Watching the match against Hull City, it was glaring that Arsenal have several bad habits that have plagued them for a few seasons. You can talk all day about mental strength and the ability to fight back into a match but frankly I am sick of this football doublespeak. Arsenal are now 11 points behind the leaders and with the talent in this squad that is inexcusable.
The first half from Arsenal was looking exactly what doctor ordered: Loads of possession with good shots testing the keeper and an early goal from our Chilean goal machine Alexis. Sure the score was several a few minutes later but Arsenal continued to press and make chances. I was still confident that we could get three points from this match. The Hull goal was really poor, but a lot can be said of the foul not being called on Flamini when he was clearly fouled. No sense complaining because these things happen in matches and you have to deal with it and play to erase the error that led to the scoring chance. After their goal Arsenal pressed hard to make it happen but we couldn’t find the breakthrough.
The first half showed that even if injuries limit our options we still have a lot of talent in this side. We started Welbeck, Cazorla, Alexis, Wilshere, Ox and Flamini in attack and midfield. Our defense is light with a 19 yr old Bellerin starting at right back, joining Gibbs at left and Mertesacker and Monreal in center of defense. It was ridiculous that we need to start a 19 yr old at RB and a LB at CB. Defensive problems aside, we have Podolski, Rosicky and Theo (coming back soon hopefully), Arteta and Ramsey, all are capable of making the first XI and are players who are class. For some reason this season, Wenger is having trouble fitting the pieces of the puzzle together in order to get a consistent run of well played, good results.
We been subjected to watching a team struggle to draw matches let alone win. The second half of the Hull match is exactly this. 40 seconds in and Hull get a second goal and from there it was nothing more than watching grown, well-paid men, struggle to pass a ball straight 10 feet towards the opposition goal. We fell back into the old bad habits. The one in particular that infuriates me is the desire to get the perfect goal, when it clearly is not working. Arsenal have become very predictable to teams trying to shut us down for a draw. We pass and pass and pass around the 18 yard box with no runners making a move. Defenders simply wait for the one pass that is slower or less accurate and clear it or intercept and head for counter. Every time we attack, we look like we are trying to replicate the goal against Norwich last season. Against certain teams we can do that, but against most we fall into a frustrating rut.
Another bad habit and one that I noticed developing from the last few years is the inability to play well unless we are a goal down. This didn’t manifest itself in the Hull match because we looked like poo until Alexis played Welbeck for the goal to draw level. I am so tired of watching this club play for a draw against lesser opposition. Where is the killer instinct that used to be the mark of Wenger’s teams? The first half of last season, Arsenal were monsters playing great football and getting the good results, but after Christmas, the old habits resurfaced, including the inability to play well unless a goal down. The difference between last season and this one is that last season we would go down a goal and then win. Now we are scraping by with these draws and losing ground in the title hunt.
Our fixture list has been challenging but not cruel as it has been in the past. The matches against the top four are relatively scattered and littered with opposition that we should be beating but we just aren’t doing that. Hull are no slouches and they proved that in the FA Cup Final last season but we are man for man a better side. We are not playing like it. I stated last week that we should be getting maximum points from teams that are (generally) below us in the table. I am having hard time convincing myself that we do it. All is not lost as I still feel like we can make up some ground but we simply cannot accept any more draws.
It is easy to focus on the negatives on a poor performance but let’s look at some positives, not of the match per se but in general. Bellerin, in the Hull match played well defensively and got forward well. I was pleasantly surprised by the young RB and I think with more first team match time, he may develop into a class RB. Obviously way to early to tell, but he was a bright spot Saturday. Welbeck and Alexis, again were excellent and have continued to be the players that we can rely on to get goals. I was slightly disappointed that we got him, but pleased when Man U fans were upset so I took that as a good sign. The #Welbzisdatguy on Twitter really gives me a laugh because he is “dat guy” right now. The only criticism I could give him is he disappears for portions of the match, but so does a lot of other players right now, so I won’t hold that against him. He clearly likes a goal and is willing to prove Van Gaal wrong for talking trash about him when he left. I support the lad and hope he does well because it will drive a dagger in the heart of Manchester United fans to see one of their boys succeeding at Arsenal. Alexis, par for the course this season, is the main man in the early parts of this season. A true quality acquisition from Wenger and a player that is guaranteed to give you 110% or more every match.
This is the main problem a lot of fans seem to have with our players right now if commitment. Özil in particular, is one who is criticized for falling out of the match during the latter stages. Podolski suffers from this as well, two players with quality but have the reputation of being lazy or disinterested. I don’t think any true Gooner will doubt the quality of both these players or their commitment to the cause but it is hard to watch either of them give up on a pass or track back to hunt down a lost ball.
Those who know me well also know that it is no secret for my love of Podolski. He is a player who I followed as I was getting into the sport; he is close to my age and has a great attitude for the club and fans. It pains me to watch him get blasted but sometimes I have to agree with some who say he looks lost. I feel this is a combination of Wenger’s playing him out of position and Podolski’s shoot first, ask questions later style which clashes with Wenger’s pass-pass-pass-shoot style. He may be gone in January or the summer, but right now he is an Arsenal player and one who can relieve some pressure off of Welbeck and Alexis in the coming weeks as our main starters remain injured. He is good for a goal (when he plays more than 10 minutes) and clearly loves the club. If he leaves I want him to go out on a good note. I hope Gooners saw his Tweet regarding the nonsensical rumor of him going to Spurs. He said “hell would freeze over before that transfer would happen” Say what you will about him, but you have got to love that commitment.
We take on Anderlecht and Sunderland before I write again. So as always, here’s to 3 points in both matches with plenty of goals for the Arsenal and a couple of clean sheets.
Come On You Gunners!