We may have beaten Standard Liege 2-0 last night but I can’t remember feeling as stressed about Arsenal as I do right now.
With the crucial game against Chelsea just five days away this was not the sort of performance I was hoping for. On paper 2-0 looks a comfortable victory, but just like the game against Sunderland there were worrying negatives to the performance that outweighed the positives.
Samir Nasri and Denilson may have got the goals at the end of a frantic first half yet both were a result of Standard’s inability than our craft. We missed the strength and craft of Robin van Persie for the second game running, something that will worry supporters with Chelsea on the horizon. Despite Carlos Vela’s best efforts he was unable to make his mark and just like on Saturday our wingers did not provide enough support. Once again Nasri was poor despite scoring while Andrey Arshavin was a passenger for long periods.
The bright spot once again was the performances of our superb central midfield duo of Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. Denilson also had a strong first outing after nine weeks off but the cohesive performance of the captain and the Cameroonian showed just how far they have both come as a pairing. Fabregas bossed the game with his incisive passing and showed exceptional maturity in the red card incident while Song racked up yet another Man of the Match award with a robust performance. If the Player of the Season award was given out today I know who I’d be giving it to.
My problem with this match was not that the result or the fact that we didn’t score more – it’s that just that a number of players on the pitch are not performing to their potential. People might point to the fact that the players need time on the pitch to gel, that a few are coming back from injury, but for me there are too many passengers just at the minute and that is a worrying sign for what will be a massive game against Chelsea on Sunday. Our record at home this season is so strong that we will certainly be tough to beat but right now my lack of confidence in the boys is such that I would be lying if I said I expect us to get the win we need to hang on at the top.
None of Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky and Walcott have done enough in the past two matches to suggest that we can adequately fill the void filled by van Persie and to a lesser extent Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby. We’re clearly lacking in physicality and height at the moment and it’s hard to see what the manager can do to address that on the weekend. Nasri’s early substitution suggests he is likely to start while Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky’s absence from the starting team also indicates they are likely to feature heavily.
Aside from a few below-par individual performances there were some infuriating moments by the team as a whole. The defence gifting Alex Witsel a chance from a free-kick sticks out in my mind, as does the multitude of ridiculous short corners Arshavin and Fabregas played throughout the game. Not one of them worked and perhaps the thing that irked me most was that they only started up once we were two goals to the good. It was like the game changed because we were in the lead, like we could faff about and try unusual things, like the players didn’t stop to consider that practicing our usual corners for the 90 minutes might actually be useful with Chelsea coming up. Statistics have shown that 50% of goals come from set-pieces and it was criminal not to practice them in such an ideal environment.
To finish a bad night off we have the possibility of William Gallas missing out on Chelsea after an ugly head clash and the announcement that Kieran Gibbs will be out for up to three months after breaking his foot. It’s a huge blow, particularly considering it happened with just 15 seconds to go, and you probably don’t need me reminding you it was the result of an horrible tackle by a Standard player and a short corner from Arshavin. Infuriating.
As you can probably tell I’m not feeling particularly good about things right now. I was expecting an improvement on Sunderland and to a certain extent the boys provided that. But with Chelsea looming large there are big questions that have yet to be answered about the potency of our attacking unit without the likes of van Persie and Bendtner. I still think we can beat anyone on our day but this was not the type of performance that suggests Sunday will be our day.
Sorry for the negativity but it’s going to be a nerve-wracking week for me.
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