This Arsenal side just do not seem to learn their lessons. After last weekend’s defeat by Manchester City, Arsene Wenger said:
“Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it. We didn’t start with enough confidence or enough authority.”
I’m afraid it’s the same old story all over again.
There’s a temptation to focus on our impressive second half display. However, I’m afraid that my glass, much like Arsenal’s recent performances, is only half-full. All too often we only show up for part of a game. By the time we start putting our foot in, showing a bit of desire, and doing the basics the game is often already gone.
So it was at Stamford Bridge. Yes, refereeing decisions went against us – Coquelin was fouled in the build-up to Mata’s opener, and Ramires produced a clever dive to dupe the referee in to awarding the penalty – but ‘play to the whistle’ is something drilled in to kids from when they first start playing. Just as against City, Arsenal switched off, with Bacary Sagna particularly guilty of going AWOL at the key moments.
Whilst Martin Atkinson was guilty of some poor decisions, I draw the line at blaming him for the result. Arsenal’s dreadful defending put them in a mess of their own making. It was an insipid first-half display.
Whatever Arsene Wenger said at half-time clearly had some impact, as Arsenal were immediately more competitive after the break. Santi Cazorla, who had been anonymous until that point, was suddenly able to influence the game, combining with Jack Wilshere to form Arsenal’s creative hub.
It was Cazorla who created our 58th minute goal, sliding an outstanding pass through to Theo Walcott, who finished well for his 15th goal of the season.
Arsenal went on to make most of the running, with Kieran Gibbs an irrepressible outlet on the left-hand side. Elsewhere, Walcott’s goal was the catalyst for threatening display of direct running, giving Ashley Cole a torrid time.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Arsenal’s fight-back may have transformed the dynamic of the game, but it wasn’t enough to reverse the scoreline. Our half of dominance produced only one clear-cut chance, which Walcott confidently dispatched. Chelsea, meanwhile, seemed to create chances at will, particularly in the first 45. Fortunately for us they had selected Fernando Torres, thus handicapping their goalscoring potential. Only a superb Thomas Vermaelen clearance prevented Demba Ba from sealing it late on.
Arsenal struggled to capitalise on their renewed impetus, and weren’t helped by a chronic lack of options from the bench. The illness of Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain meant that when Arsene Wenger sent out three supposed game-changers to warm up, he called on Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos. You would struggle to find a trio who inspire less confidence.
Talking of failing to inspire confidence, I’m afraid I have to state my concerns over Olivier Giroud. Before going 2-0 down, Arsenal really ought to have gone 1-0 up: a good move ended with Walcott playing in Giroud, who screwed a very presentable one-on-one wide.
Unfortunately for Giroud, it’s hardly his first costly miss in an Arsenal shirt. I like him very much: he plays with courage and adds a much needed-focal point to the side. However, at the moment, he is not good enough to start regularly for a club expecting to qualify for the Champions League.
I’m not saying he’s not a good player. I’m not saying he won’t adapt and improve and become good enough for a top four side. At the moment, however, he’s not.
It’s not Giroud’s fault that he is the only pure centre-forward in the squad. The likes of Robin van Persie needed similar adaptation periods, but were afforded them by the presence of established figures like Henry and Bergkamp higher up the pecking order. Arsenal have asked Giroud to hit the ground running, and he’s barely broken out of a jog.
Some will say it’s more of a priority that we sort out the defensive side of our game. I’m afraid to say, I’ve pretty much given up on that. The arrival of experienced internationals like Per Mertesacker has failed to shore up the defence, as has the appointment of Steve Bould on the coaching side. There is no evidence to suggest an Arsene Wenger team will ever undergo a dramatic defensive improvement. With that in mind, and added to my belief that the manager isn’t going anywhere until 2014 at the earliest, our only option is to outscore the opposition. To do that, we need better forwards.
Therein lies the major difference between this season and last, and the reason I believe we need a top striker to secure fourth place. Last season, we were even shakier at the back then this time round, but we had a top class finisher to bail us out. This season, we don’t, and the stats back it up. In 2012/13, Van Persie has converted one in four of his chances this season (25%). Giroud’s record is closer to one in ten (13%).
We could do with a midfielder too. Abou Diaby played his third game in a week after a three month absence, and looked well off the pace. It’s hardly his fault – he shouldn’t have to be thrown back in to the fray after such a long spell on the sidelines.
It’s clear Arsene considers his collection of attributes invaluable. Speaking before the game, the manager said:
“Abou Diaby, with the way we have structured the team, he is an important piece of the puzzle because he adds qualities that we need in the middle of the park.”
You know what? I agree. Diaby offers us something that no other player in the squad does. However, he is also seemingly guaranteed to miss several chunks of the season through injury. That means that Arsene is effectively knowingly allowing for us to be without “qualities that we need” for prolonged periods.
It’s particularly frustrating when you see players capable of offering the same combination of power, acceleration and skill that Diaby promises available at reasonable fees. Moussa Dembele was allowed to join Tottenham unchallenged for around £15m. Momo Diame has a release clause of just £3.5m. And yet we continue to rely on a player who is provenly unreliable.
Our month of inactivity in the transfer market has thus far produced just one league point from the nine available. This weekend, Arsenal fans found themselves in the painful position of having to be grateful for a Robin van Persie goal against Spurs. Without that, the league table could have looked even more bleak.
I don’t subscribe to the belief that failing to make the top four could ever be a ‘good thing’. We need to be there, and I still believe we can. However, a couple of additions could make all the difference. The one upside to our poor run is that it comes at a time when it’s possible to do something about it.
I know it’s cold outside, Arsene, but it’s time to open the window.