Lessons. They are apparently what Arsenal learn after every defeat they suffer these days. The thing about lessons though is that, assuming the pupils who receive them are not total imbeciles, they need not be repeated more than once or twice. And occasionally we all get "a lesson we'll never forget" which doesn’t need teaching more than once.
After last night’s Champions League defeat at the hands of Shakhtar Donestsk, Arsene Wenger stated that the lesson to be taken from the match was one about the dangers of complacency and lack of focus. You would have thought that particular class was amply taught during the home defeat to West Brom earlier in the season.
Theo Walcott Celebrates His Goal Last Night©Getty Images
The Gunners started well enough in Donetsk and took the lead courtesy of a sumptuous finish from Theo Walcott after he had been put clean through by a visionary Jack Wilshere pass. The goal, however, was the cue for Arsenal to switch off for pretty much the remainder of the match. They had their moments and created a few chances, but from this point onwards, they always looked second best. On the night, Shakhtar were simply the better team.
Shakhtar’s equaliser was an unfortunate own goal by Craig Eastmond but their winner, scored by Eduardo on the stroke of half-time saw Gael Clichy get caught in possession in an area of the pitch where a safety-first approach needed to be deployed. Having won the ball from Arsenal’s hapless left-back, Darijo Srna crossed the ball for Eduardo to slot home.
Over the past couple of seasons Gael Clichy seems to have developed the unfortunate propensity of seeing his mistakes directly turned into the concession of goals. Just sitting here, and without checking, I can think of three or four incidents that spring immediately to mind. He doesn’t seem to get away with very much at all and it is a fact that is not lost on Arsene Wenger. One cannot help but sense that if Kieran Gibbs were not so injury-prone, he would be getting far more first-team time this season.
As mediocre as last night’s performance was and annoying as the result turned out to be, it is not the end of the world though. With two more games to go, realistically, the Gunners only need another win to ensure qualification to the next phase and with one of those games to be played at Ashburton Grove, it would be a major shock for them not to progress.
If not “a lesson”, the performance at Shakhtar was a timely reminder that this Arsenal team still has some way to go in terms of maintaining the sort of consistency and concentration that will see them win something this year. We all know they can beat anyone on their day but they have to make sure they day comes more often than not.
The team might have been missing some big players through injury but this shouldn’t be used as an excuse. Injuries and key players missing have been a fact of life for Arsenal over the past few years and the whole squad needs to be up to the job because there is never going to be a time when every single player is fit and available for action.
It’s back to Premier League action on Sunday as Newcastle United visit Ashburton Grove and Arsenal will be looking to build on the recent wins over West Ham and Man City. The West Ham match last weekend looked like it was going to be “one of those days” but the Gunners happy knack of scoring late goals came to their rescue. It wasn’t a great performance but the three points were all that counted at the end of the day.
The winner against West Ham was Alex Song’s fourth goal of the season and it highlighted a pleasing trend that is unfolding this season. Certainly more than last year, the goals are being shared far more broadly around the team. Already since August, Alex Song, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri have hit the net more times than they did in the whole of last season.
With Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin also contributing at a rate comparable with last year, (accounting for games missed through injury), and Marouane Chamakh making a positive early impact, it does bode well for the coming months that responsibility for scoring is being spread. When players get into the habit of scoring, it tends to be a habit that sticks and that more than just the usual suspects are chipping in can only be a good sign.
Last weekend’s results saw the top three open a glimmer of daylight at the top of the table and it is vital that the Gunners maintain their pace. Beating Newcastle on Sunday seems even more important in the light of upcoming fixtures - a couple of away games followed by Spurs at home.