Posted by Sonuvagun
Hang Manuel Almunia, sack Arsene Wenger, chop off Diaby’s legs… there’s a lot of Arseteria in the blogosphere this morning, as well there might be after yesterday’s disastrous performance against the (supposedly) lowly Baggies.
You probably watched the match so I won’t go into too much detail about what happened (Smart Arses might then ask why we bother doing it every other week, but I don’t care to listen), but it might be interesting to ponder why. After all even AW was perplexed:
“I didn’t recognise my team today and we have to sit down together to analyse what happened. Something is unexplainable in such a poor performance. Something was not right and it is unusual to see a team as flat as we were today.”
And yes we were woeful. The passing was sloppy and, if we were struggling to keep possession, we were even worse at winning it back. The midfield was shambolic in its defensive duties, with men rushing to the same area of the field, and often bypassed with a single ball. What was also strange was the number of individual mistakes ‘on display’. Sagna was toasted in the lead up to the first goal, Koscielny much too slow to close down the danger for the second (which Almunia failed to keep out… although more on him later), and for the third Squillaci, Song and Clichy all could have done better in the build up, but for me Mr. Wenger was principally to blame here. (Again more later).
You have to feel that the lack of cohesion and concentration is the same old story – our seemingly incurable habit of underestimating small teams. Maybe if the game was played away from home it would have been different, but I’ve no doubt that the team that went out today thought the job was done before they set foot on the pitch. Listen to Clichy talking to Daily Sport.
“We know we can beat anybody at the Emirates but it is our form away that is going to be the key.”
We’ve got a tremendous record at home, and on the back of the Tottenham win and West Brom’s less than scary reputation, there’s no doubt we dropped down a notch in terms of intensity. Maybe not deliberately. I’m sure the players felt ready when they went out, but at some level I’m also sure that they would have been more ready if they were setting out to play Chelsea or Man U for example. To use a cliche (which is true as it is ridiculous), it’s the difference between giving 100 and the mythical 110%. That extra burning and passion you need to succeed at the highest level. Whilst it’s true that sometimes against the smaller teams you can leave it in the locker and get away with it, when the opposition brings their best game – like West Brom did yesterday – you can be, and often are, punished.
There were some other factors. One thing that can galvanise a team when things are going badly is a leader. We were missing Vermaelen, Van Persie and Fabregas – the central core of our team when fully fit – and we missed both their skills and their attitude. We also missed Jack Wilshere. Perhaps we shouldn’t be relying on an 18 year old to win us games, but for me it was a mistake to leave him out… if a player is playing well then it’s simple logic to play him. He gives us a calm in the middle of the field that was badly missing yesterday.
Another factor is consistency. One of the reasons that the midfield was at sixes and sevens must surely be down to the fact that we have changed both the personnel and their positions for virtually every game this season. Yes we have a talented players we can switch in like for like, but ideally we should establish a regular midfield and only switch in where needs must, with a minimum amount of changes. A player needs to know what his teammates are going to do in any situation – and what Nasri does when he plays on the right is going to be different to what he does when he plays in the middle or on the left. So better still would be nail them down to one position. I know that’s not always possible, given our conveyor belt injury list, but there’s no doubt we can – and should – make less changes. Less changes also give the players a chance to settle and build up form. Those that come in will also be desperate to impress, knowing it might be a rare chance.
Overall I would say Arsene Wenger made some mistakes in his team selection. Why drop the in form Wilshere, for the hardly-played Diaby? Why bring Eboue into midfield when we have a more natural midfielder in Rosicky (and yes it’s easy for me to say this with the benefit of hindsight as these were the changes Wenger himself made in the second half – and they definitely gave us a boost!)? Wenger has to drill it into his players not to underestimate the opposition, but was his team selection also underestimating the opposition? A chance to get Diaby and Eboue a game, and ready for bigger challenges ahead? You could also argue that, even if the original team selection could be forgiven, should Le Prof not have seen the danger at half time, before the goals came, and made the changes earlier… we’d already conceded a penalty and were being outplayed so the signs were there.
For me the biggest mistake AW made however was bringing off Koscielny for Vela around the 65th minute. It was Wenger who claimed that England had panicked in the World Cup against Germany, pushing for the equaliser too early and thus conceding another two goals in the counter attack. Well Mr. Wenger did exactly the same. We were slowly getting control of the game but were far from pinning West Brom back in their own half. So bringing off a defender for Vela was always going to expose us to too much risk for too long a period. I never doubted that at 2-0 down we could claim a draw, but I wasn’t at all surprised when our new formation meant we conceded a third and with it any hope of salvaging some pride. I’m glad the players didn’t give up, and of course Nasri deserves special credit for his two wonderfully taken goals, but I’m 100% sure we pushed too soon with the extra striker – after all that type of substitution only works when you’re bombarding the goal in the final minutes of the game and could do with another body in the box.
So who do we blame? After all we are Arsenal fans and someone always must be blamed… preferably someone Spanish with dyed blonde bits in his hair. I think firstly we have to acknowledge that West Brom played exceptionally well, with some great bits of individual skill setting up their goals and with the attitude of a team that had no intention of being cowed by the occasion. Their mentality was spot on, as ours was wide of the mark. For us, our players simply have to train themselves to treat every match with the same intensity if they want to win any trophies this year. AW could make their job easier by trying to field a more consistent line up… although I appreciate injury and fatigue make this difficult. He messed up with the subs in my opinion, but in fairness the team he put out still should have wrapped up the game.
Finally let’s take a look at someone who is inevitable going to be the Emile Heskey of the Arsenal team this year. Someone who is routinely called rubbish by people who are not capable of doing anything other than parrot popular opinion (I include most of the sporting press in that category), but is considered good by people who get paid to make high profile footballing decisions. To blame him for the loss would be retarded. In the first half he kept us in the game with two amazing saves, one fantastic reflex save low to his left and then of course the penalty. (You can’t blame a keeper for conceding a penalty like that because they have no option if the defense has sold them short. Would you rather he stay on his line and give the striker a free shot at goal?). The fact that we weren’t 2-0 down, which was about what we deserved, by the 45 minute mark was wholly down to him. Then of the three goals, only one was his fault… and not entirely unforgivable. It was driven exactly where a keeper hates. Low and just slightly to the side of the body. It didn’t look good for him, but in fact at that pace – the striker had all the time in the world to wind up his shooting leg – it was not an easy shot to keep out at all.
With the current focus on our goalkeepers, and football fans being like they are, it seems inevitable that Almunia is going to cop it every time we concede a goal. The fact is that if we allow the opposition to open us up like that we are going to concede, and blaming the keeper is the most lazy kind of scape-goating imaginable. Yesterday’s loss had nothing at all to do with Almunia, and if we’d had Seaman in goal the result would have been the same. We dropped a level and were outplayed by a team who made up for a small deficit in technique by being mentally superior in their focus, discipline and game plan – simple as that.
For me the big question is: was this is a blip? Or are we going to see the same happen again later in the season? It’s not like we haven’t been taught the lesson of underestimating the small teams a thousand times before, but we seem never to learn it.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the league we can at least take some comfort that both Chelsea and Man U dropped points. If this weekend reminds us of anything it’s that anyone can beat anyone, and its the most consistent team that’s going to win the Premier League. I think a more consistent team sheet would definitely help us along the way…