Fringe players don't pass the first-team test

In reality, Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat on Tuesday night was just the Capital One Cup. It doesn’t affect being top of the league and it was against a good team. However that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying or painful to see Chelsea coming to the Emirates and winning.
After going ahead following a defensive error from Carl Jenkinson, Chelsea displayed typical Mourinho tactics by shutting off the game and being clinical when given the chance to score a second goal. They time wasted, sat deep and closed the game out. It was painfully professional if not exciting.
After only playing two days prior to the match, Chelsea did make changes, but the depth of their pockets and the strength of their squad meant that they were still able to call on big money players like Willian, David Luiz and Juan Mata. Arsenal did make changes, but not as many as expected with some of the youngsters that might have been given a chance, such as Serge Gnabry and Thomas Eisfeld, missing through injury. Almost through necessity rather than choice, Arsene Wenger fielded a team that included Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky.
The Gunners also included Nicklas Bendtner up front, with Olivier Giroud needing a rest before the big week that includes Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United. Given that it’s only the end of October, I don’t really want to be thinking about the January transfer window, but it’s difficult to not have it pass my mind after seeing Bendtner’s performance on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t without effort, but Bendtner struggled to link up play, hold the ball up for the Gunners to relieve any pressure or be in the box as a target man for crosses. In fairness to him, especially after Chelsea scored, the Blues’ defensive mindset made it difficult for him to impose himself on the game, but he still struggled against Luiz and Cahill. The game was just proof that Bendtner has to just be a stop-gap striker until a better option is brought to the club in January.
This season, Olivier Giroud is the player Bendtner could have been if he’d not let his ego get in the way and he’d really put his head down and worked hard. The Dane might be an option from the bench against lesser opposition, but when facing teams like Chelsea, Giroud has to stay fit, otherwise Arsenal will miss having a proper focal point up front in the team.
The other fringe player who had a night to forget was Carl Jenkinson. He’s never a player that can be doubted for his effort and commitment to the team, but his performance on Tuesday should be a hint to the club to get Bacary Sagna’s contract sorted before for beyond the end of this season.
Chelsea’s opening goal came from Jenkinson’s painfully short header back towards Lukasz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal, allowing Cesar Azpilicueta to score. He also misplaced too many passes, didn’t look calm in possession and showed a rawness that had been growing out of his game. He will improve and could eventually be Arsenal’s first choice right-back, but he’s not ready yet, meaning Sagna has to offered a good deal to make him stay and help guide Jenkinson in his development.
After the defeat to Dortmund, the Chelsea game was another reminder to this Arsenal team to be ready for the next three huge games. If they come out of the three coming games with good results, no-one will care about a Capital One Cup defeat to Chelsea. If Arsenal don’t, the old questions about the ability to beat the big teams will reappear despite the good start to the season.

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Singing for super Nicklas Bendtner

I would have laughed off any suggestion two months ago that Mathieu Flamini and Nicklas Bendtner would play for Arsenal again. However, somehow a chain of events has meant returns to the Arsenal fold. Flamini has so far been a success, but no-one really expected much from Bendtner. Him and his new beard/long hair combo were on show at the Hawthorns on Wednesday against West Bromwich Albion in the Capital One Cup, and the results were encouraging.
For a player that has barely played in the last year, and judging by an Instagram picture a few weeks ago looked horribly out of shape, Bendtner lasted the full 120 minutes and battled well with little service as the lone striker. There were obvious signs of rustiness when he was tackled when bearing down on goal in extra time, but that was to be expected of any player who has been out of action for so long.
Bendtner won plenty of headers, grabbed a good assist for Thomas Eisfeld’s well taken goal and calmly took the first Arsenal penalty in the shoot-out.
What was also striking about Bendtner’s appearance was the reaction of the travelling Arsenal fans towards him. It was probably best for Bendtner to make his comeback away from the Emirates Stadium, because whilst the atmosphere around the club has been much improved in recent weeks, the away support for the Arsenal is loud, proud and positive. There were five and a half thousand in the away end of the Hawthorns, and they were singing ‘Super Nicklas Bendtner’ in a great show of positive reinforcement towards the Dane.
Sometimes the way fans chant towards players can be dismissed as irrelevant, however with this current Arsenal team, there are numerous examples of where positive support has helped improve a player’s game. Olivier Giroud was frustrating at times last season, but his song amongst the supporters became popular and the Frenchman has thrived knowing he’s got the trust of the fans. He’s willing to make the extra effort to chase a pass, fight for a header and close down defenders.
Bendtner is likely to give more for the club when he feels supported. He has got a big ego, but with some love from supporters, that can be controlled. Bendtner realistically isn’t a long term option for the Gunners, but Arsenal undoubtedly need some back-up to Giroud, so Bendtner showing some promise at being able to provide that should be welcomed.
The other great recent example of a player improving with some support from the fans was influential in Arsenal’s third round win at West Brom. Per Mertesacker was one of two players to retain their place in the team following the win against Stoke, and he was superb. Despite looking increasingly knackered as the game went through extra time, his reading of the game, positioning, clearances and organisation at the back was invaluable.
After being alerted to the fact that his song from supporters was used as a term of endearment, the big f****** German has only improved and gained a real bond with supporters. He understands what it means to play for the Arsenal.
Sometimes though, you don’t need a player to be told by fans what the shirt means. Along with Mertesacker, the stand-out performer at West Brom was Carl Jenkinson. It’s clichéd to say he would run through walls for Arsenal Football Club, but it really is true. With everyone one else struggling to move at the end of extra time, Jenkinson someone found a sprint to get back in position as the hosts attacked.
The number of changes Arsenal made meant it wasn’t a surprise that the performance lacked some fluidity at times, but none of the players could be accused of not giving everything for the team. Especially for the youngsters trying to make an impression, as much as having good talent and technique, the fans want to see them ready to work hard for the team. They all did that on Wednesday.
Arsenal weren’t great against West Brom, but the first team’s good run is spreading a good vibe throughout the club. They are finding ways to win matches, even with injuries and changes to the team. With support continuing from the fans, even apparent outcasts like Bendtner can get caught in the team spirit that is currently obvious at the Arsenal.
Just on a minor point, I read before the match that Steve Bruce thought the early rounds of the League Cup were boring and fans wouldn’t like to be there. Arsene Wenger does use the tournament to blood younger players, but the fans and players efforts on Wednesday showed they care about this tournament. If the same XI plays Chelsea in the next round, Arsenal will have to do something extraordinary to get through, but the good feeling about the club means fans shouldn’t rule it out from happening.

Each season has a seminal moment

It’s ten years since the Invincibles season. Yes, I’m slightly horrified by that thought too. It makes me feel a bit old and only reinforces the fact Arsenal have been in a ‘transitional period’ for an uncomfortably long time. However, despite not winning the league since 2004, being an Arsenal fan isn’t dull or unexciting. In every season since that incredible unbeaten campaign, there have been matches that have made the season feel worthwhile.
Even if it’s just one or two matches a season, there have always been games that make you want to continue supporting the club because the moments of euphoria and excitement they bring about are nigh on impossible to recreate in any other situation in society.
It might seem strange to be thinking quite as deeply about this before a Capital One Cup third round match away to West Bromwich Albion. However, this competition last year produced my seminal moment for the 2012/13 season. Given that away match tickets can be like gold dust, going to Madejski Stadium to see Arsenal play Reading in the fourth round seemed like a great idea. At least it did until Arsenal were 4-0 down before half time.
The first 40 minutes of that match were the worst I’ve ever seen live from an Arsenal team. Fans were still adapting to the loss of Robin van Persie, and had things got worse in that match, the atmosphere could have become really volatile. However Theo Walcott pulled a goal back just before half time to give the away fans the faintest glimmer of hope. The talk amongst supporters was that the Walcott goal could be crucial by the end of the game, before we all laughed it off. Someone was overheard saying, “I’ve never been to one of these big comeback games.” Again, we all dismissed it as a random burst of optimism just to keep spirits up.
Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld entered the fray in the second half and changed the game. Eisfeld gave Arsenal control and creativity in midfield, whilst Giroud showed signs that he could become the player he now is. His excellent header halved the deficit to make it 4-2.
With two minutes of normal time left, most fans were fairly content to at least have avoided the completely humiliating result that seemed likely at 4-0. Then Koscielny headed in Walcott’s corner. 4-3 with four minutes of added time. One chance, Arsenal just needed one chance.
Walcott got the ball on the left side of the area, flashed it across goal and agonisingly wide. That was it, the away fans assumed that was the chance gone. That was until Jason Roberts took the art of slow jogging to new levels when he was substituted to waste time. The referee correctly added on the time for the substitution, and there were just enough seconds for Coquelin to pump the ball in the box, Chamakh to head it down, Walcott to have a shot that just crossed the line before Jenkinson stuffed it home anyway to make sure.
I’ve not known celebrations like it. Did I care that I might miss the last train out of Reading because of extra time? Not a chance. In the excitement of it all, one man near me got a split lip such was the pandemonium that ensued.
Extra time was just as exciting, with Arsenal going 5-4 up before being pegged back to 5-5. Having gone through the elation of coming back and taking the lead, to concede late on and head towards penalties was tough to take.
Then Laurent Koscielny intercepted the ball and Andrey Arshavin found his first proper burst of energy in about two years to speed towards goal despite playing 120 minutes of football. His shot was cleared off the line, but Theo Walcott slammed in the rebound to spark more mental celebrations. Everyone had forgotten it was a Capital One Cup fourth round match. This game had turned into its own epic. Everyone was caught up in the moment.
Incredibly, the celebrations were elongated when Marouane Chamakh broke away and lobbed the goalkeeper to complete the craziest game of football I’ve ever been to. 120 minutes, 7-5 winners having been 4-0 down.
That match at the Madejski was proof that any match has the potential to become a seminal moment. A moment that, whilst it doesn’t always compensate for winning trophies, is a memory you’ll remember for as long as you support the club. For some fans, because of that game, they will be making the journey to the West Midlands on Wednesday evening to watch Arsenal at the Hawthorns against West Brom. It could be a boring game, and with the changes Arsenal will make, they could go out. But, it might not be. That’s what keeps us going and supporting the Arsenal.
One man that is set to appear on Wednesday is Nicklas Bendtner. For all the negativity surrounding his return to the first-team fold, it’s easy to forget that he has provided Arsenal fans with one of those seminal moments from a season. Think 2007/08, the North London Derby against Tottenham. Bendtner came off the bench with the scores at 1-1, ran straight into the box and scored with his first touch to win the game.
That alone shows that even the unlikeliest people can have a hero in them.
Honestly, I’m not expecting too much from the West Brom game because of the patchwork team that Arsene Wenger is likely to field. However we shouldn’t discount the game and we shouldn’t discount Bendtner. A Capital One Cup tie in one of the early rounds might seem innocuous enough, but seminal moments can appear from anywhere. You don’t want to miss them when they do.