Slim victory against Groningen does not give Ajax much confidence for Arsenal

Ajax beat the number 16 in the league table, FC Groningen, in a difficult and poor match. Ajax took a 2-0 lead through Van der Meyde and Zlatan, but then faded away and let Groningen come back to 2-1. Coach Koeman was not happy. ,,It could even have been 2-2.'' But the most important goals, three points and no injuries, were obtained.

Koeman had 18 healthy players against Groningen. Jelle van Damme, who suffered a bruised lung last week against Feyenoord, was replaced as left back by Maxwell. He was joined on the left flank by Wesley Sneijder and Nourdin Boukhari. Although there is already much talk about the game against Arsenal on Tuesday, first Groningen has to be defeated, Koeman had warned before the match.

Ajax was the better team in the first half, despite the slow pace of the game. Groningen was put under pressure and a goal seemed inevitable. Andy van der Meyde reacted well when a strike by Zlatan rebounded back. The right winger did not hesitate and struck hard in the far corner: 1-0. It left Van der Meyde with a good feeling, as he showed some spectacular moves on the wing, which were entertaining but not very effective.

Koeman: ,,It took us too much time to build an attack in the first half. The pace of our passing was too low, which gave Groningen a chance to prepare."

Because Ajax was still the better team, the red and whites became careless. Groningen did not posess the smartness and the strenght to punish Ajax for their mistakes in midfield, although the visitors came close to goalkeeper Lobont now and then.

Ajax deflated after halftime, but not before Zlatan had given his team a 2-0 lead. Everyone expected Ajax to comfortably play out the match. But 20 minutes before the end, Schoenmakers punished a mistake by Lobont. The 'keeper completely missed a corner kick. ,,Lobont was distracted by Drent, who jumped up before him. He should not have been. His timing was completely off'', Koeman explained.

After the 2-1 Groningen kept on pressing. The visitors sensed that Ajax were in trouble. Slamon came closest to tying the score, but his effort went just wide. Ajax also tried to score. Chivu often left his defence to rush forward, much to Koeman's displeasure. It opened up room in midfield and the match stayed close right to the end. But luckily for Koeman and his men it remained 2-1 and Ajax came off damage-free.

The coach was irritated by the lack of concenteration with his players. ,,Again we see that we have a difficult match after a week in which the most players have played for their country." Koeman criticised his captain. ,,Chivu, for example, should have organised his defence before he went forward. You'd think that this squad would be able to play out the match with a 2-0 lead. I was disappointed with the players' attitude. The experienced players did not what they should have done'', the unhappy Koeman said.

But Ajax did meet their objectives. No-one was injured and the number one in the league table, PSV, did not expand the lead. ,,But", Koeman said, ,,if you know how good Arsenal are, you wonder if we should go there in the first place". Then, a little more confident: ,,Oh well, in football every game is different.''