Let’s get real. It might sting a little bit, and believe me, I want to do this even less than you, but it has to be done. Arsenal are 7 games in to the 2011/12 Premier League campaign, and sit 15th in the table. It’s time to take a look at who this team really is, and what we can realistically expect from them this season. Oh yeah, and they played some little game this weekend against Sp*rs, we should probably talk about that too. The only way I can stomach this match reflection is to break it down, so here’s the good, the bad, and the oh-so ugly from Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane.
For the second match in a row, Arsenal have had an unproven youngster emerge as one of the best players on the pitch. Mid-week against Olympiakos, it was Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sunday at White Hart Lane, it was the twenty year-old Frenchman Francis Coquelin. I thought it was telling that Frimpong played in the Champion’s League against Olympiakos, a game in which Wenger rested van Persie & Ramsey, and it was Coquelin who got the nod in the North London Darby. I’ve thought Coquelin has appointed himself well whenever given a chance, so I was glad to see him get the call, and as with The OC, he rose to the occasion. To my eyes, Coquelin was Arsenal’s most dynamic player on the pitch against Spurs, and especially in the first half he seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. He looked confident on the ball, covered back well on defense, and even held his own when pressed into duty as both right back (briefly due to Sagna’s injury, before Jenkinson came on) and center half (when Mertesacker moved to center forward in the waning minutes of the match).
Arsenal were the better team in the midfield, and as a result had the lion’s share of possession throughout. For stretches Arsenal put the Spurs defense under consistent pressure. The best stretch of sustained pressure led to Ramsey’s 51st minute equalizer, which was again created by Alex Song, as he drove deep into the box with the ball, and put a nice cross right on to Ramsey’s boot. Song again appointed himself well playing out of position at center half, and kept Adebayor in check all match long.
Despite a good finish giving him the only Arsenal goal of the match, Ramsey never seemed to get in the flow of the game. Walcott also never got involved in the game. I’d have thought he’d play with a little more urgency after the performance that Oxlade-Chamberlain made in the Champion’s League.
The team again did not respond well to adversity, and seemed to wilt after van der Vaart’s opening goal. Speaking of van der Vaart’s goal, did he settle that ball with his chest or his arm? It’s no excuse for the poor defending, but that may have been a bad no-call. More on that goal later in the “ugly” section.
Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. It would be nice if just once Wenger didn’t have to burn one or two of his substitutes due to injury. This time it was Sagna who had to be replaced, giving was to the not-ready-for-prime-time-player Carl Jenkinson. It’s not Jenkinson’s fault, as he should have never been in the game, but he looked completely overmatched against Gareth Bale. Bale’s pace was far too much for Jenkinson to handle, exposing him repeatedly on the defensive right side. The worst news was that Sagna fractured his fibula, and will be out for three months. In years past, Jenkinson would not have even sniffed the pitch, except perhaps in the League Cup, but due to injuries and the overall lack of depth, Jenkinson has and will continue to play for the first team.
After the start to the season he has had, it’s a surprise to see Szczesny’s name in the “bad” column of the match report, but his overall strong performance was marred by the soft goal he gave up to Kyle Walker in the 73rd minute, which ultimately proved to be the decisive score. Walker’s strike was strong, but it was from far outside the box, and was a ball that we have come to expect Szczesny to get to. Let me correct myself, he did get to the ball, but it went straight through his hands, and we are right to expect better from the young Pole.
While the match was pretty ugly overall, it was ultimately again the defense that let Arsenal down. Again set pieces and secondary runs were Arsenal’s undoing, but this time Szczesny contributed an uncharacteristic howler for the winning goal. With a defense playing as poorly as Arsenal’s, it doesn’t matter how well Arsenal holds the ball, or how dominant it looks in the middle, because every counter attack looks as if it will produce a goal. This game was a perfect example that possessing the ball means nothing if you cannot finish consistently, and if your defense is a sieve. I think we all realize this by now, but this Arsenal team can concede a goal at any time, out of nowhere, so no one goal lead will ever be safe. What was so ugly about this weekend’s performance against Spurs was that for the large part of the game, Arsenal looked the better team, but they could not finish, and every time their defense was tested, it looked shaky.
The rational fan has now seen enough of this Arsenal team to realize that this is not a top-4 team in the Premier League. This looks to be a middle of the table team, which will do alright at home, struggle on the road, and be frustrating to watch all season long. We can hope for a cup run, and isn’t unforeseeable that this team could make it to the knockout round of the Champion’s League, but to expect anything more out of this year would be foolish. Wenger will again be faced with dire needs after the season, assuming nothing major gets done during the January transfer window. The team is thin all the way around, and to be able to compete in the Premier League, it takes more depth than Arsenal have. They simply cannot weather the injuries that they have had, and that every club has. You can blame it on bad luck to have lost Vermaelen, Wilshere, and now Sagna for long stretches, but I blame the club for not being prepared to weather the inevitable injuries. Again, the international break seems to come at a good time for the club, perhaps allowing Arsenal to get a little healthier, and attempt to shake off what has been an historically bad start to the season. Let’s all hope that we don’t pick up any more injuries over the international break, and get behind our team again on the 16th againstSunderland, because all we can do is keep marching forward.
Man Of The Match – Younes Kaboul (the difference in the match was that Spurs’ fill-in defenders rose to the occasion, while Arsenal’s did not)
He Deserved Better – Francis Coquelin (he was a bright spot, I can’t wait to see more of him, and likely will as he looks to have passed-up Frimpong on the depth chart)
Best New Dad – Jack Wilshere (Big congrats to Jackie Boy, who welcomed his first child into the world on September 29, 2011. Archie Jack Wilshere, a real gooner from the start. Now let’s all hope that the new daddy’s ankle heals quickly, please.)