I have to admit that I had a feeling that our title bid would fail and that would happen against either Chelsea or Manchester City. Or both.
However, our failure came in the most anti-climactic way possible – we lost at Britannia Stadium after we had given the worst performance this season. We played against a very limited Mark Hughes side where we couldn’t cope with either their physical approach (blessed with another horror-performance from the referee) or our slow-motion-performance. It’s really good that AllArsenal.com is a very decent Arsenal blog because if it hadn’t been the case, this article would have been consisted of a lot of BIIIIIIIIPs and other replacements for ugly words. Here are our pointers for today’s game.
1.We slipped from the title race to the battle for the “fourth-place-trophy”.
Football can be cruel sometimes. A month ago we were eight points ahead of Liverpool after Kolo Toure had thrown away two points against West Brom. Four matches in the Premiership later, Liverpool are ahead of us due to superior goal-difference. We are four points behind Chelsea and nine ahead of Spuds (they have a game in hand) but it looks highly unlikely that we’ll leapfrog Abramovich’s favourite toy until the end of the season. On the other hand, Spuds might become a serious danger to us, especially given how many tough matches we are going to play in March.
2.You don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight and you don’t bring immobile players to face a bunch of rugby-player-wannabes.
Our lack of pace in the first half was so visible that if you had came too close to your screen, it would have poked you in the eye. Oxlade-Chamberlain – who was our best player in February – had been on the bench until Wenger realized that the introduction of Özil would be worthless without a pacey player to receive his passes. Our counter-attacks were appalling as our players looked like they’d never been in the same situation before.
Wenger should have known what to expect at the Orcham Asylum or – as they call it these days – Britannia Stadium. To start this sort of match without our only energetic and pacey attacker (Oxlade-Chamberlain) was suicide.
3.Our free-kicks are wasteful.
Do you know, my dear reader, that both you and I have scored the same number of free-kicks as our players this season? Today we had another promising situation in the last minutes of the match – Giroud earned a free-kick in an ideal position, just outside the box. Arteta went for the lay-off but it didn’t even pass the wall.
4.You don’t win anything with Giroud’s.
I repeat this week after week but it was clearly visible yesterday. Granted, he was out-muscled by the Orcs and Charlie Adam proved to be the worst piece of BIIIIIIIIP that has played against us this season. That doesn’t change the fact that the French striker’s technique and first touch are too heavy to make him capable of being anything else than a mantinelle.
We need a striker with better movement, better technique and more pace. I know that we can’t find an Henry or a Bergkamp just like that but if we want to compete, we must find a new starting striker in the summer. I can already hear some of you saying: “And what about Sanogo?” Well…
5.Sanogo is not Anelka.
Let me explain this – no matter how much Sanogo looks like an interesting potential, he is not a new Anelka just like Abou Diaby isn’t, hasn’t been and won’t be a new Patrick Vieira. For starters, Sanogo is a 21-year-old striker who is yet to find the net in his new shirt with less appearances than you can count on the fingers on one hand and who looks like a raw material that will require a lot of extra-work. Nicolas Anelka was 18-year-old when he scored a huge goal against Manchester United in 1997 and a 19-year-old when he was Arsenal top-scorer and joint third goal-scorer in the league. So, it’s more appropriate to compare Sanogo with Adebayor who was 22 when he joined Arsenal and 24 when he was Arsenal’s top-scorer and second only to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Premiership. But, you have to remember that Anelka had Wright and Bergkamp to learn from while Adebayor had played with Henry and van Persie before he claimed a place in the starting eleven. That’s why Sanogo needs a top-drawer striker to play next to him.
6.Perhaps we should try with two strikers against teams like Stoke.
Yesterday we started to look a bit more dangerous when Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo entered the pitch and it was their co-operation that created the best chance for us to equalize. Both Giroud and Sanogo were on the pitch when things started to happen. So, maybe we need that to bypass our lack of quality in the attack – just like we did last season to bypass our lack of natural defensive midfielder: if you don’t have quality, use quantity. Of course, that might leave us vulnerable on other parts of the pitch but this is that time of the year when Arsene Wenger needs to pull a trick out of his sleeve.
7.Our away form has been fading away for a while.
In 2013, at this exact same time, we played Spuds in the league. We lost that game but that defeat made Wenger move in the right direction so the Frenchman made changes that turned us into a resilient side that can collect points anywhere. Our away form was something special – we had been unbeaten in away matches since Bayern München (which included victory over Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park) until that league game at Old Trafford. Still, we lost just two more away matches in 2013 and both of them happened in the same week – Napoli and Manchester City. However, in 2014, we have managed to win just one game away from home – a hard-fought 2:1 victory against Aston Villa. Since that victory we have drawn at St Mary’s stadium against Southampton (2:2), lost to Liverpool (5:1) and Stoke (1:0).
8.Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can’t be left on the bench.
Our best player in February injected energy in the last fifteen minutes and created our best chance but Sanogo sent the ball over the bar. The Englishman must be included for the forthcoming fixtures as he is the only player in our team that can stretch our opponents.
9.Matches against Everton and Spuds become the most important of the season.
Our next match is the one against Everton in the FA Cup quarterfinals. Our last realistic chance for a trophy is the FA Cup and that’s why Wenger must do his best to out-smart Roberto Martinez and his excellent side, especially given that international mid-week action might add fatigue problems to our current pile.
Only a week after that we’ll play the Spuds in the league. Spuds will play the Chavs on the same day we play Everton. If they lose that one and fail to beat us, they will be in serious trouble. If, however, we lose that game, Spuds are back in the race for the fourth place and we’ll have to make things right against Chavs (away), Manchester City (home) and Everton (away).
All this means…
10.We should forget about the second leg against Bayern.
We can’t do anything there and it’s just an extra obligation squeezed between two most important matches of the season. I’d accept a Liverpool-like trouncing at AllianzArena if it means we’ll beat both Everton and Spuds in the forthcoming matches. Our priorities should be set right now and wasting too much energy in Munich shouldn’t be among them.
11.If he fails to deliver, Wenger mustn’t get a new contract.
Arsene Wenger must earn his next contract with Arsenal. If people like Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers can spend less money than he did on Özil and build more watchable and to a certain extent more successful teams than ours, then Wenger can fight against his own vain and stubbornness before it’s too late. If he fails to reach a CL-place and/or win FA Cup, he should get a firm hand-shake and a “Dear Arsene…”-note on the pillow.
12.Our team must step up in big matches – now or never!
The March Madness didn’t start well and we are yet to play the big matches. Every match in March will be a huge one – Everton, Spuds, Bayern, Chavs and City. Our team has been a rather poor in those – Joel Campbell has been the only Arsenal player that has scored a goal against United this season but unfortunately he plays for Olympiacos; we haven’t beaten Chavs in two matches at home, Everton have left Emirates undefeated as well, we were brutally defeated against Liverpool at Anfield and against City at Etihad while Napoli and Bayern have reached comfortable 2:0-victories against us in our latest appearances in the Champions’ League. To make it worse, we failed to beat teams like Southampton and Stoke at their respective venues as well.
Next match: Everton (FA Cup). We must win it to save this season from ultimate disappointment.