Saturday, September 27, 2014

Arsenal Draw 1-1 with Tottenham

Arsenal fell behind to Tottenham in the 56th minute, when a strange Szczesny throw out to Mertesacker led to an error by Flamini and a Spurs goal. But in the 74th minute, Ox tied it up with a nice pass to the roof of the net from close in, after some good work from Alexis Sanchez. The Gunners appeared poised to take the game from here, but were unable to unlock a solid Tottenham defense and ultimately settled for yet another draw, their fourth in the first six games of the season. While Arsenal dominated possession and had 14 corners and several free kicks, they did little with any of them and some fine saves from Hugo Lloris ensured that Tottenham earned a well-deserved point. Three thoughts on the game, all related to questions surrounding Arsene Wenger and whether the Gunners will ever compete for the title while he is still in charge …

1. Tactics: Ozil again started away from his favored #10 spot, as Wenger appeared to set the team up in a 4-1-4-1, with Sanchez on the bench. The Gunners did dominate the game, but often found themselves rushing back to stop counters that could easily have led to goals but for poor final balls from the Spurs attackers. Ozil was solid with his passing, and Wilshere was bright at times, but the Gunners had trouble creating any real scoring chances. Welbeck looked largely isolated ahead of a game that was played more in the midfield. It was an odd North London Derby overall, with Pochettino apparently convinced that the only way to compete with a more technically gifted team was to essentially “park the bus” and play on the counter. He is known for pushing his players to press high up the pitch, but doesn’t seem to have the personnel to do that at the moment. Instead the Spurs sat back for long spells of the game and Arsenal had trouble finding the necessary space. When they did, Younes Kaboul and Hugo Lloris combined to stop the threat on all but one occasion. The two should probably share player of the match for their performances. But the question becomes why Wenger didn’t replicate the formation from the Villa game, where Ozil dominated and created many chances. Ozil looked bright throughout, and had several crosses that could have led to goals. But he was better in the second half surge, playing more centrally. Wenger needs to move him back and trust in his best player.

2. Flamini Flaming Out: Arsenal brought in a new trainer, but appear to be suffering through the same problem that has plagued them for years – too many injuries undermining team chemistry and showing the lack of strength in depth beyond the offensive side of the ball. Arteta went out early with a knock, replaced by Flamini, whose error helped Tottenham score the opening goal. It wasn’t his fault alone, but when a ball comes to you that close to goal, you can’t dawdle on the ball, and he did just that. Flamini was a feel good story last season, coming back to the club on a free and playing well as the Gunners rose to lead the league for most of the first three quarters of the season. But his form has dipped considerably, and Arteta seems slower as well. Neither can dominate the defensive midfield at the moment and it thus restores the question of why Wenger has failed to sign a world class DM for seven long years now. Song did the job adequately in his final season, but was then sold and has never been replaced. This is the kind of ineptitude by a manager that would generally get them sacked, but Wenger now claims he will make Diaby into a DM, even as the Frenchman can’t seem to put together more than two or three games without another career-threatening injury. Will Wenger finally sign a player in the winter? Probably, just in time to secure fourth place yet again.

3. Sanchez Benched: Alexis Sanchez has been in good form over the past month or so, scoring the opener against Leicester, the go ahead goal against Man City and the opener in the losing effort Tuesday in the Capital One Cup against Southampton, where he scored a sublime free kick. And yet he found himself on the bench, alongside Cazorla, at the start of the game. Cazorla later came on for an injured Ramsey, who looks set to miss a spell with a hamstring problem, and Sanchez came on for Wilshere in the 62nd minute. From the moment he stepped on the pitch, the Gunner attack seemed to come to life and they were level a little over ten minutes later, largely because of his patience in the box. The Gunners kept threatening from here, but were unable to get past a stalwart defensive effort from the Spurs. One wonders if Sanchez had started and Ozil played in his preferred #10 from the start, whether the Gunners could have secured all three points, as most expected.

And so Wenger and Arsenal seem poised to again struggle to win the “trophy” of fourth place, to maybe squeak out of their group in the Champions League in second place, before losing in the first knock out round and hopefully to make a run in the FA Cup (since the Capital One Cup is already gone). Is this really acceptable to fans? Wenger has finally opened the purse strings and brought in some world class talent, in Sanchez and Ozil, surrounded by young players that could really grow to that level themselves (Ramsey, Wilshere, Welbeck, Gibbs, Ox and Chambers) and a back line that is relatively solid (Mertesacker and Koscielny, and Debuchy when he returns). But his failure to make those two final moves – for a DM and CB cover – has already cost them several points this year. And it’s not like he didn’t know about these needs from the start of the summer, particularly after he sanctioned the sale of Vermaelen. One wonders whether it is obstinacy, senility or some combination therein – but I, for one, cannot wait until the day he retires.

Looking at the season so far, one could argue that the Gunners have shown character in several games – coming back from 1-0 down to take all three points in their opener, going from 1-0 down to take the lead against City, coming back from 2-0 down to draw even with Everton and scoring the equalizer today. On the other hand, one could also look at the fact that they conceded an equalizer against City that cost them two points, an equalizer against Leicester City that cost them the same, two goals against Southampton after leading to exit the Capital One Cup and failed to finish off teams that looked ready to wilt, in Everton and Tottenham. The Gunners are still undefeated, but four draws in six games is nothing to cause great cheer in North London. Next up is Chelsea, and the Gunners really need to at least get a draw there if they want to stay relevant in the title race. First up is Galatasaray on Wednesday though, a necessary win if they are to get out of the group and restore some faith that they have not taken a step backwards from last term. COYG!

No comments: