Yesterday was, in the typical Arsenal fashion that we have now become so accustomed to, a really nerve wracking game. The game should have been dead and buried at half-time when we were two goals up through goals from Arshavin and a deflected shot from Nasri. Arshavin’s goal came after he raced onto a ball on the left wing after Fabianski’s kick-out was missed in the middle of the pitch by Collins and Young, he cut in and scored with a nice right-footed shot that Friedel got his hand to but couldn’t keep out. Nasri’s goal came from an Arshavin corner which the Frenchman met on the volley, the ball took a slight deflection (off Young, I think) on the way through and this was enough to take it past the keeper and into the bottom right corner of the net.
The two goals were split by two glorious opportunities for Nasri and Chamakh. Nasri’s came after a great through ball from Arshavin put him one-on-one with Friedel, he took the ball around the keeper but could only manager to hit the side netting. This chance was then followed by a great save by Friedel from a Chamakh header. In fairness though, the ball was at a perfect height for the keeper to save, a bit more to the keeper’s right or a bit lower and it was a certain goal. But, at 2-0 you would like to think that the game was relatively safe. However, this is the 2010 model Arsenal and the days of a game being won when two goals to the good are a long distant memory.
Like most Arsenal fans, I spent the first few minutes of the half-time interval thinking about the 2-0 lead we had against Spuds last week, the 4-2 lead we had against them last year and the 2-0 lead we had against Wigan towards the end of last season. I was thinking that in years gone by I could have quite happily changed the channel safe in the knowledge that having gone in front, we’d get all three points. Ah, those were the days. Unfortunately, this Arsenal team are more akin to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle or Real Madrid during the Galactico era. We have a team ethic that forgets about defending and pretty much relies on having to outscore the opposition as they will, inevitably, concede at least one goal per game.
We have quality players in midfield and attack, although we could still strengthen those areas, but we are largely bereft of any kind of real quality at the back, Vermaelen aside. The problem is that the manager thinks that we have a good defence, although the number of goals we concede and the manner in which we concede them should be telling him otherwise.
It’s all well and good trying to outscore the opposition, but all too often we struggle to pick our way through a team that keeps things compact, safe in the knowledge that we are rubbish at putting good crosses into the box. Then, when we do create chances, we tend to be chronically profligate in front of goal. This profligacy wouldn’t be such an issue if we had a team capable of regularly keeping clean sheets but we don’t, so those two factors combined mean we fail to kill off games, or hold out for a 1-0 or a 2-1.
Anyway, that’s what was going through my mind at half time yesterday and the team did nothing to allay my fears when just a few minutes into the second half came the obligatory goal for Villa. A ball was crossed from the left towards Clark and Clichy for some unknown reason at first looked like he was going to challenge him then inexplicably stopped, worrying about the ball being laid off for the player hovering on the right of the penalty area. This left Koscielny and Squillaci with absolutely no chance of getting close enough to make a block and to compound this shambolic attempt at defending, Carew was standing in an offside position directly in the line of sight of Fabianski giving the Pole no chance of making the save. Replays showed the Pole trying to look around Carew to see where the ball was just as the shot was being taken. But, the referee didn’t give it and it was 2-1, time to panic. Well, I say panic, but it was more like a feeling of ‘ah, for **** sake, here we go again…’ Clichy is an accident that doesn’t even wait to happen, he gladly serves up mistake after mistake for the neutral’s pleasure. He learned too much from Silvestre during the latter’s short time at the club.
At least the team quickly responded when a nice pass from Rosicky was finished with a flick of the foot by Chamakh which took the ball past the onrushing Friedel. 3-1, but yet the game felt far from safe.
Sure enough, Villa’s second goal came from a set piece. A corner was floated into the box, Koscielny failed to beat Dunne to the ball. The big Irishman’s header looped back into the six yard box and was met with a deft little flick of the head by Clark which went in off the underside of the bar. 3-2 and in my head air raid-esque sirens were starting to go off. I was glad that my new TV hadn’t yet arrived because as their second goal went in, I went mental and a Pepsi bottle that had been sitting on the coffee table in front of me, quietly minding its own business, was rudely awakened by the full force of my right foot which catapulted it across the room, narrowly missing the TV. Missing the target? Maybe there is a berth for me in the Arsenal front line…
Finally, in injury time, we got the fourth goal which made the result certain. Denilson took a shot from the edge of the penalty area which was blocked. The ball looped up to Chamakh who unselfishly played the ball over to an unmarked Wilshere who duly nodded home for his first league goal for the club. The three points were in the bag but it was far from an assured performance. There is still an awful lot of work for the management team to do on the training ground and, hopefully, one or two signings to be made during the January transfer window.
It may seem strange to have such a negative view of our situation after getting the three points, but it is the state of our defence and defending that has me very worried about our prospects for winning any silverware this season. I’m not sure how many times myself and every other Arsenal fan, pundit, journalist have to say that we are defensively weak before the coaching staff and manager realise that something needs to be done, and soon, to address these long-standing issues.
Right, that’ll do for today. Take it easy.