Reaction: Tottenham (A)

61% possession but lacking at both ends of the pitch.

61% possession but lacking at both ends of the pitch.

Arsenal are now 5 points off behind Chelsea (4th) and 7 behind Tottenham (3rd). We repeated the same result as last season. In fact, both derbies were repetition of results. The result was fair. Tottenham probably didn’t deserve to win but we did deserve to lose. Suicidal defending in the first half has been our trademark this year and we executed that to perfection today.

 

 

First Half

I am very tempted to just re-post the Chelsea (A) reaction here because what occurred today was just about the same. We started off well, controlled the game and then in 3 minutes destroyed everything we did.  I don’t think Wenger can use the ‘nerves’ excuse this time. Spurs started out nervous, having their passes misplaced regularly. We were finding it rather easy to win the ball in their half. But we made nothing of it. And then the killer blow came as it did against City, Chelsea and Bayern this year.

 

We started off well, controlled the game and then in 3 minutes destroyed everything we did.

 

I give credit to opposing teams when due but I find it hard to credit Bale and Lennon because the goals they scored were pure giveaways. Static defense sliced by a diagonal pass  and both finishers did well one on one. 2-0 down in the first half, what an eerily familiar scoreline. Sometimes you scratch your head and ask yourself why. I mean, this is the fourth time in slightly more than 2 months that this has occurred. Surely, even the dumbest football player would realize that.  But we continue to do things like these over and over.

 

 

Second Half

We started off with intent but our attack was again not clicking at the final ball. This has been the case for the past few games. We pulled one back when Per scored his second goal for the club and fans were hoping for a repeat of the 5-2 we had at home. But at the way we were playing, I couldn’t see us breaking down the Tottenham defense  The point is, Spurs weren’t that good at all. We were were making them look good, like we did against Blackburn, Bradford, etc. We had all the possession, stayed for quite  along time in the half and we produced nothing. It was one of those cross hits the corner flag, corner misses the box, long shot flies higher than a goal kick, type of game.

 

Spurs weren’t that good at all. We were were making them look good, like we did against Blackburn, Bradford, etc.

 

Pathetic definitely but it is something that is becoming the norm this year. Even the winning run against Stoke, Sunderland and Villa were not convincing wins. 2013 has been a very bad year for Arsenal. The only game we can be proud of is the 5-1 drubbing we handed West Ham. Take a look at the results yourself, you can’t really find a bright spot this year even if you tried your darndest.

 

 

So What Went Wrong?

We had an optimistic start to this season and the state we are in now looks pretty worrisome. Here’s what I think went wrong. I’m not going to write like certain blogs that attempt to state opinion as fact. The fact is simple – we don’t know. Only those in the team do. But here are some calculated guesses.

We started the season playing a defensive strategy of containing the opponent. We defended in two banks of four and placed a lot of emphasis on our defensive shape. Sure enough, our defensive displays were assured and solid. August and September are probably the only months in a very long time that I was confident about the Arsenal defense. We returned to our old ways. Defend and then counter. And then, the Norwich game came.

 

August and September are probably the only months in a very long time that I was confident about the Arsenal defense.

 

The Norwich game began a run where we were absolutely toothless in attack. We hardly registered a shot on goal but defensively we were still managing well. Based on what we observed in the matches that followed, it does look like Wenger swapped out the rigid and more secure containment strategy to one that relied on pressing. It is also at this point that multiple reports rang out from the Emirates that Bould and Wenger had a minor row.

Correlation is not causation but what followed was that we lost all the defensive shape and our players began to look lost in defense. You can tell when a person behaves as if he is operating alone. That began to show as our defensive line turned into a ‘every man for himself’ frenzy. Our attacking play did pick up a bit but the manner we did so was to throw numbers forward. It is a very inefficient strategy and the great variation in results we have garnered is telling.

 

It is a very inefficient strategy and the great variation in results we have garnered is telling.

 

 

Balance

For the entire season I felt we only understood and played to our strengths in the first two months. We don’t have the fastest players and so a pressing and fast paced game no longer suits us. We added height and strength into the team but we couldn’t play accurate crosses or learn to work off a tall line leader. It has been frustrating to watch but the team is obviously not doing what suits them.

Looking at our current lineup, we can build a reliable team that is very hard to beat but one that may not be very productive upfront. Like it or not, that is not Wenger’s style. That would be more Graham than anything to be frank.

So we pushed the team to do something new around October. We pushed players like Giroud and Per to play a game of pace when they can hardly outrun anyone on the pitch. We now play a pressing game with full backs to join the final third. That means 2 central defenders are left when we get countered and one of them can’t run.

 

My personal frustration with this team is that we are screwing ourselves tactically.

 

This is the tactical problem that Wenger has created. If we had fluid and fast players, a pressing style would work great. But we don’t have that at all. We bought Per and Giroud for a reason. And that reason does not include attempting to make them chase other players or ask them to speed past defenders respectively. My personal frustration with this team is that we are screwing ourselves tactically.

 

 

Not Over, But

5 points off 4th place is not insurmountable. Whether we can pull it off again this season is a big question. I am not convinced about the team tactically. I think we have good players. Not as good as the Manchester clubs and Chelsea but definitely better than the other teams in the league. Wenger’s tactics have been poor. He needs to have a good look at the players he has and ask himself if he is playing to their strengths.

If the manager and team can prove themselves in the next 10 games that they are worthy for the CL, I’m sure the spot will be clinched. But if they don’t then I don’t see why we should expect to be in the CL. Top four is only for those who work for it and currently our confused team is placed at 5th for a good reason.
 

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