Yesterday’s game was frustrating to watch to say the least, and we once more found ourselves in the situation of dominating the ball but being unable to do anything with it. Opportunities went begging, and even though the attacking trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud had decent games, the rest of the team was not able to back them up effectively.
Kieran Gibbs and Joel Campbell both had good opportunities to score, and Santi Cazorla of course had the penalty. But the main cause of our loss was at the back rather than up front. It is one thing to concede when your opponents are on song, like in the loss against Bayern Munich. But it is quite another to lose due to a set piece and an own-goal, both of which could easily have been avoided.
The manager admitted as much, without going on to blame any specific players (via Arsenal.com).
“The result does not reflect the game but we have to look at ourselves. I think at 1-0 up we became a little too easy and the equaliser they scored sums it up well, they didn’t even need to have the ball,” he said.
“That is where we have to mature. In the second half we gave absolutely everything. We were unlucky and it was a bad day because we scored an own goal, missed a penalty and overall didn’t deserve to lose this game.
“We have to look at ourselves and think why did it happen to us? I believe we lost a fraction of focus when we were 1-0 up. It is frustrating, it is disappointing and what you want is to learn from a game you don’t deserve to lose. We had 72 per cent possession and if you lose it you have to look at yourself and think what happened to us.
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That is all true, and our defeat was certainly aided by a large portion of bad luck, but I feel that there were elements of the game that were very much in our control, had we planned better throughout the season. Gibbs played as well as could be expected from a defender in an attacking role, but why was he there in the first place? How many other title challenging teams are forced to field their fullbacks as wingers?
The flip side – what does it say about a player if he is left out of his natural position in favour of a defender? Joel Campbell is a player that Wenger has expressed faith in, yet he found himself on the bench and the front line was reshuffled rather than giving him a start. Is this really a great endorsement of the ‘good squad depth’ that the manager claims we have at the club? Yes, he is technically a third choice player behind Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, but when our entire British contingent gets injured like clockwork every season, the manager should really start planning for it.
Next up, Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard was a good player in his prime, but age has caught up to him. Even now, he would be a decent passer and distributor of the ball, should he come on for someone like Cazorla for example. But expecting him to deliver the same level of physical play as Francis Coquelin is just madness. Even Mathieu Flamini, a much more direct player, cannot replace the Coq, and I am stumped as to why the manager decided to play an Arteta-Cazorla pairing in midfield against a Tony Pulis side.
The root cause of this is, of course, our lack of activity over the transfer window. The need for a backup to Francis Coquelin was visible for everyone to see, and every single fan knew that his fitness was a ticking time bomb. Even if the diagnosis on the French midfielder is good and he returns to action right away, his absence in yesterday’s game left a clear and gaping hole that no one else is capable of filling. Do we really want to risk this, assuming that the desire to challenge for the title is real? What if this game had been in April, rather than November?
And not just Le Coq, several other players like Ozil and Sanchez have no backup as well. Assuming Ramsey is Wenger’s long term choice for the right wing (which certainly seems to be the case), then that leaves just Wilshere as an acceptable replacement for all three of our current midfielders. Needless to say, relying on Wilshere to stay fit for an entire season is folly of the highest order. Meanwhile, Sanchez is literally running on fumes since we cannot afford to rest him.
These are all things that had been said over the summer and are only gaining more weight as the season progresses. We have had a great run in the league, but only when our entire squad is available to be relied on. In the absence of Coq, players like Per Mertesacker are left exposed and vulnerable. Without Ramsey, our entire team becomes lopsided in the attack. And God forbid anything happen to Sanchez and Ozil. In conclusion, if these holes in the squad are not patched, well, goodbye title.