What about now? Is Arsenal’s title push over?

A few weeks back I said (on Soccerlens) that people were being huge drama queens and writing off Arsenal way too early. The following Saturday they beat Manchester United and proved to their doubters that they were more than capable of beating the top teams and their title race was far from over…

Then they lost 2-0 at home to Aston Villa…

Then they lost 3-0 away to Manchester City…

Maybe I wasn’t so right to stand up for them after all.

Not since 2001 has a team won the Premiership, having lost more than five games, so it seems for them to stand any chance now they need to go undefeated for the rest of the season. Surely even the die-hard Gooners can’t see that as likely. Fair enough, Villa and City are both teams tipped to break the top four but Stoke, Fulham and Hull, their other defeaters, are all teams tipped in the pre-season to be facing relegation.

The last two weeks have heralded much misery for the London team; 5 goals against, no goals scored, 6 valuable points dropped & large amounts of possession wasted. Regardless of whose possession figures you read (they can vary quite a bit from source to source), the Gunners have enjoyed well over 50% of the possession in both of their recent losses, but have failed to convert any of it into a goal. Against Man City, Arsenal enjoyed two thirds of the possession but it was all fruitless and against Villa they had 70% of the ball but to the same end.

Are Arsenal missing Adebayor an unhealthy amount? He missed the City game and played only a cameo role against Villa but he was there for the Hull, Stoke and Fulham losses. Fabregas too was present for the majority of the losses. New boy Samir Nasri has also fit in with the Arsenal way very quickly and effectively and Robin Van Persie has been mainly free from absence this season. So what’s the problem?

Confidence is definitely a major major issue for the Gunners right now, as well as (or caused by) player unrest. It seems that the Arsenal dressing room is not quite the camaraderie you’d like from a team that relies so heavily on their fluid teamwork style of play to get results. They’re still playing as a team, and even dominating games, but they just aren’t as dangerous as we expect them to be. The Arsenal lethalness has gone AWOL.

That man Gallas
Recently William Gallas has been splashed all over the press for his thoughtless outburst about some of his team. Gallas has never been known for his tact, but these recent comments were mindless even by his standards. For a long time it has been questioned whether he is of suitable character to be the Arsenal captain, but Wenger (in his stubborn way) has always refused to accept the legitimacy to these arguments. He has ended up shooting himself in the foot though, because now he has dropped him from the squad and made it look like his critics are one step ahead of him.

Gallas’s comments were damaging on a second level too. The lack of unity he spoke out about at Arsenal is now going to be a lot worse, so the resolve of them seems even further away. Had he been real captain material he would’ve not just kept these expressed thoughts to himself, but he would’ve also made effective steps to put things right. This isn’t the first incident of uncaptainlike (what do you mean I made that word up?!) behaviour, who can forget his hissy fit of last season? In all, the position of trust he was put in seems like a very bad decision by Wenger.

Since the league cup demolition of Wigan’s first team, Arsenal’s ‘B team’ has looked a better proposition to be fielded on a Saturday afternoon than the regular team. Arsenal’s kids are without doubt full of talent, can more inclusion of the youngsters be the answer? It certainly would sell a lot of newspapers if the kids were to take the Premiership by storm, but no matter how talented a bunch of lads they are, that doesn’t sound like a realistic solution. Pace and skill can terrify and beat teams like Wigan but surely Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd would roll them over. The answer has to lie more in fixing the problems that are holding back the first team.

Where do they go from here?
The title is now almost impossible for Arsenal to chase for. Can you really see Chelsea dropping 10 points more than Arsenal? Certainly not at present form. What Arsenal need to now is make a plan for damage limitation, they need to start thinking in the short term. At present they have fell out of the top four and have been replaced by Aston Villa. Villa are an in-form team, but prior to the last two impressive games from them, they lost two in a row that you would have expected them to win. Arsenal need to capitalise on this inconsistency if they want to muscle Villa back out of the top four.

If the Gunners think short term and concentrate on winning a few games and getting themsleves solid again in the top four, then they can start to look at winning the six pointers which is their only vague glimmer of hope of getting any title aspirations back this season. Top is probably too far to reach but second is still a possibility for them, albeit a long shot. First and foremost though they need to get the short term right, otherwise they will find themselves with very little time left to maintain a Champions League placing. After that is restored they can begin looking at winning a trophy again, something they have failed to achieve since their expensive move to the Emirates Stadium.

Martin Banks writes at the Aston Villa Blog.

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