Archive for October 3rd, 2011

Arsene Wenger and the world’s worst handbrake

354 comments October 3rd, 2011

Bacary Sagna writhes in agony as Arsenal go down at Spurs

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The table makes unpleasant reading for Arsenal fans today.  Spurs are in the top six; Arsenal are in the bottom six.  If Tottenham were to win their game in hand, they’d have more than double our points tally.  Seven games in to the season, we have less points than the promoted trio of Swansea, Norwich and QPR.

After the game, Arsene trotted out the now-familiar refrain of Arsenal’s problematic braking system:

“In the first half I felt we played a little but with the handbrake on.”

Maybe.  But I thought a handbrake was supposed to stop you going downhill fast?

This wasn’t, by any stretch, our worst performance of the season.  But that only makes the fact we failed to take any points away from it all the more damning.  The first half was a fairly even affair, and we should have taken the lead when great work from Van Persie down the left saw the Dutchman cut the ball back to the onrushing Gervinho, who put his effort wide at the near post.  It was a fantastic chance, and underlined some of my concerns about the Ivorian.  When he signed I compared him to Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou, and it was as much for his inconsistency and erratic decision-making as his pace, trickery and versatility.  It’s clear Arsene is a big admirer of the winger, but at this level you simply have to put chances like this one away.

Spurs had opportunities of their own.  When Alex Song overplayed in defence, Wojciech Szczesny spread himself well to block Scott Parker’s goalbound effort.  There was little he could do, however, about the goal that gave Spurs the lead.

Rafael Van der Vaart uses his arm to control the ball

When Emmanuel Adebayor brought the ball under control on the edge of our area, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna were nowhere to be seen.  Adebayor looped the ball over Mertesacker, for Van der Vaart to bring it down and finish smartly in to the far corner.  The German immediately appealed for handball, and whilst replays yesterday still left me feeling it was a marginal decision, the photograph on the right provides little room for doubt.

With Van der Vaart already on a booking for a lunge at Kieran Gibbs, a deliberate handball could even have seen him dismissed, which would have altered the pattern of the game enormously.  Some suggested he was lucky not to go for his celebration, which saw him embrace fans in the crowd, but that’s a rule I’m neither fond nor keen to take advantage of.

The start of the second half saw Arsenal looking purposeful, and we swiftly had an equaliser – Alex Song danced to the byling and pulled a left-footed cross in the box for Aaron Ramsey to tap in.

From then on, however, we simply failed to impose ourselves.  Spurs grew as the game wore on, switching from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 to combat our midfield trio.

The winning goal was one strewn with errors.  First Arteta and Ramsey were slow to react to a quick Spurs throw in; then when the ball was cleared Kyle Walker was not closed down and allowed room to hit a screamer from range.  Powerful though the shot was, Wojciech Szczesny (who had produced another outstanding save to deny Adebayor) will know he ought to have done better, allowing himself to be beaten by a late swerve on the ball.

At this stage there were still twenty minutes to go, but instead of laying the Tottenham goal to siege, we lay down and meekly accepted our fate.  Even when we threw Per Mertesacker upfront in stoppage time, we seemed reluctant to hoist the ball towards him.  There was a lack of urgency and a clear lack of belief.

At full-time Arsene Wenger shook hands with Harry Redknapp and his assistant, before being pursued by the demented figure of Clive Allen, who felt he’d been overlooked for a handshake.  Allen himself overlooked the fact that he’s about one above ‘kit man’ in the Spurs pecking order, and that he did little to endear himself to Arsene by giving him a shove on the touchline in this fixture last year.

As I said, it wasn’t our worst performance of the season, and young Francis Coquelin can be very proud of the job he did holding midfield.  However, there were still plenty of negatives.  Aaron Ramsey, goal aside, had a dreadful game and seems to be making countless wrong decisions on the ball.  His performance highlighted a longer-term problem – without Wilshere or Diaby, we don’t have anyone in central midfield with the acceleration to beat a man.  It means our game is inevitably slower and more predictable.

Defensive organisation was again an issue, and both Gervinho and Walcott will have reason to feel they didn’t contribute enough to turn our possession in to chances.  The greatest blow could yet be the injury to Bacary Sagna, who is expected to miss three months after breaking a fibula.  Sagna remains an outstanding right-back and relatively consistent performer, and without experienced cover could prove to be a huge loss.  Although Carl Jenkinson replaced him yesterday, I wonder if Coquelin might be given a go in a role he played several times for Lorient last season.

Another international break now.  A fortnight of stewing over how to put this right.  Just what we don’t need.

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