All aboard the Almunia-bashing bandwagon
What a difference a couple of days can make. On Wednesday us Gooners were riding the crest of a wave after the massacre of White Hart Lane. This evening we are suffering the ignominy of a humiliating home defeat to one of this years promoted sides. What the hell was that I watched today?
Before I start bemoaning Arsenal's performance today I have to get one thing straight - West Brom were well worth their win today, and 3-2 was not a fair reflection of their command of the game. There is no controversy to be hidden behind, no excuses, simply that the best team today won the game. I listened to 6-0-6 on the way home and Robbie Savage was saying that perhaps it wasn't that Arsenal were bad, but West Brom were good. They were. West Brom were very good. But the fact that they beat Arsenal was not down to them being at their best, so much as Arsenal being appalling. Let's face facts, if Arsenal had turned up to play today, West Brom could have been brilliant, but Arsenal would have beaten them.
Arsene Wenger was refreshingly honest in the interview I heard on 5-Live. He described Arsenal as "poor" in all areas of the pitch. The fingers will be, and have been already, pointed at Manuel Almunia for his role in the second and third goals. There is no doubt that Almunia's contribution to the second goal was among his very worst errors (and there are a few contenders for that accolade,) while his role in the third (where he came and went back before being stranded) was a consequence of the penalty he conceded (and brilliantly saved) before half-time. The Arsenal fans have been waiting for Almunia to make a cock-up. Some of them, especially the tosser sat behind my right shoulder today, almost seemed to take pleasure in it. Wenger was right, however, to point out that apart from Almunia, there were players equally as culpable in the defence for these goals. The second goal came about because Koscielny stood 5 yards off the attacker and allowed him a shot at goal. Yes, a top class keeper would have saved it, but if you give a sucker an even break there's a chance you'll get punished. The third goal saw Alex Song AWOL, not for the first time today, and Squillaci backed off to the point that it was too late to challenge the shot which deflected away and drew Manuel off his line.
As I said, Almunia will be the focus of the blame. But he is an easy target. Yes, he was at fault today. So, too, were a bunch of other players. When you start to read the anti-Almunia stuff tomorrow please don't fall in to the trap of thinking it is all his fault. Should he play in Europe this midweek? Of course not. But the alternative still appears to be Fabianski, and that prospect is a whole lot worse. If Sczeszny had kept his mouth shut this week then, who knows, his chance might just have been here now. As it is, I would have no qualms with chucking in Mannone in midweek - anyone but Fabianski, and that includes Almunia.
The only starting player today to come out of this match blameless is Nasri. It was no coincidence that he got Arsenal's goals as he was the only one out there (until Jack Wilshere came on) that looked like making a contribution. Eboue, Song and Diaby looked like they were playing in a different game - each of them showing the very worst of their form. The back four were abysmal, with Clichy constantly out of position and Sagna outplayed by Jerome Thomas. Chamakh had his first really bad game, and Arshavin was actually a little better than recently, but still not good enough.
It seemed to me, right from the first minute, that the players had the wrong attitude today. They looked like a team who felt turning up would be enough against a side like West Brom. When your captain is the goalkeeper there is very little chance of an on-field voice getting hold of them and shaking them out of it. That this was still the case after half-time leaves me wondering what was said in the dressing room. Whatever the case, we have let in three goals in a game yet again. Something remains wrong in the way we defend, and it will do so until such time as someone is brought in to organise them properly.
Without wanting to fall in to footballing cliche, it is a fact that Title winning teams do not need to be dropping points at home to the likes of West Bromwich Albion. With Chelsea losing earlier in the day Arsenal had the perfect opportunity to make up for last weeks disappointment at Sunderland by getting within a point of Chelsea heading in to the game at Stamford Bridge next week. Instead we are in a real "must not lose" position, otherwise Chelsea are starting to head off in to the distance. Before that we have a tough trip to Serbia to negotiate. Wenger is now faced with the prospect of having to use the same players in both games, as Diaby's performance today means Wilshere must play. We can only hope that Fabregas and Vermaelen are fit to face Chelsea.
Arsenal have a really hard week ahead, and a huge improvement on today will be needed in order for it to be a successful one. The build up to the European game begins on Monday, and that will be the next time I post something.