The defeat to Liverpool was frustrating, the destruction against Manchester United was horrific, the embarrassment of Blackburn was bad, but losing to Spurs brought pain, anger, anguish, frustration and general lamenting of our season to a completely new level.
I said in my last blog that any progression in the last couple of weeks would seem almost meaningless if we lost to Tottenham. It feels like we’ve gone even further back past the Blackburn defeat. Regardless of whether the performance was good or not, it’s incredibly difficult to accept losing to shadow dwellers.
The performance wasn’t terrible as we controlled long periods of the match, however in the mind of every Arsenal fan it will be, and should be, judged as not good enough. Defensively we were too open again, didn’t convert a couple of great chances and didn’t create enough of them to get a result out of the game.
15th with seven points from seven games tells its own story. Title chances went weeks ago, top four hopes are fading fast, the top six is beginning to look like a challenge, even the top half would be nice at the moment.
To be honest, I don’t want to go into the game in much depth as it was incredibly painful to see us lose to them, plus our problems are much the same as they have been throughout the season. If we are serious about making the top four, Arsene Wenger has no choice but to get tough and be realistic about the side. He needs to be more ruthless about who isn’t performing. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may only be a raw talent but has scored twice in two starts and plays with a freedom that isn’t seen in the rest of the squad. Theo Walcott’s half decent start to the season has dissolved and he looks very light weight going forward. Despite scoring at the weekend, Aaron Ramsey has struggled to impose himself on games. Is it time to try someone else?
The problem is that we’ve had a massive chunk of bad luck with injuries in the last few weeks, so often players haven’t been available to make necessary changes to the starting XI, and that was compounded at the weekend. This is clearly a team in transition, a team in need of stability and a team that is still becoming accustomed to playing with each other. Having so many key players missing from injury has definitely hindered attempts to get momentum into our season.
Having four centre backs out injured would seriously damage all Premier League teams, as would having your best player from the previous season unable to play a game until February. Even if we wanted to make a change in the centre of midfield, Tomas Rosicky’s form has been poor and Abou Diaby is also injured. It’s not like the treatment room is emptying either. Two of our best performers in the season have now gone in as well. Bacary Sagna suffered a fractured fibula at White Hart Lane and will miss at least three months of the season. Given our recent timescales with injuries, we can’t realistically expect to the Sagna play again until February or March. Wojciech Szczesny has got a back problem and will miss at least the international break.
Injuries shouldn’t be used as excuses for our failures, as there are deeper lying problems within the club, but undoubtedly they haven’t helped.
We are now heavily reliant on Carl Jenkinson. He can’t be faulted for effort or commitment in games, but the bare facts are that he is inexperienced and isn’t near the level of our injured right-back. The sale of Emmanuel Eboue is now looking like a mistake. The Ivorian may have divided opinion, but at least we’d be able to rely on him (most of the time) to capably fill in at right-back. I also think his positive attitude and popularity amongst the team is being missed.
Now, having Emmanuel Eboue would in no way solve our numerous problems, as much as I’d like it to or mythically imagine it could do. However it’s an example of what seemed like a minor decision to sell him, combining with other minor decisions that have left us with major issues. The first port of call for blame has to be Arsene Wenger. I’ve said it many times on this blog, I think he is a fantastic manager and I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for Arsenal Football Club, but the team is now on the verge of a disastrous season. For a club built around our self-sufficient business model, not making the Champions League could have so many negative impacts. Ultimately, to succeed off the pitch in a business sense, we have to have a successful team on the pitch. Few can claim that our current team is successful.
Should we not make the Champions League, I can see Arsene Wenger leaving at the end of the season. I think he has to be given the rest of the season to try and turn it around, because trying to find a manager mid-season would create even more unrest and disruption to the playing squad. Not just for the sake of the club, but for Wenger himself, I’m desperate for him to turn things round. Unfortunately, I’m struggling to see how it’s going to happen at the moment. We absolutely have to make sure the defence is solid, we have to create more chances, and we have to take those we do create. It sounds so simple, but it’s what we need to climb the table. Obviously it’s made harder by our lack of personnel in key positions, but it’s time for the players, manager and coaching staff to look at themselves over the international break and question whether they are giving and doing everything they can to get Arsenal out this substantial hole. I wouldn’t mind betting that in the majority of cases the answer is no.
Having said all of that, we can still have a slight sense of injustice about the game at White Hart Lane. Rafael van der Vaart controlled the ball with his arm in the build-up so the goal shouldn’t have counted. He then ran into the crowd when on a yellow. I think it’s a stupid rule to get booked for going into the crowd, but the rule exists so it should have been applied. It was either no goal, and possibly a second yellow for the handball, or a goal and a second yellow.
The winning goal was another once-in-a-lifetime strike, like Danny Rose’s goal for Spurs against us in 2010. I doubt Kyle Walker will ever a ball in the same way again so as it just serves in front of the goalkeeper. Our defending in the build-up to the goal was abysmal though. Its basic stuff to mark men from a throw in, and we didn’t do it so some could argue we deserved to concede a goal from that situation.
One of the only positives from the game was Francis Coquelin. As at Old Trafford, he stood out above the more established players around him. If Song has to continue as a centre back, Emmanuel Frimpong will have to get past Coquelin to get into the team. However, I could see Coquelin playing as a right back in Bacary Sagna’s absence, especially if Jenkinson struggles with the rigours of regular Premier League and Champions League football.
We now have the boredom of an international break where we’ll all cross everything that we don’t get more injuries. I’m just waiting to hear that Robin van Persie has been kicked when playing for Holland so he disappears for the rest of the season. If that happens, it won’t be unreasonable for most fans to write the season off completely.
I’m worried for the rest of the season. We’re one injury from not even getting near Europe. I don’t want to have to write about another defeat for a number of weeks, and especially not one against Tottenham. It wasn’t the final straw, but it’s fair to say there aren’t many left.
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