Arsenal are 10 points off Premier League leaders Chelsea after a spineless, gutless performance in a 1-0 defeat to Norwich City, who at the final whistle were celebrating their first win of the season.
Arsenal now find themselves 9th in the table, with just three wins in their opening eight games. What looked like a strong start to the season is now showing itself to be what it really is: another season of scrapping for 4th place with Spurs. Last season’s disastrous start lowered everyone’s expectations and convinced us that a few clean sheets in our opening games was a massive sign of improvement, and that Steve Bould’s influence was already paying off and making us into title challengers.
I was fooled as well, don’t get me wrong. When we went to Man City showing both more quality and fight to grab a point I thought we were seeing a different team this year. Although the Chelsea defeat was disappointing; they’re a good side and these things happen.It is the defeat today that has convinced me I was wrong; it shows that nothing has changed, apart from the personnel. While Wenger is in charge, the team will always stroll into games like this thinking they’ve won before a ball has been kicked. Wenger cannot motivate players for games like this, especially if they go into them on the back of some good form (two wins is enough to count as that now apparently). Remember QPR away last season? We’d won seven in a row against some good teams, we went to the relegation-threatened club and played very casually, eventually being beaten 2-1. The following week, against a big team in Man City, there was far more drive and we pulled off a great win against the eventual champions. You’d be hard pressed to find a week better than that to sum up Arsenal under Wenger.
The goal itself was of a typically comical nature, coming from Mannone’s inability to handle a speculative shot from distance; Grant Holt followed in and had an easy finish. The third choice ‘keeper has had a decent spell in the team, but with Szczesny seemingly injured long-term and off-form anyway, this is a reminder that we still need to strengthen this position in January. It’s infuriating to think Spurs have an excellent goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris sitting on their bench. We were far more in need of a ‘keeper this summer than they were but let them sign him unchallenged for a relatively modest fee.
What makes this defeat all the more disappointing is that it came the same day that Spurs lost 4-2 at home to Chelsea. I was in two minds about who to cheer on in that game, and perhaps sensibly I conceded that Spurs are more of a threat to our ambitions this season, so I went for Chelsea. We were unable to capitalise on this slip up from the neighbours and now sit two points behind AVB’s side. Still, they hardly look solid under the Portuguese manager and perhaps we can take some comfort in that – his Chelsea side leaked goals and he looks to have taken that to White Hart Lane with him.
It’s hard to analyse these games tactically when everyone played so badly, but the main concerns for me were Ramsey and Gervinho. I’d love to think Ramsey can be the player he was before he got injured, but I’m starting to lose hope. The moves so often break down when the ball reaches him, and he doesn’t have the physical presence of Diaby to help out Arteta defensively, or to carry the ball forward with any conviction. Gervinho, meanwhile, had a decent spell upfront and should perhaps rotate with Giroud for that spot; out wide he does not do enough to provide ammunition for the strikers, hogging the ball for too long and often just losing it. He was poor there against West Ham as well but a good win glossed over that fact.
It would be good to see more of Oxlade-Chamberlain but, like a cruel joke, he lasted nine minutes today before going off injured after coming on as a sub. I’m not sure how serious it is, and I haven’t heard news on Walcott either. Serge Gnabry came on for his first Premier League appearance today and, thankfully, looked pretty good, because we might need to see more of him in the coming games. Gervinho should not be used out wide again, especially not on the right.
Anyway, regardless of what we do and who we play, the overall mental fragility of the team has reared its ugly head again. Arsenal and Spurs failed big tests today, and it’ll almost certainly be a fight for 4th between those two.
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