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Sunday, 10 April 2016

No case for the defence

Our defenders all over the place again

Any lingering hopes of hunting down Leicester City are now surely gone. Good wins at Everton and at home to Watford were carried in to the first-half at West Ham. Having got very lucky with the first disallowed goal Arsenal took the game over and scored two lovely goals brilliantly created by the ever more impressive Alex Iwobi. West Ham got their tactics wrong defensively and Arsenal took advantage. Carroll may have been fortunate to escape a red card for a deliberately nasty foul on Koscielny in a tumultuous first-half but it was what happened in the final two minutes that have defined, and are totally emblematic of, the Arsenal season.
Let's make this quite clear - there is no excuse for a team who claims to be aiming to win the Premier League to lose a two goal lead. All Arsenal really had to do was get to half-time at 2-0 (and even 2-1 wouldn't have been so bad, but far from ideal). Having got his formation wrong Bilic changed his tactics before half-time to get his side back in to the game before they were swept away. The effect was that Arsenal decided to sit back with the cigars on as the arrogance of the players yet again took over the way in which they had played. How many times have we seen them give away a lead simply because they stop playing? And then there is the way we fail to do the basics. Cresswell was given acres of space to pick a perfect cross - lesson to Bellerin and Monreal in how to not continually hit the ball at the nearest defender - and our two centre-backs refused to attack the ball. The result was an Andy Carroll header that gave Ospina no chance. We do not have a centre-back who "wants" to win the ball in the air, especially when faced with a man like Carroll. Gabriel and Koscielny were afraid of him, simple as that. Don't be fooled by the idea that we'd have been better off with Mertesacker against Carroll as he makes the other two look like Tony Adams in the air.
The equaliser was even worse defensively. Ospina got a decent punch to the ball, though I'd always prefer a goalkeeper catching the ball. When it was played back in to the far post - nobody closed it down again - there were FOUR West Ham players in space beyond the last Arsenal defender, but within the width of the six-yard box. Where is the organisation? Who is making the calls at the back? Does anyone communicate when there is no Cech, Mertesacker or Arteta in the team? Koscielny was the skipper yesterday but it is nothing more than giving the armband to the supposedly senior player (by the same token, when Iwobi had a flare-up with Noble only Welbeck went to get in and sort it - where was the Arsenal Captain?) I read after the game a quote from Koscielny bemoaning the fact that crosses were allowed to come in - after the first goal why was he not dishing out the harsh words to Bellerin, Monreal and Alexis for not closing down their men? Alexis is actually becoming more and more Arshavin-esque in his performances, and don't tell me a man who missed two months with an injury this season needs a rest either.
There is little point in going over the third goal as we all know we'd seen it before with Carroll allowed to pull away towards Bellerin with neither of our centre-backs in the picture. By this time he shouldn't have been on the pitch following a clear swinging elbow (reckless play) in to the face of Gabriel that should have seen a second booking. Given the offside goal in the first-half this might well be a case of swings and roundabouts, however. We were also extremely lucky that the referee saw Carroll tug Koscielny back when he tried to inexplicably shepherd the ball back to Ospina instead of hoofing it, thus denying Payet a goal.
There was some fighting spirit from Arsenal after that. West Ham bizarrely stopped playing high balls towards Carroll and Arsenal got right on top for a while. Giroud came on to play next to Welbeck and Arsenal battered West Ham for ten minutes. We got the equaliser through a fine Koscielny finish and suddenly looked well placed to go on and win after all. And then Wenger took over yet again to scupper us. Why, when taking Welbeck off, was Walcott put out to the wing, leaving Giroud an isolated lone-striker again? Our threat just about disappeared for those final ten minutes apart from a total cock-up by Alexis when through on his left-foot, and then Theo with the last kick of the game choosing not to keep running when in on goal, before chipping the ball straight to Adrian with two unmarked teammates in the centre. I'll leave aside the two awful free-kicks that Ozil put towards the penalty-area in the last few minutes as they just about sum up the majority of his Arsenal career - totally insipid.
Taking a point from a game where you are 2-0 up is not good enough. Yet again an Arsenal team under Arsene Wenger conceded three goals. Yet again they threw away a lead because their attitude is wrong. You may have seen this statistic elsewhere but Arsenal this season have scored three goals at West Ham and Liverpool, and two at Tottenham and Manchester United, yet have not won any of those matches. That is a scandalous and damning indictment of Wenger and Bould's failure to address defensive issues. Leicester are proving that you don't need top class defenders to be able to defend effectively. If you are organised and tactically aware you can be very hard to beat. We are none of those things. 
Arsenal are hamstrung by a tactically inept coach who is never wrong, in his own eyes. David Ospina has done well in Petr Cech's absence, and cant be faulted for the goals we conceded yesterday. However, I fail to see how keeping him in the side when Cech is now fit could have been a good thing. I mentioned earlier about communication and leadership of the side. We miss that when Cech is not there. And then there is the obvious fact that Cech can dominate his area in a way that Ospina can't. When we played Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final last May their main (only) tactic was to hit high balls towards Benteke at the far-post. Wojciech Szczesny played ahead of Ospina and had clearly been instructed (or worked out for himself) that he had to come for everything. In the first minutes of the game Szczesny came and took a high-ball and Villa's threat was gone for the whole match. If Cech had been playing yesterday I am certain that the outcome would have been different as he would have taken it upon himself to negate the threat of Carroll. I'm not blaming Ospina, but I am blaming Arsene Wenger. The Manager gave his reasons after the game on the grounds that Ospina has played well and kept two clean-sheets in the last two matches. And? So what? We paid a bargain £10m for a World Class goalkeeper last year. Why would you not pick him when he is fit and has been crucial to attaining the points tally we have throughout the season? Make no mistake, we would be in mid-table mediocrity without Petr Cech. And then there is the fact that Wenger doesn't apply the same standards to the selection, or otherwise, of other players - Joel Campbell was inexplicably left out of the 18 yesterday while Walcott stayed in and Ramsey returned. With the game as it was in the second-half Campbell would have been an ideal option, especially with Alexis Sanchez and Ozil being so awful throughout. Arsene knows though.
I am resigned to the fact that we have at least one more year of Wenger. He is too stubborn to resign, though I am sure he has been rocked slightly by the change in attitude towards him among a large section of the supporters, especially the away fans who he is usually so quick to praise for their commitment. Kroenke probably won't even be aware that we didn't win yesterday, let alone that we have blown the chance to win a Title that no other big club challenged for this season. As long as the UEFA money is secured then the wig wearer will be more than happy, and that black hole in the accounts will grow wider. As such Wenger won't be pensioned off. It promises to be a very long 13 months between now and May 2017, and there is no guarantee that Wenger will actually leave his role even then. God help us.

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