This won’t be a long piece, or a conventional report on the 1-2 defeat to Southampton in tonight’s COCup 3rd round tie at the Grove.
In this, the least valued of the domestic cups, we like many others choose to use the squad available to us to give them first team experience in front of a big crowd. Down the years invariably we have found we have sufficient quality to progress, sometimes to the amazement of many.
Tonight we have seen the other side of the coin. Actually I saw about an hour of it. Another story altogether. I joined the contest at 1-1. Broadband providers are not infallible. As far as the goals were concerned I caught up at half-time. Alexis nailed a wonderful free-kick to give us the lead. Tomas Rosicky caught the quick to collapse Mane and a penalty levelled matters. I had the fortune, or misfortune, to join the match live as Clyne thumped an absolute beauty in from somewhere far south of the North Bank. It was a goal fit to win a game.
If you followed me on Twitter tonight you already know my take on the match. We wondered beforehand about the capability of a makeshift back five to hold out to a full-strength Saints side. Despite the result the answer has to be yes, they did. Debutant goalkeeper David Ospina was protected by four kids, effectively. Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Isaac Hayden, and at 23 the only non-teenager, Francis Coquelin, could not take any blame for a soft penalty conceded by the skipper, or a long range wonder strike. I thought them one of three positives to come from the evening.
Another was obviously Alexis Sanchez. I read some comments at the weekend that we were better for him not being available. I could say poppycock, but I’ll call ‘bollocks’ as I have had a bad day too. The man’s workrate, given he is our second most expensive signing ever, and a true world class star, is astonishing. I cannot wait to see him, Danny, and Theo, playing ahead of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, with maybe a match fit Abou Diaby in behind. (OK, I’m a dreamer, I’ll grant you.) Big teams will be ripped a new one.
The final positive is actually a result of the negative of the night. Given that the new-look back five held up pretty well it follows that our defeat owes much to the inability of an experienced front six to produce a match-winning performance. Don’t tell me that a combination of Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, and Alexis, couldn’t have found a way to get us through if all were match fit. It was painfully clear that two or three of those need a game under their belt. No names, no pack drill. Now they have a game behind them and will be better if required in the big couple of weeks to follow.
What more needs to be said? Of course nobody wanted us to go out tonight. I think it a bad thing because if we keep the squad largely fit (and therein lies the rub), this competition provides serious football for those now playing a back-up role. The other side of that coin is that if you do get a first team start, in the three competitions that remain available to us, you had better be prepared to give your all in a bid to keep the cannon on your chest.
Not a good night, maybe, but worse things could have befallen us. The next three matches are much, MUCH, more important.