While we went down to a heavy defeat, the scoreline doesn’t tell the full story
On paper, 5-1 looks a stuffing, and in most respects it was. We did have some nice passages of play and caused Arsenal some problems at times, but ultimately the home side’s class shone through.
We responded well after going two goals down, scored a lovely goal and were right in the game up until Arsenal scored their third.
Had Embleton’s shot crept in rather than hitting the post, we could have really rattled the home side, but it wasn’t to be – and ultimately Arsenal eased to victory.
That’s not surprising, given the standard of players who lined up in a much-changed Arsenal team, but there was a gulf in class which, while not surprising, is still a little hard to take when you consider this was a league fixture not all that long ago.
We were fearless in our approach – but was that the right way to tackle this game?
We clearly went out to try to go toe-to-toe with Arsenal, and didn’t deviate from our high press and playing out from the back that’s served us pretty well in League One.
Of course it’s one thing playing this way against the likes of Ipswich and Morecambe, another altogether trying to take on Arsenal in this way. That was the dilemma Lee Johnson faced before the game.
We could have gone in very defensively and tried to contain them as much as possible, time waste and kill the game – and maybe that could have been our best route to a positive result – but all credit to Johnson for staying true to his footballing principles; in the long run, for the development of this team, I think that was probably the right approach.
The selection of Lee Burge ahead of Hoffmann was the biggest talking point before kick off. Burge had apparently been promised cup games and, while I don’t think Hoffmann’s presence would have necessarily produced a different outcome, I was surprised that the ex-Coventry keeper was selected.
Pritchard shows his class
Alex Pritchard had a poor game on Saturday against Ipswich, but last night produced the kind of performance we’ve grown to expect over the past couple of months.
He was bright, inventive and at the heart of everything good we did. He’s a quality player, and he could be incredibly important to us over the coming months.
Defensive weaknesses evident once more
While in possession we were good for large spells, keeping the ball and causing Arsenal some problems, out of possession it was a difficult night.
We struggled defensively against the Gunners, which in some respects isn’t surprising when we went with a midfield two of Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton, and we also came up against some top drawer finishing.
Defensively we’ve been poor at times this season, and last night shone a harsh spotlight on our deficiencies. Doyle and Hume in particular struggled badly at times – Hume’s clearly not match fit while it will have been a huge learning experience for Doyle.
Hopefully they’ll all be better for it, but some defensive reinforcement come January would be most welcome.
Broadhead goal shows potential of the team – but his injury marred the night completely
Our goal was beautiful in terms of both the build up play and the finish. The work from Pritchard, Neil and Embleton leading up to Broadhead’s exquisite finish was superb – as was the Welshman’s contribution.
Unfortunately, the on loan striker’s evening was brought to a premature end, after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half.
He missed five or six weeks earlier in the season with a similar injury sustained against Cheltenham, and while this one is apparently the other leg, and we can only home and pray this injury isn’t anywhere near as serious because he’s critically important to our chances of promotion this season.
A good lesson – or will it knock the stuffing out of us?
We’ve got to hope that, despite the result, the experience of playing Arsenal at The Emirates – and playing well in decent spells – will serve to inspire the players. It will hopefully give them a taste of what’s possible at SAFC, give them the confidence that they can compete against higher class opposition, while reminding them that there’s still a hell of a lot of work to do.
The likes of Doyle, Broadhead, Neil, Embleton and Stewart were shown the levels they need to aspire to, and it’s got to be used as a learning experience for the team collectively and individually. We’ve got some big league games coming up, and we have to hope that they take the positives from the game and it will serve us well over the remainder of the season.