ON THE BALL: Arsenal against Orient was like Barcelona in reverse (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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An Arsenal view on the Orient FA Cup shock
3:53pm Wednesday 23rd February 2011 in Blogs
IT WASN'T quite Barcelona reversed, but it wasn't far off when Arsenal played Leyton Orient in the FA Cup on Sunday.
The Gunners, as expected, monopolised possession on the bumpy Brisbane Road pitch, bossing 72% of the game and completing 801 passes to Orient's 298.
It was a familiar story just four days earlier at the Emirates Stadium, where Barcelona were almost as dominant against the Gunners in their Champions League last 16 tie.
Barca made more than two times the amount of passes than Arsenal and had more than 60% of possession, yet it was the hosts that came out on top, winning 2-1.
Although Orient did not record what would have been one of the greatest shocks in FA Cup history, they did salvage a draw and earn a replay at the Emirates thanks to Jonathan Téhoué's 89th-minute strike.
It was a triumph for hard graft and a persistence that Russell Slade has instilled in this O's team over the course of the season. That never-say-die attitude has contributed to a run of just one defeat in 21 games.
Not to take anything away from Orient's performance, but it came against a second-string Arsenal XI that has struggled all season when called upon against lesser lights.
This was virtually the same team that were beaten at Ipswich, were losing at home to Leeds United before the reinforcements were called for and that laboured to a 2-1 win over Huddersfield.
It would be wrong to devalue the efforts of the opponents in these clashes – they executed their game plans almost to perfection – but there is a soft core to the Gunners that every so often rears its ugly head.
Even the first team are not immune. One need not look any further than the meek capitulation at St James' Park earlier this month, when a four goal lead was surrendered and Newcastle escaped with a draw.
A lack of a true leader is a criticism often levelled at Arsene Wenger's team, and that is undoubtedly a factor. Although complacency appears to be the real problem for this team. It is their tendency to slip in to cruise control before the job has been done that allows teams back in to games they should never have been given a sniff in.
On Sunday, the visitors continued to dictate the play even after Tomas Rosicky's 53rd-minute header, but there was a lack of urgency in the final third and distinct absence of quality.
Orient, as a result, were only one mistake or moment of brilliance away from a lucrative replay. And that is what they got. Ignasi Miquel had a fine debut at the heart of the Arsenal backline until he, along with Kieran Gibbs, allowed Téhoué to burst past him into the box, and Manuel Almunia reaffirmed the long-held notion by many Arsenal fans that he is well past his sell-by date by inexplicably letting the subsequent shot evade his grasp.
Andrey Arshavin aside, Arsenal were quite ordinary against the O's. A similar display may be enough to see them through next Wednesday, but they must learn to kill off teams and keep the foot on the accelerator if they are to win the trophies they so desperately crave.
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