Blogs & Opinion


A game changer

Gunners need more strength in reserve, says Jeff

Jeff Stelling - Jeff Stelling Posted 8th March 2012 view comments

Arsenal lost the tie but won back their self-respect against AC Milan.

They ran themselves into the ground until they had nothing more to give on a night that produced some fantastic performances.

Laurent Koscielny looks like the most improved defender in the Premier League at the moment - despite his own goal at Anfield.

Charlie: Happy Soccer Saturday is going live, but disappointed for Arsenal

Charlie: Happy Soccer Saturday is going live, but disappointed for Arsenal

Then there's Tomas Rosicky. Alan Smith said to me at one stage 'we must have been watching his not-so-good twin brother', so suddenly has his form improved.

The cynics say it's because he's out of contract in the summer (a view I don't necessarily share) but I thought he was breath-taking in the first 45 minutes.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also terrific; people have compared him with Wayne Rooney in the past and like Rooney, he's the sort of player who could play anywhere.

When the cavalry was required - when the players on the field were exhausted - there was nobody on the bench to come on and finish the job off.

Jeff Stelling
Quotes of the week

Sky Sports Fantasy Football
Play Fantasy Football against Jeff Stelling each win for the chance to win great prizes. Pick your team.

Play Super 6
Think you know your football? Predict the scores for six matches for the chance to win £100,000. It's free to play and you could land the jackpot. Play now

Soccer Saturday LIVE
Jeff Stelling and the Soccer Saturday gang are hitting the road for the first time in the first of five Soccer Saturday Live shows kicking off at Bournemouth on Monday March 19. Tickets for the tour are on sale now priced at £29.50 for Bournemouth, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham and £32.50 for London. to find out more, click here.

It was a big ask for him in that midfield - a position he's not used to playing (for Arsenal anyway) - but he worked his socks off, which was all the more impressive given he'd been ill before the game.

Regardless of where they play Oxlade-Chamberlain in the future, the one thing they will do is play him because in my view he has now firmly established himself as an essential member of the Arsenal first XI.

Influence

There is a downside to it all, though.

When the cavalry was required - when the players on the field were exhausted - there was nobody on the bench to come on and finish the job off.

Arsene Wenger didn't have an option open to him, in my view, that he believed would make a difference. So he probably left Oxlade-Chamberlain on for longer than he would have liked to because he looked around him and saw the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Johan Djourou and Park Chu-Young - none of whom would have been good enough to influence the game.

People will rightly say they have injuries - to Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby, for example - but they haven't got significantly more injuries than any other Premier League squad.

What they do have is significantly weaker strength in depth; when the game was there for the taking, it cried out for a potential match-winner and Arsenal's lack of one on the bench cost them dear.

I'm sure that Wenger would love to leave Gervinho out at the weekend because on a night for great footballing deeds, he was virtually non-existent. But unless several players come back from injury, Wenger will find it tough to freshen things up.

By the way - I'm thinking about running around the streets of Isleworth naked if Milan win the Champions League, because they are just not up to it.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic played the game at a walk, without looking remotely interested in it, while Thiago Silva failed to live up to his billing as one of the best defenders in the world. There were so many disappointing performances - and I include Mark Van Bommel in that - that I honestly can't see them getting much further.

Banter

By now I'm sure you've seen Charlie Nicholas' rather muted celebration of each Arsenal goal on Soccer Special! If not check him out here.

Arsenal's in his blood and he like all Gunners fans have been suffering this season, so it's good that he's had some good moments in recent weeks.

But can he and the boys prove they are players for the big occasion? We'll find out in a couple of weeks when Gillette Soccer Saturday takes to the road.

All joking aside I think the boys will love it; there are some big venues on the tour - Bournemouth BIC, Wembley Arena, Liverpool Echo Arena, Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, Birmingham NIA - and I'm sure there'll be loads of great banter.

We're all really looking forward to it because the one thing you can't feel on Soccer Saturday is the instant response of the audience.

Our first priority will be to make sure everyone has a fantastic night and to that end there will be a few surprises and big special guests along the way too.

I'm delighted that the next England manager (Harry Redknapp, in case you were wondering) will be joining us in Bournemouth for a chat.

Don't hold me to this but in the first half the boys will discuss some of the topical issues of the day and tell some of their best footballing anecdotes; there'll also be a bit of fun in the form of a quiz, we'll introduce our special guests, there'll be a few Soccer Saturday funnies - a little bit of everything!

Then in the second half it's over to the audience! There'll be a Q&A; whether we've got the right man in crowd with the microphone remains to be seen! Kammy might be unbelievable but as we all know, he does miss things - so people will have to put their hand up and shout loudly!

Whatever happens it should be a lot of fun!

Find out how to get tickets for Gillette Soccer Saturday Live - the show's first ever live tour - by clicking here.

Catch Jeff and the boys on Gillette Soccer Saturday at 12pm this Saturday on Sky Sports News HD, channel 405.

back to top

Other Football Experts:

Latest Posts in Football:

Andy Walker

Walker: Celtic must capitalise

Celtic are the ‘luckiest team in the world’ and must seize their chance against Maribor, says Andy Walker....

Guillem Balague

Balague's best buys

Guillem Balague picks his top 15 under-the-radar signings set for a big La Liga this season......

Martin Tyler

Tyler's stats and facts

Which team has lost the most Premier League games ever? Martin Tyler's stats and facts column is back!...

Latest News RSS feeds

Rojo completes United move

Manchester United have completed the signing of Marcos Rojo from Sporting Lisbon.

Celtic claim Maribor draw

Celtic claimed a 1-1 draw with Maribor in Slovenia in the first leg of their Champions League play-off clash.

Barcelona take appeal to CAS

Barcelona are appealing to the CAS after FIFA upheld their transfer embargo.

Live transfer updates

Man Utd confirm signing of Marcos Rojo, Edin Dzeko signs new Man City deal and QPR land Leroy Fer from Norwich.

Bruce: Hull eyeing Aboubakar

Hull City manager Steve Bruce has revealed the club are considering a move for Lorient forward Vincent Aboubakar.

Features

Premier League Transfer: New signing Marcos Rojo must prove the critics wrong once again at Manchester United

Premier League Transfer: New signing Marcos Rojo must prove the critics wrong once again at Manchester United

It’s not Arturo Vidal or Mats Hummels but it seems Manchester United finally have a new signing in £16million man Marcos Rojo. The Argentine defender will arrive at Old Trafford with more questions than those believing him to have the answers. No matter. Rojo has proved the critics wrong before.

Champions League playoff: Arsenal survive Besiktas test with Calum Chambers impressive in the centre of defence

Champions League playoff: Arsenal survive Besiktas test with Calum Chambers impressive in the centre of defence

It was a night that always threatened to be ghastly for Arsenal, the type of long European trip that smacks of the clichéd banana skin so early in the season.

Transfer News: Sky Bet rate Liverpool's chances of signing each of the strikers on their reported shortlist

Transfer News: Sky Bet rate Liverpool's chances of signing each of the strikers on their reported shortlist

In a recent statistical write up by Whoscored.com, over 60 per cent of Skysports.com readers named Marco Reus as the much-needed forward they believe Liverpool should sign before the summer transfer deadline.