Sunday, January 15, 2012

Half a Team, No Chance

Swansea 3-2 Arsenal

Arsenal were awful at Fulham and they were worse at Swansea.

A similar pattern emerged. A good start, an early goal. Then Arsenal lose their way. The hosts take control.

This time the deserved equaliser came a lot earlier than at the Cottage. Ramsey's dopey foul in the box set the tone for a wretched individual performance. Sinclair beat Szczesny from the spot.

If Ramsey had an awful game,he wasn't alone. Arshavin and Walcott were both disgracefully bad. Both provided a single moment of quality- Arshavin's through ball for Van Persie's opener, and Walcott's cool finish to level the game at 2-2- but were otherwise destructive to their own team's chances of controlling the game.

What did not help in this regard was the absence of Arteta. Some know-nothing blowhards have voiced the opinion that the Spaniard only offers conservative sideways passing. Today we saw just how vital that sideways passing is. With Ramsey flitting around and giving the ball away almost every time he saw it, Benayoun seemingly unsure of his exact role, and a lonely Song having an off day, Arsenal were essentially spineless.

The alarm bells were first set ringing early on, when Arsenal were still in front. A single pass from a Swansea defender- who had just collected the ball from his keeper- and the home side were running at the Arsenal back four. Arteta has done a great job helping make Arsenal a more solid unit. Without him, Wenger fielded Ramsey, Benayoun, Arshavin and Walcott. That is a powder puff team for an away game and it got a performance to match. All of those players had stinkers and it's not an unusual occurance for any of them this season (with the exception of Benayoun, who hasn't had much playing time).

And an inefficient midfield is a doubly big problem if said midfield is failing to protect an already iffy defence. Mertesacker has failed to shore up the backline as some had hoped. Miquel and Djourou toiled manfully in their thankless tasks on the flanks, playing out of position and having to deal with Swansea's speedy wingers. Koscielny was brilliant again,though caught out by Graham for the eventual winner.

Looking at the Arsenal team sheet, it is pretty medicore stuff. A team of sometimes capable, but utterly inconsistent footballers. I have talked about complacency a lot over the last few years but today it struck me that this Arsenal team really isn't much better than what we saw today.

They were outpassed for periods. Outfought for periods. By a promoted team. Credit to Swansea for the positive football they play. But there was a time when the thought of a lowly side "having a go" at Arsenal would have you licking your lips in anticipation of the gaps they would leave behind, and how Arsenal would exploit that.

There is scope for improvement this season. Once the defence is pieced back into something recognisable, Arsenal may begin to grind out results again. That is the best we can hope for this season. In truth, glorious football is now but a memory for Arsenal fans. Beneath all the lazy media stuff about Wenger's pure philosophy, the truth is that Arsenal haven't played anything approaching fantasy football in years. Certainly not with any regularity.

Now, they need Vermaelen, they need Wilshere, they need Arteta, and they need to get scrapping again. But 4th place is looking less and less likely. After 21 games, in which Villas-Boas's Chelsea side have encountered serious problems, they still have a four point lead over Arsenal. Spurs, despite their blip against Wolves, will soon disappear into the distance if they keep up their swashbuckling form.

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