Stark contrast between quality and composure of backup highlights the Gunners' reliance on their captain, as the hosts dominated but lacked quality in front of goalCOMMENT
By Joe Doyle at the Emirates
Arsenal’s reliance on Robin van Persie was highlighted further in their 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the League Cup as Park Chu-Young and Marouane Chamakh stuttered when given a chance to impress.
The Gunners' captain has been in superb goal scoring form this year and was given a thoroughly deserved rest in a competition that is well known for the rotation policy employed by the so-called ‘big clubs’.
And even without Van Persie, Arsenal’s younger players dominated the cup tie against Manchester City’s second string team, though that side in itself is still a strong one.
But the team had one major downfall: they lacked a killer instinct in the final third. While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a good game and looked to be the most likely source of a goal for the hosts, both Park and Chamakh were ineffective replacements for the form players of Van Persie and Gervinho.
Oxlade-Chamberlain forced a fine save from Costel Pantilimon, who was in outstanding form, from long range, and was a threat with his pace and skill while on the ball.
Park, however, contrived to miss his only opportunity from close range. While he did force a fantastic save from the City goalkeeper, he fluffed his lines and didn’t make a proper connection with the ball and should have scored.
Expecting the Korean to fill in for Van Persie may be a touch harsh, as he is still adapting to English football. Chamakh, however, has had plenty of time and yet is still struggling to find his feet.
His overall performance was one of a player who lacks both time on the pitch and the confidence to get going when he does have an opportunity to show what he can do.
The longer he goes without grasping at these rare moments when Van Persie is not playing, the less likely he is to make a real name for himself at Arsenal.
The Moroccan has been at the club for over a year, and arrived on a free transfer with high expectations that he is yet to fulfil.
Contrast that with the strike force at the other end of the pitch, and it is astounding. As Arsene Wenger pointed out, Manchester City have the likes of Craig Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz – “I don’t even know where he is,” he quipped – out on loan.
While City have had huge riches lavished upon them, they have spent well since Roberto Mancini’s arrival, acquiring some of the world’s finest strikers, though they did come with a hefty price tag.
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Eden Dzeko cost upwards of £25 million, and after an initial rough patch is beginning to show what he is really made of.
Sergio Aguero certainly cost a bundle, but he was cool enough to slot home his one and only chance of the match to send City into the semi-finals.
It is a question of philosophies here, and though Wenger’s is laudable, he could be facing a seventh year without a trophy after being knocked out of the competition he said was “the easiest to win”.
While City’s approach may not win them many fans, you can’t deny that it is successful as they sit five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Should Wenger splash out in January for another striker? Perhaps. He is banking on the fitness of his captain for any success this season, and, as shown by the understudies, he really does need to stay fit for Arsenal.
However, there were positives aplenty to take from the performance. The form of Oxlade-Chamberlain is improving, and the consistency with which he is beginning to play is setting him apart from some his age.
So too were the performances of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin in particular as they dominated a midfield consisting of a Champions League winner on multiple occasions in Owen Hargreaves, and a World Cup finalist in Nigel de Jong.
As well as those, Laurent Koscielny continues to impress after struggling with early season form, and is beginning to show what he can be.
But ultimately these players are out of another competition that they should really still be in and they will most likely, at least for Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain, be restricted to bit-part roles for much of the season to come.