Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is The Ship Being Steadied...

Or is it springing a leak?

There is no sense of momentum at the moment, one way or another.

Arsenal 5-2 Spurs... Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier... Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal... Everton 1-1 Arsenal

The home North London derby produced the same result as last season, but the occasion never felt as morale-boosting. Spurs were in front and in control when Adebayor launched into a typically reckless lunge on Cazorla, an act of stupidity rightly rewarded by a straight red card.

It proved a turning point. Beforehand, Arsenal had given away a soft goal, Mertesacker stepping up dopily under Vertonghen's lofted pass before Adebayor gobbled up the rebound from Defoe's parried shot. Shortly after that, Lennon had shot narrowly wide.

After the red card, Spurs predictably ceded some ground, but it is not easy to break down ten men and so Arsenal deserve credit. There was little chance for the atmosphere to grow tense and restless because the Gunners stormed into a 3-1 lead before the break. Mertesacker produced a brilliant header- surely one of the best such goals of the Wenger era- from a Walcott cross, before Podolski's snatched effort dribbled in off Gallas. Then Cazorla shimmied into the area and teed up Giroud to sweep home.

Even with an extra man, this Arsenal team is incapable of complete control, so it was a relief when Cazorla converted Podolski's low cross on the hour mark to make it 4-1. Especially in light of what came after. Bale pulled one back, then had a chance to make it 4-3, but dragged his shot wide. Finally the away side's threat fizzled out and in stoppage time sub Chamberlain released Walcott to restore the gloss on the scoreline.

If derby day delight had restored a sense of confidence, there was little sign of it in a wretched game against Montpellier. Arsenal needed a win to avoid a rather complicated closing game in the Champions League group stage, and they got it, but only after a display that was riddled with sloppy passing. Still, at least the defence looked somewhat solid (though there seemed little interest from the French side) and two nice goals were scored. Wilshere got his first since his return, dinking home from a Giroud knock down, and then Podolski smashed in a cracking first time volley to cap a nice one-two with the Frenchman.

At Villa Park, Arsenal again struggled for a sense of rhythm. They never looked like winning the game, but happily enough, didn't give anything stupid away on the defensive side. Wenger incurred the away fans' wrath by replacing Cazorla with Coquelin when we should have been pressing for a winner, and Arsenal's worrying toothlessness was summed up with the final kick of the game, when the substitute was released into the area at the end of a rare good move, only to slash a thoughtless, harmless cross into no man's land. This result saw an early end to any nascent optimism engendered by the Spurs win, and the lack of any genuine momentum was underlined by a tired performance at Goodison.

Everton were suckered in the first minute by Walcott, returning from injury, but the home team recovered well to enjoy the better of the game. Fellaini equalised after a mistake by Sagna, and Szczesny was kept busy after that, but the fame eventually faded into a stalemate that both sides were probably appeased by.

After a fairly poor showing fourteen games into the season, Arsenal should probably count themselves lucky. They are two points behind Tottenham, one behind Everton, five behind West Brom. With due respect to the Baggies, only a fool would expect them to be in the top four come May, and so Arsenal look fairly well-placed to qualify for the Champions League yet again, assuming there is some kind of improvement on the horizon.

The next seven league games, before a home match against the Champions, are as follows:
Swansea (H)
West Brom (H)
Reading (A)
Wigan (A)
West Ham (H)
Newcastle (H)
Southampton (A)

I think that speaks for itself. The team may look tired and low on confidence, but they have already dropped points in games we traditionally expect them to win, and they need to lose that habit fast. This run of games should be viewed as an opportunity to establish some form and to move up the table. There is plenty of doom mongering these days, and I'm often a part of it, but as mediocre as this team's performances have been, we should still expect Arsenal to take close to 21 points from those seven games.


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