Two matches in a row now, we’ve kept a lion’s share of possession, played some pretty passing football outside the opponent’s penalty area, have conceded a goal to go behind and have looked completely lost when it comes to doing what wins you football matches: putting the ball in the bloody net.
Just a point from our first two games, possible the worst start to a league season we’ve had for over a decade. On paper, things aren’t looking good at all. However, there are a number of things that need to be considered while answering the question “What the bloody hell is wrong with us?”
Yesterday, against a determined City side, all that was good about us shone through and fans were also treated to a generous helping of what’s seriously rubbish about us. I’ll analyze this with respect to each unit in our team, starting with…
The Defence: Though I’d love to have William Gallas join our ranks to partner Kolo Toure, to be honest, we don’t really have a problem in central defence. Two games in a row now, Johann Djourou hasn’t just looked like a good partner for Kolo, he’s looked like a composed, balanced center-half minus the nervous twitch of Phillippe Senderos. Kolo was very good as well, and together they held their nerve on many occasions when City countered with Corradi, Dickov and Co.
Our real problem right now are our fullbacks. I don’t agree with most Arsenal fans who’re singling Justin Hoyte for criticism on yesterday’s defeat. His immature reaction to the crossfield ball that was headed for Trevor Sinclair was an accident waiting to happen and is a function of his lack of experience (Sunderland hardly counts as a high-quality learning experience) and quite frankly, a lack of basic awareness and skill required to play fullback. He’s a half-decent centerback with good acceleration who can do a great job for a Championship side, but I don’t think he has enough to make it at Arsenal. I speak for many fans here who’d like to see Matty Flamini fill in at leftback while Gael Clichy is recovered.
Manu Eboue had an off-day yesterday. He went forward with intent, only to mess up the final ball (some of which were cringe-worthy). He often left his rightback slot exposed, and his overlapping game was non-existent/ineffective for most parts of the match.
I don’t have any doubts that Eboue can improve and following a good kick up the arse, get back to the kind of form that proved so destructive for other teams in Europe and the league (in the latter half, at least). However, leftback is becoming a real problem and Justin Hoyte was being taken for a ride by Trevor Sinclair, which is a sorry state of affairs, really.
Midfield: Gilberto put in a performance of the highest quality, his best this season. Did exactly what he was supposed to do, broke down City attacks, covered for defenders (made up for Hoyte’s mistakes time and again) and distributed well. Cesc tried to do as much as he could, but considering the lack of form being displayed by our frontline yesterday, most of his enterprising runs came to nothing.
Alex Hleb continued his infuriating habit of playing in the center of the park instead of staying out right, providing width like a proper winger should. I know Wenger encourages wingers to cut in and provide a goal threat a la Freddie and Pires, but Hleb’s allergic to shooting and he should be cutting in at the final third, not after receiving a short pass from the bloody rightback! His lack of discipline is costing us a problem as we fail to stretch teams with width.
Tommy Rosicky (pronounced Ro-zit-ski) had a quiet debut, but distributed the ball well and got into a few threatening positions. Could’ve done more in a situation where he ended up one-on-one with a defender and then just the keeper to beat. But he can hardly be faulted for anything yesterday as it was his first match in the Premiership and he looked off-colour because of the groin injury he picked up in Croatia.
And finally, our Strikers: Wenger has a huge mental obstacle to sort out as far as the strikers are concerned. We’re not short on personnel in that department, not at all. Henry, van Persie, Adebayor, Walcott (and possibly Bendtner coming back in January, he can’t stop scoring for Brum) is a pretty appreciable line-up with players who’ve shown a ruthless streak in front of goal. However, why the f**k won’t they shoot?!
Thierry Henry is visibly not fit, then why is he being played? Yesterday, at least three balls broke to him which, if fit, he’d have chased and converted. A one-on-one with Nicky Weaver saw him smack the ball straight at the keeper. If this is his condition, why play him? If his condition doesn’t improve much, then rest him for Boro and play Adebayor and van Persie up front. The Dutchman put in another hard-working performance yesterday, hitting the post, some direct play and blaspheming by actually trying to shoot.
Adebayor was a logical substitution but the timing of it baffled me. Why bring him on so late when the strikers are visibly short of form? Why not give him at least half an hour so he could do something for us. A prolonged spell for him yesterday could’ve seen him cause Dunne and Distin (who I thought were brilliant, both of them) serious problems with his physical play.
Theo Walcott came on late into the match and showed even more sparks of his talent with good buildup play and some direct running at their rightback. He also shocked sad Arsenal fans by shooting outside the box! Gasp! Horror!
The Officials: Uraiah Rennee is an absolutely rubbish referee, who has little clue of what’s going on around him. While this is a justified criticism of the officials, I must clarify that I am in no way taking anything away from Manchester City who got their tactics spot on and fully deserved their victory as compared to our wasteful evening out in Manchester.
First, Rennee failed to book Dabo and Barton for some cynical challenges. Both deserved a yellow each before the break. It was even more frustrating when we ended up getting a card for a similiar challenge. The Hoyte/Sinclair incident was a clear penalty, no questioning that. But if that contact merits a penalty, then why was Richard Dunne’s foul on Cesc Fabregas not a penalty? Or his shove at Robin van Persie? Jordan’s obstruction on Cesc should also have given us a freekick but the referee played on and the ball was in our net on the other end in a minute.
The linesman in the first half on the end we were attacking was either blind or completely unaware of what offside actually means. On three occasions he flagged Henry to be off when replays showed him to be level in one situation, and a yard onside on the other two.
Overall , the match was one we’d have won on any other day with some clinical finishing and a half fit strike force. That is the kind of cutting edge that has seen United climb to the top of the table with a 100% record in their opening trio of matches. They don’t play the kind of slick-passing football that we, or Barcelona, put out. But they play with momentum and they play to their strengths, and even if chances are few, they take them and that’s what football is about, really.
We don’t have a crisis situation, we’re keeping good possession and getting the ball into dangerous positions. We just need to do something about wasting possession and taking our chances, and maybe sometimes trying to make our own luck by taking a shot outside the box and not trying to dance the ball into the net.
A lot of Arsenal fans claimed yesterday that the season is as good as over, but it is early days. There is a lot to play for and realistically, we should shake off this drought soon enough.
We still ain’t winning the league though. Bleh.