I can only remember one really good half of Football this Arsenal team has played in the Premier League since we ran out in the second half against Villa. Let me look at the games we have played:
Arsenal vs Villa (2nd half) – we came out 2-1 up but after that held on throughout the half and never looked like scoring. Villa hit the bar and really should have got something from the game.
Arsenal vs Newcastle – after Adebayor scored early many thought a rout was on the cards but after that we sat back all game, failed to create anything of note and ended up holding on for a draw
Arsenal vs Middlesborough – we got exactly what we deserved for our worst performance of the season. We lacked potency and our effort levels were so low I couldn’t believe how little the players were trying.
Arsenal vs Chelsea – the winning goal came from a set piece but before that we had not created much. Only in the last 20 minutes did we look dangerous – the period when Chelsea threw caution to the wind.
Arsenal vs Spurs – we were matched by Tottenham for most of the game and had Almunia not saved the penalty, the game could have been so different. We got our first goal from our only move of note all game and the winner from poor defending at a corner by Spurs.
Arsenal vs Portsmouth – again we lacked a cutting edge and did not deserve more than the point we got
Arsenal vs Everton – in the first half we were out fought and out passed. In the second we got the goals and played some better football.
Arsenal vs West Ham – we got the win after 20 minutes and maybe the players cannot be blamed for a lacklustre second half.
If you look at all these games, we may have won a lot of them but we did not play good Football. We won some tricky ties due to resilience and fight but today we got what was coming to us. A team can only win games with average performances up to a point. Today, we had a few chances but were not playing with the same fluidity as we are used to and failed to break Birmingham down.
Do not interpret this as a critiicism of the team during those games, only the Boro game was an awful result considering. We won some tricky games and came through the difficult month to lead in the title race and Wenger rightly won manager of the month. My point is simply that we had not been brilliant and soon enough something was going to give.
It has all really stemmed from the Sevilla game. Before that, we were playing some sublime passing football and beating all teams in our way. Wenger went with a mixture of first team and second string. If he wanted to win the game we should have gone all out and if not, he simply should have given the “reserves” more game time. We ended up losing our unbeaten record with a few first team members in it. There is no doubt the performance level dropped after this game.
In that game, Cesc Fabregas picked up an injury that kept him out of action until the Chelsea game and since then he has not been the same player he was before that. He has sat a lot deeper in games and not had such a big threat going forward. Today summed it up really for Cesc. So many times it was like he was playing the game with a blindfold on his face. He failed to get the ball to its intended target and his shooting was off. So many times he left his team mates short and one pass was just blasted at Flamini. Maybe he needs a game out of the team to reflect, I don’t know but hopefully something changes soon.
Alex Hleb had also been out of the team for a while up till recently and today he came back. On the left he was a real threat but when he switched to the right and the game drew on he started to take far too long on the ball. He should have played the quicker, simpler ball at times but was waiting for the killer ball to open up and it was not going to happen with the game so narrow towards the end. Wenger saw how much Hleb was congesting the play and moved Flamini out wide and even more so once Diaby was on.
That substitution was very unnescessary. Sagna and Clichy were our only real width and some of their crosses were dangerous. Clichy was brilliant getting up and down and Sagna the same. To bring Diaby into such a tense game, so late on, was not a wise move in my eyes. After a very poor game in midweek, it was unlikely Diaby would be able to do anything and pretty unfair to expect him to. He should have kept Sagna on and sent Senderos or Gallas forward to aim crosses at. We had Bendtner and Adebayor already up there. I think this would have been a better option.
We should not have been in this position in the first place. If Arsenal were able to defend and attack at set pieces we would have won this game. Birmingham’ goal was such poor defending from us and really a free header granted to O’Connor. Even then a lacklustre Cesc deflected it in as he seemed half asleep. This was not our only problem. We had countless corners that Birmingham were happy to give away. Why? Arsenal cannot score from corners. The only times we have this season, poor defending has provided an easy chance for us. Today, Birmingham were able to clear easily or Taylor had catching practice.
Fabregas needs to add some pace and whip to his corners. When he floats them in it gives defenders less chance to attack the ball with surprise movement and when they get there, they must generate their own power on the ball. This can only happen when the keeper decides not to come and collect an easy catch. It has been the same story for two seasons now and Fabregas must not take corners anymore in my view. We all know what Van Persie can do when he takes corners (when he’s fit!!!) and Cesc should learn from him. Rosicky takes a better corner, I have even seen Flamini take them better than Fabregas. Something needs to be addressed.
While we have David Beckham with us during training, Wenger really should get him to teach our players how to improve their set pieces.
Theo Walcott had a terrible game today, not much different to Wednesday. Walcott plays with excitement rather than his brain and has a lot to learn about decision making; when to pass, when to dribble and when to shoot. He didnt start playing Football until he was 10 or 11 so he is a bit behind really and a real rough diamond. He has talent but really must learn his strengths and weaknesses. Right now it seems his touch is off and his passing is wayward.
Flamini showed the difference between his game and that of Gilberto. Flamini was in and around their midfield and biting into challenges. He gave them no time on the ball and was a springboard for Cesc and Hleb, something Glberto failed to provide for Denilson.
Other than from set pieces we looked quite solid at the back. Senderos impressed me with his aerial challenges and in particular some of his tackles on the ground. Hopefully he can keep this up until Toure returns. Almunia made one great save when called upon and apart from that was largely untested. He had no chance with the goal after it was deflected in.
Eduardo was not playing at the standard we had expected but to be honest he is only playing well when those around him are creating chances and today they did not. He did not get many one v ones with Taylor and his one chance from a cross he should have done better with. Ade worked hard to get the ball and make things happen but we were not stretching Birmingham enough. It was great to see him run all the way back to our goal to win the ball when a team mate lost it. Bendtner looked good regarding his hold up play but must learn that it is not always best to shoot. Some of his shots were way wide and not the best option. Some of his passing was more threatening than many of his team mates had produced before his introduction.
We did not lose but it is likely we will be 2nd by tonight. Man Utd host Newcaslte now and should they win will be level on points with Arsenal. They have a superior goal difference that will be extended should they win. The title race is hotting up.