal history, Sunday's result proves resoundingly that Arsenal is doomed in 2014-15 and for a decade or more beyond to boot. I'm sure Arsène is encouraging the lads to update their curricula vitae (that's French for resumé...), the better to prepare them for careers beyond football. Except for Sanogo, of course. He's still gold.

On a more serious level, the match seemed to assume more of a first-team feel. Monaco edged out Arsenal but only by the slimmest of margins, but there's something in that for us to learn from. Whereas Sanogo scored four goals, each of which was essentially an empty-netter, Falcao conjured a goal from rarer air, heading home a Moutinho set-piece. Such is the gulf in class between our strikers and those of other clubs. It's not that Falcao scored a goal that only he is capable of scoring, but the list of players who could head home like that is much, much shorer than the list of players who could score any of Sanogo's goals. For as much as I fear that Arsène will draw the wrong conclusions from Sanogo's performance, I hope he will draw the right ones from Falcao's.

It was a nifty header, one that left Szczęsny helpless and Koscielny waving for offsides, and one that does ask pertinent questions of our defense. On Saturday, it was Bellerin who allowed Benfica's Gaitan to slip inside to head home on a flicked-on throw-in. That's understandable; Bellerin is 19-year old with one appearance for Arsenal. Falcao's goal is a bit more troublesome, as it was Koscielny, one of our supposed rocks, who let Falcao slip past him to nod home. With both clubs knowing that Valencia had won 3-1 against Benfica earlier, it was enough for Monaco to settle in and defend while we struggled, largely in vain, for an equalizer. It doesn't help matters that Giroud squandered his only best chance, highlighting (if a bit unfairly) a contrast between he and Sanogo.

While we're on the subject of strikers, it's worth noting that one of our very-best chances at scoring came via Chuba Akpom, who in the 81st minute was sent through on a brilliant flick from Zelalem only to be taken down by the keeper, a full yard or more inside the area. Referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot only for the assistant-referee—on the far-side, no less—to overrule him. It was as clear as day on the replay; then again, neither Atkinson nor the assistant-referee have that benefit. Still, we're not here to quibble over individual decisions during a scrimmage, even if there is a silverware of a sort at stake. Broader trends continue to suggest that our best option at striker is not Giroud. I don't think it's a stretch, for instance, to suggest that(a) he would have failed to beat the keeper to that ball today (as Akpom did), or (b) he would have found some way to flub at least one of Sanogo's four goals on Saturday—even if two or three of them were empty-netters.

 In the end, it's a pity that we failed to win our own competition for the third year in a row. Maybe it's time we stop scheduling this annual competition or—failing that—sign a few more players ahead of it. Alexis, in his first real run-out, had his moments, but it's difficult at best to feel like we have the firepower or the fortitude to win the Prem. Still, this is just what preseason play is for, to assess a squad's strengths and weaknesses. Let's hope that Arsène will note the difference between scoring at will against a squad in disarray (Benfica) and failing to score against a more-settled squad (Monaco).

'Twixt the two, congratulations to Valencia. Sorry if that wasn't heart-felt...