A New Dawn

 

At the end of a week in which scepticism of Arsenal’s trophy winning credentials have been the main talking point around The Emirates, tomorrow’s encounter with Villa provides the perfect opportunity to rise from the rubble, and remarkably, all the way to the top of the league. Yet if this is to be the case, the obvious failings possessed by the team over the last week must be acknowledged and immediately eradicated.

Starting with last weekend’s North-London derby against Spurs, it wasn’t the result which heart the most, but the manner of the defeat. Many have claimed a result of that nature was unthinkable at half-time, with Arsenal cruising at 2-0 and swathing around the lush pastures of The Emirates with an exuberant confidence and class. Nevertheless, just like myself, I’m sure cynics around the ground were predicting the worst for the next 45 minutes, and that is no more or no less than what happened. I say this because, with a comfortable 2-0 lead after half-an-hour, through two well taken goals by Nasri and Chamakh, everyone seemed to take one massive chill pill. The tempo of our passing and movement slowed down several notches, the tackling became less fierce and a number of the players almost forgot where they were. Not one player is to blame for what happened last week, but in Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal have a single man who is able to control the tempo of the whole team, and in a team which dominates most matches, thus the match itself. Cesc himself ostensibly took his foot off the gas towards the end of that first half, and where we could have gone into half time with a 5 or 6-0 lead against a team who were there for the taking, we strolled into the changing room 2 up, patting ourselves on the back and getting ready for Strictly Come Dancing. This was almost the case the previous week, at Goodison Park, as once we went 2-0 up, a frustrating period of ‘negative possession’ commenced, and the team seemed apprehensive about scoring a 3rd goal. Luckily we weren’t punished on that occasion, but a late onslaught from Everton almost provided a deserved lesson. We have seen this complacency in previous years too, as we let a comfortable 2 goal lead slip at Upton Park last season, Villa Park the season before, and notably at home to Spurs in that torrid 4-4 draw. Arsene has publicly revealed this may become a worrying habit if it is not nipped in the bud straight away, thankfully recognising it as to be an inherent problem.

Naturally, if your not attacking in football, you will be defending, and the role reversal which ensued in the second half redefined the cliché of ‘a game of two halves’. Cesc continued to play at a snails pace and a consistently more negative mindset, an aspect which may have been down to a number of things, perhaps a tentativeness caused by his injury, or an inability to handle his immense responsibility at such a pivotal time in the match. For players such as Arshavin and Nasri, who are redundant in a defensive set-up, they unsurprisingly went missing and as for Marouane Chamakh, well he didn’t seem to have a clue he was in a derby. It was this collection of offensive sloppiness which paved the way for the inevitable defensive errors that have become a consistent feature of our play.

Two goals from straightforward set-pieces and an attack which easily penetrated the heart of our defence underlined defensive frailties which we all knew were there. Clearly the loss of Thomas Vermaelen for an indefinite period has greatly damaged our defensive stability, whilst Sebastian Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny continue to struggle as a defensive partnership. Another key feature of our defensive fallibility, for me is down to a certain imbalance in the middle of the park. Whilst Cesc is overtly given the creative and offensive freedom to do pretty much as he pleases, Arsene likes to deploy one solid Anchorman, and one deep-lying, ball playing midfielder. More often than not this season, these two players have been Alex Song and Jack Wilshere respectively, and often this has been the subtle cause of conceding cheap goals. Both like to attack, and whilst this is natural for Jack as he regularly played as a winger for both the reserves and Under 18s, Song has recently added this to his game. Whilst its pleasing he’s been able to score a few goals this season, his desire to attack often leaves the defence exposed. If he’s to play the ‘Makelele role’, then he must be able to do it properly, and leave his goalscoring for the training pitch. This is a message Arsene has to get across to a young man who is still learning the game.

While I won’t dwell for too long on Tuesday night’s defeat in Braga, we were once again undone by two attacks through the centre of the defence. This time, in the absence of Song, it was Denilson who had allowed himself to float up field, and this was compounded by both Centre Backs joining him on the halfway line. The second goal was almost a carbon copy of the 1st, and as Denilson was shrugged off the ball high up the pitch, neither Kieran Gibbs or Squillacci could retreat quickly or efficiently enough to prevent a goal. This lack of concentration that has acted as a distasteful undertone for the majority of our season must be abandoned before it is too late. At Villa this weekend, the pace of Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will thrive on any defensive lapses, and a lack of organisation and professionalism that has presided throughout the squad in the last week will need to be abandoned in order to travel home with a crucial 3 points. As a footnote, reuniting with Arsenal legend and world class genius Bobby Pires will be as romantic as it sounds.

Super Bobby!

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