Arsenal: Entertainers or serious footballers?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Being a neutral, it’s easy to watch Arsenal games without forming a bias opinion. There’s no doubt that their 3-3 home draw against Fulham in a London derby on Nov. 10th was highly entertaining, but the team needs to ask itself if it wants to be known as entertainers or serious footballers. If they hope to be the latter, the squad’s overrated defenders will need to pull up their boots pretty quickly.

The Gunners have just 16 points out of a possible 33 in 11 games so far this year, which means they’ve lost just over 50 per cent of their points. While they were busy blowing a 2-0 lead to Fulham at home at the Emirates, just like they did in Germany to Schalke in the champions League last Tuesday, true championship contenders Manchester City and Manchester United were overcoming deficits to win their league matches against Tottenham and Aston Villa.

For some reason Arsenal just can’t seem to hang onto a lead this season and when they do create the chances to add to their lead or break deadlocked games they can’t bury the ball in the net. A prime example of this came against Fulham when the Gunners were awarded with a dubious penalty kick in the last minute of injury time. However, Mikel Arteta saw his last-second spot kick saved by Fulham’s 40-year-old goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Earlier in the game Arteta gave up a penalty and Fulham took full advantage of it when striker Dmitar Berbatov scored to put them ahead 3-2.

But even with two more points dropped, manager Arsene Wenger said his eighth-place side isn’t out of the title race. They have 16 points from four wins, four draws and three losses and are 11 behind Manchester United’s league leading 27 points. That’s definitely the right attitude to take, but Arsenal’s also just 12 points out of the basement. Realistically that’s not a concern though since the world would basically have to come to an end for them to slip down to the relegation zone.

It’s obvious what the team needs to do to get back into the title race and that’s to stop blowing leads and take advantage of their scoring chances. That might be a bit harder done than said though since the back four of Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, and Laurent Koscielny are all overrated in my eyes and goalkeeper Vito Mannone is slowly coming back down to earth after an impressive start to the season.

Wenger needs to solidify his goaltending situation as Polish international Wojciech Szczesny isn’t the answer either. He also needs to shore up the defense with a solid commander-in-chief type of defender who can take control. Not knocking the overseas players, but the team lacks a tough British or at least British-style of defender such as Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown etc. Wenger’s team has allowed 12 goals against in the last four matches now and while it’s highly entertaining for everybody else, Gunners’ supporters definitely aren’t happy with this.

At least the team has been scoring a few goals lately and Olivier Giroud looked especially effective against Fulham with his two wonderful goals. Theo Walcott, with eight goals in all competitions, is also playing well at the moment, but left the pitch gingerly when he was substituted by Andrei Arshavin in the 85th minute. Walcott’s now pulled out of England’s friendly against Sweden on Wednesday. But even constant training and talking about improving team defence isn’t going to change things unless the players on the pitch do what they’re supposed to.

Wenger praised Giroud, and rightfully so, as he had his best game in a Gunners’ uniform. Of course, the other positive aspect of the match was that Arsenal didn’t lose it and fought back from 3-2 down to at least earn a point. Actually, Arshavin put in a good short shift after coming on for Walcott as he attacked the Fulham defenders and made things happen in and around the box. It was also was his cross into the box that resulted in the last minute penalty.

For this team to improve though, they need to play consistently good football, not just show flashes of brilliance from time to time. I’m not sure if it’ll happen this season, but if it doesn’t, at least they’ll probably still be an entertaining squad for neutral observers to watch, which is all they can ask for really.

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