Sunday, November 09, 2014

Arsenal Blows 2nd Lead in 5 Days: Lose 2-1

Is there anyone left in world football who thinks Arsene Wenger should still be the coach of Arsenal? If there is, I suggest heading to your local psychoanalyst for some serious therapy. Arsenal took the lead 1-0 on 63 minutes when, you guessed it, Alexis Sanchez scored. It was a lovely counter started by Oxlade-Chamberlain who rushed from the back passing forward to Cazorla, who sent the ball through to Welbeck on the right. Welbeck pulled up and then laid the ball across the goal for an easy finish for the Chilean. And yet Swansea were almost level two minutes later, after Montero shuffled past Chambers yet again (more on this in a moment). At that point, you would think Arsenal would begin to sit back a little, recognizing their tendency to concede goals this year at a rate of about two a game.

But that would be the rational choice, and the Gunners are about as irrational a team as one can find these days. So it was little surprise when a sublime free kick from Sigurdsson tied it up in the 74th minute. It wasn’t terribly shocking when the lead turned all the way around three minutes later, as Chambers was beaten on the left for seemingly the 8th time and Montero then sent a cross to Gomis (in for Bony) who bullied Monreal before heading the ball in from above him. And though the Gunners fought valiantly for an equalizer, the late goal did not come today. Three more points dropped in a season where it appears the struggle for fourth will again be the narrative. Five thoughts on the game and season so far:

1.  No Lead is Safe When Arsenal Play: this is true of both opponent’s leads and their own, but Arsenal are watching their season fall apart because they can’t play defense. Up three nil and cruising to the knock-out stage, Arsenal inexplicably blow a three-goal lead Tuesday. Five days later they have a 1-0 lead on the road against a hot team, but fail to fix the major problem (Montero on the right) and get burned for two goals. For a neutral, they may provide the most drama from week to week, but for fans it just further solidifies the belief that this is a team in crisis yet again (as they appear to be every season for several years now). How is this essentially the same team that had the best defense in the league in calendar year 2013? Injuries alone do not explain it!

2. Wenger Clueless Exposed Again: I have been criticizing Wenger almost all season, but let’s focus on a rather obvious error he made today – after failing to adjust in any meaningful way after Anderlecht scored their first goal on Tuesday (and blaming the officials a few days later). Colum Chamber was actually signed as a right back from Southampton, though Wenger thought he would be a CB or DM, eventually. Early injuries meant Chambers moved to CB early in the season and, beside a tendency to garner yellows every time he plays, acquitted himself relatively well. But at right back he has a tendency to be overpowered and overrun. That was clearly the case today, with Swansea’s Montero gliding past him time after time. It was only a matter of time until it would result in a goal and that’s exactly what happened on the winner – with the other problem, Nacho Monreal at CB, directly contributing to the goal as he was overpowered by Gomis. Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about defensive problems if Wenger had kept Vermaelen or signed the defensive cover he needs, but I’m tired of talking about that.

3. Bizarre Table: As we head into the International Break, Chelsea sit at the top of the table, as many predicted, though few would have had them still undefeated, with only two draws, after 11 games. Below them things start to get a little strange. Southampton still sit in second, only four points behind the leaders. Below them is a Man City squad that, beyond Sergio Aguero, is just not good enough so far this season (8 points behind) and then even stranger, West Ham in fourth. Arsenal were jumped by Swansea after the result today and they sit in 6th, 12 points (or four full games) behind Chelsea with 27 to play. Below the Gunners are United, Newcastle (of four straight wins) and Stoke City. To find Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham, we have to move down to 10 through 12, respectively, all 15 points behind the leaders. It is a bizarre start to the season, with only Chelsea living up to expectations as we move toward a third of a season being completed.

4. Sanchez is a Star/Welbeck Not So Much: Alexis Sanchez and Diego Costa are certainly competing for signing of the summer, with Costa (and maybe Fabergas) having the edge only because Chelsea seem poised for a wire-to-wire, relatively easy title winning season; unless something changes dramatically. Sanchez scored his 8th goal in the league today (in 11 matches) to go with one in the Capital One Club, and 2 goals and an assist in the UCL (total of 11 goals and 3 assists). He is a truly exceptional player, but needs others around him to start scoring – including Welbeck, who had two good chances to put the ball in the net, though he did get the assist for Sanchez’s effort. In fact, just as Sanchez has been red hot, Welbeck has been ice cold, scoring only once since his hat trick against Galatasaray on October 1 – a goal in the 2-2 draw with Hull. Maybe those questions about his finishing are worth revisiting? And speaking of ice cold, Cazorla has now gone 24 games without a goal in the league, absurd for a player of his ability!

5. Foundation There for Right Coach: let’s be honest, with a healthy team, Arsenal are probably a player or two short of a real shot at a title. You have Ox, who has the ability to get around almost any defender in the league, Ozil in the #10 slot, Sanchez able to play in several positions and score on a regular basis, Welbeck and/or Giroud up top, Walcott’s speed and finish on the right flank, Ramsey, hopefully returning to form, as the b-2-b man and Mertesacker and Koscielny sandwiched between Debuchy and Gibbs. That is a quality team with a lot of scoring potential – and we can add Wilshere, Campbell, Podolski and Cazorla to the list. With a strong DM, that is a formidable team – though it is a necessity as too many of our offensive stars don’t contribute on the defensive end. But with Wenger’s unwillingness or inability to create a complete team, manage injuries or adjust strategy/tactics, the results are essentially down to luck from week to week – will the other team take the chances they are sure to get, will Sanchez score a goal or two, can anyone else on the team put the ball in the net? If Klopp is truly available at the end of the season, the board should snatch him up without a second thought.  

Arsenal now head into the international break on a low, that could very easily have been so different. If they had held their two leads this week, they would be in fourth place, on to the knockout stage of the Champions League and with some momentum. Instead the same old questions continue to be asked, and will be until the people upstairs wake up and starts listening to the voices of sanity regarding a tired and increasingly tiresome Wenger.

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