Three goals in seven second half minutes – that’s all it took for Arsenal to win a game in which they were otherwise unimpressive. While the comeback was miraculous and the result crucial, many problems still remain.
As has been the case for the last month or so, Arsenal started at a pedestrian pace. While Aston Villa did not create much, neither did we, and that’s always a risk with such an error-prone defence.
Lukasz Fabianski started the game and very quickly looked nervous and indecisive, reminding us of the big game temperament he is so lacking. Why Arsene Wenger likes to rest his first choice goalkeeper for cup games is beyond me. In the end, however, Fabianski wasn’t the main problem.
Villa’s first came from a well-worked corner routine, but Richard Dunne still rose unchallenged to head home, which just isn’t good enough. Per Mertesacker was also at fault in the build-up, wandering too far out of defence forcing Koscielny to concede the corner. The fact that such an experienced international can look so lost when he comes here shows it is not about the players but the coaching. No matter how many millions we might spend on defenders in the transfer market, the problem won’t go away unless we change our training routines, or some of the coaching staff. The likes of Swansea and Everton, in 13th and 14th place respectively, have not spent big money on defenders but have conceded fewer goals than us.
The second, and what looked at the time like the killer goal, came right on half time from Darren Bent. Villa got us on the break and, to be fair, it was a great finish from a tight angle after his initial shot was well-saved by Fabianski. Boos rang out as the half time whistle went, as there was just nothing positive about Arsenal’s play at all, and seemingly no way back; we weren’t creating anything and Villa scored from their only two chances.
At this point on Twitter, I said: “Would take a hell of a team talk from Wenger to turn this around. Sadly, I think he lost the dressing room ages ago.”
And yet, 15 minutes after the start of the second half we were winning. We looked a different side, pouring forward and running at players, playing at a pace that Villa simply could not deal with. Obviously Wenger hasn’t LOST the dressing room, as such, but it deeply concerns me that we can’t play like this when it’s 0-0, or when we’re a goal up.
Sadly after our 3rd goal, we slowed down tremendously again and allowed Villa back into it. Their confidence should have been at rock-bottom at that point and if we’d carried on at that pace we could perhaps have killed the game off with a 4th or a 5th, but once again we just put the brakes on and gave our opponents confidence that they could snatch an equaliser.
I don’t know what I can say other than that this team confuses me. I don’t know if it’s the manager or the players, I don’t know how they can go so quickly from slow, boring, indecisive football to fast and exciting, and then back again. I don’t know why they cannot find the motivation to kill opponents off and add to a lead, rather than hold onto it for dear life. We are so much better at attacking than defending, so why not keep attacking? Why put pressure on a defence that can’t handle pressure?
At least we won this one. A 4th straight defeat and an exit from the only trophy we are likely to challenge for would have been a bit of a disaster. Hopefully now the players will be feeling a bit better about themselves and get back to winning ways in the league.
Another positive is that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given a start and, once again, showed that he is capable of making things happen. I wouldn’t say he was even at his best today, but talented players can still produce moments that scare defenders and lift the crowd. His confidence with the ball at his feet and the vision of his passes is a real asset. Chamberlain on a bad day is definitely worth more than Walcott or Arshavin on a bad day.
Bolton away next. I’d take 3 points any way they come but it would be nice not to have to go two goals down for this one!