Having watched yet another lacklustre first half at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon I began to wonder. What has happened to the days when we shot right out of the blocks and the game was over after 30 minutes? Last season the players could explain they had just moved to a new ground and it would take time to get used to the new added length and width of the pitch. However after 1 full season there this excuse no longer can stick.  I worry now that Arsenal as a team seems to lack that sharpness and edge we really requite with our style of football.  A few seasons back games were won by half time. The players came out and went at teams so fast they couldnt cope and the rest of the game was simply routine.
I know counter attacking football is harder with teams sitting back with 10 men behind the ball but there isnt the energy weve seen in previous seasons.  Manchester City were top of the league after 3 straight victories having not conceded a goal.  This match was never going to be open and true to expectations City were very difficult to breakdown.  Yet the way Arsenal played did not help.  Yes, every time an Arsenal player was bout to shoot a City player was there to block off the shot but the Arsenal players seemed so monotonous.  It is both an issue regarding the team as a whole and the players singularly. Regarding the whole team it seems to me that the play is so slow and they dont have the urgency to move up the gears.  Rarely have I seen Arsenal burst out in the first few minutes and frighten teams at home in the last 2 seasons.  It takes the players time to settle into the game and sometimes the opposition has taken the lead already.  City could have taken the lead three times in the first half on Saturday but were wasteful.  One would think this would kick Arsenal into life but a change did not materialise.  Hleb was very sloppy, giving the ball away and he simply refused to try and beat his man.  Rosicky picked up the ball at times wide on the left and instead of driving at the City defence he looked to pass.  I will look at these players more closely later but the main problem here is that the play slows down and the opposition can regroup and hold their shape without any problems.  Too many times promising positions are created but then too many intricate passes are made with no yards being made.  Eventually the ball remains still at players feet while they look for a forward option.  No one makes enough runs and the play goes square or even back.
Only when a team goes ahead do Arsenal realise they need to move around, create space and want the ball.  When they get it they finally move it quicker and start to open up defences. The second half is ALWAYS an improvement.  Whether Wenger says something I don™t know as I dont have access to the dressing but all I know is something changes.  There is more urgency and the players go for it.  If something is said then pre match discussions need to be addressed.  Something before maybe isnt working and the players dont listen enough to prepare themselves.  Are the warm ups too easy and laid back to get the players pumped up for the first 45 minutes. Arsenal dont do passing exercises where they have to exert some energy and other teams do.  These teams are ready and come at us and pressure the play. Maybe Arsenal should try this but Wenger trusts his pre match routines so I cannot change these, I just feel these maybe the answer as to why Arsenal is lethargic.
By almost wasting the first half the team is left with far too much to do in too many games.  There are only a certain amount of times a team can comeback and win, as we found out last season with countless draws at home. When analysing the whole team Ill start with the defence.  The ball was passed to Kolo Toure who almost every time looked to play a long high ball to Adebayor. Adebayor looked lethargic after his injury and was rarely going to win anything in the air against Dunne who is taller than him and Micah Richards who has a fantastic leap along with awesome strength. Toure needed to add some variety to his play.  Against a 5 man midfield we required someone to bring the ball out and drive at the midfield and defence.  This in turn opens up space and new options arise. A perfect example of this is when Toure ran at the Fulham defence and won a penalty.  I would love to see him do this a lot more rather than hoofing the ball up to a striker finding it hard to win the ball in the air.
It was hard to analyse the right back position yesterday.Sagna only lasted 18 minutes and Flamini isnt a natural full back.  He got into the positions but seemed to lack ideas out wide.  Had Sagna got into these positions maybe scoring opportunities would have been produced.  Gael Clichy has been in outstanding form both defensively and going forward.  His endless energy created a goal against Sparta Prague.  There are things I would like to see him do aswell as making these lung bursting runs.  His delivery and decision making in the opposition half could be looked at.  The crosses are always around the same area and rarely do we score from them.Clichy has the ability to surge into the box and this draws defenders across, thereby leaving space in the centre for the strikers and on-rushing midfielders.  This is just one example of one dimensional play sometimes and if we can mix it up a bit, goals will flow even more. Moving into the midfield now.
Cesc Fabregas once again saved Arsenal and gave us the three points.  The problem Cesc had last season was goals and now he seems to be getting them.  The run for the goal was brilliant, creeping in unnoticed.  He didn™t do this however in the first half and I would like to see him make more runs.  Alexander Hleb is probably the most frustrating player for any Arsenal fan.  In the first half yesterday Hleb got the ball countless times.  He always looked for a square pass and never once tried to beat the left back. Not once did he test to see how solid the left back was.  Rarely did his square passes give us any better option than going at the defender would have done.  It opens up space in the middle if he succeeds and this was the problem yesterday, the defence was too tight to break down City.  He also seems to have a phobia to shoot.  When he was down the centre he took a few more shots but from the right he simply refuses.  Many times he had more space than many had had but continued to look for the pass.  In the second half Hleb caused so many problems because he went at his man who was troubled by his quick feet.  Wenger obviously said something at half time but why should it take him so long to realise he has the quality to cause the opposition troubles  He won a penalty and created a goal just because he took a few more risks. On the other flank Wenger likes to have Tomas Rosicky cutting infield.  Ideally this should leave Rosicky moving into a role just off the strikers to do the playmaking role alongside Cesc.  It also gives him chances to shoot from long range as he drifts inside.  He is best when he is let loose to run at defenders.  Yesterday Rosicky however didn™t seem to want to carry the ball.  He wanted to offload it early. The advantage of going at defenders is the high backline is forced to drop, defenders lose their positions and scoring opportunities can arise.
Second half Rosicky carried it a lot more and lo and behold space and chances came about.  Again it seems the first half doesnt motivate the players, they maybe feel they can win a game all in the second half. Up front Adebayor was new from injury so I wont criticise him too much.  Him and RVP couldnt really do too much to be honest with the lack of service and good defending from City.  It was themidfielders job to try and help the attackers but as said they failed to do so first half.  As the midfielders joined in a lot more with more urgency the strikers had more space to try and score.
To summarise: the City game showed there is a lack of urgency un the first half of most Arsenal matches.  Gone are the days where Arsenal fans could sit comfortably at half time in the knowledge 3 points were in bag.  Nowadays the games are very nervous as games are very tight.  Teams know how to set up at the Emirates and early goals ruin their game plan.  The players can relax and play pretty football once the game is won, but I just wish they would try and win the game first and foremost.