Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On the basis of that...

...this is the year

A flattering point... against Southampton.

The Saints, without playing particularly well themselves, would have been worthy winners. A contentiously disallowed goal saved Arsenal's blushes somewhat, but nothing should save the players from the ire if their manager or indeed of fans who were served another unwelcome reminder of how far the club's quality has fallen.

Arsenal scored seven at home to Newcastle on Saturday, but they have been plagued by a recurring toothlessness on away days this season, and today they didn't even manage seven shots on goal.

Theo Walcott showed anybody who has anything like a ninety minute attention span why he is nothing like a ninety minute centre forward. He was almost completely anonymous.

He was far from alone in ignominy. Bacary Sagna endured another torrid afternoon, and played an inadvertent part in the home side's opener. It started with Podolski, pressured backwards on Arsenal's left, into a careless pass infield. Koscielny couldn't mop up, but a poor Southampton pass allowed Sagna to make an intervention. He inexplicably slashed his left-footed clearance right across the penalty area, and after some more scrambling the ball squirted back to Gaston Ramirez, who knocked the ball past Szczesny. It was one of the worst goals I've seen Arsenal concede, and you only need to think back a year or two to know that that really is saying something.

The Gunners had started the game fairly well, but their main threat was coming from crosses, and with Giroud on the bench crosses weren't actually much threat at all. At least they weren't until, not long before half time, Cazorla won a free kick in a dangerous area out left. Walcott whipped in a decent ball- his one meaningful contribution to the game- and Do Prado, perhaps sensing Koscielny lurking behind, could only turn the ball past Boruc and into his own net.

With the benefit of this barely earned reprieve, one might have expected Arsenal to kick on after the break and win the game. They were, after all, fresh from four wins on the bounce and, in theory at least, fitter for the fight after the Boxing Day postponement. But things scarcely improved, and while Giroud was eventually introduced to offer more presence down the middle, Arsenal's other reinforcements hardly set pulses racing. More cynical Gooners would have expected nothing from Gervinho and Ramsey and nothing is what they got.

It is still, of course, only the halfway point in the season, but judging from what we've seen so far, Tottenham are a better side than Arsenal. People were saying that through most of last season, and it wasn't reflected in the final league standings, but then Arsenal had Robin Van Persie. Now, there is nobody to dig them out on a day like today, nobody to rise up out of the mediocrity and produce a telling moment. The scoreline against Newcastle, which was only the result of a frantic late flurry, distracted somewhat from what was a far from complete performance. Today, there is no such distraction.

And now, what appeared to be Arsenal's easiest run of fixtures this season is over, and they remain outside the top four places.

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