It’s quite hard to know where to begin this morning. I’m up way earlier than I should be, I’m suffering slightly from the after-effects of alcohol consumption and it’s still difficult to figure out exactly what happened yesterday.
The first 45 minutes were almost perfect. The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic and the team did almost as much as they could. Samir Nasri opened the scoring, his finish from an intensely acute angle was excellent. Marouane Chamakh made it 2-0 just before the half hour, poking home Andrei Arshavin’s cross. It really should have been 3-0 at half-time too. Chamakh was sent clear but dilly-dallied and made a mess of what was a great chance. It’s hard to be too critical of him, he scored yesterday and has done well this season, but winning and losing is often a fine margin and he really needed to be a lot more decisive and positive then. The criticism often leveled at Walcott for not knowing what to do when he has time to think seems better applied to the Moroccan.
Still, 2-0 at half-time is more than acceptable and certainly a great platform to go on and win the game. Instead we lost it and I’ll agree with the ‘holic on this one, we lost it more than Sp*rs won it. They brought on Defoe, a player who has been out with injury for weeks, so seeing him win a header in midfield was bad enough but to flick it on, like some kind of giant target man, for Bale to finish deftly past Fabianski was worse.
What was worse again is that it didn’t wake us up from the slumber. There was a lack of urgency and the equaliser was almost inevitable. Where I think we can complain is the awarding of the initial free kick. Song was just too strong for Modric and won the ball cleanly in my opinion. We can’t complain about the award of the penalty, Cesc’s arm was raised, and had it been at the other end we’d have been furious if it hadn’t been given. Van der Vaart put it away to make it 2-2.
To be fair we did respond after that. Cesc had one shot which flew just over and Gomes made a great save from a curler. Squillaci had a goal ruled out for offside but the moment that summed it up for me was Laurent Koscielny’s miss. He was totally free at the back post, about 7 yards from goal with just the keeper to beat and he headed over. You can say what you want about him being a defender but for any professional player that was a shocker of a miss. Just head it down and it’s a goal. A huge opportunity spurned, a moment that encapsulates this team really, and it’s not the first time he’s missed a glorious chance this season.
Sp*rs winner came from a van der Vaart free kick on our left hand side. I haven’t seen any replays, all I know is that Younes Kaboul got there first and flicked it in for the winner. Younes fucking Kaboul. Seriously. There was no time for any serious response from Arsenal and that was that.
In a way I understand what Arsene says when he says it’s difficult to understand how we lost. We had the chances to put the game out of sight, we gave ourselves a great platform to go on and dominate the second half, and even at 2-2 Koscileny’s header was a brilliant chance to win it. It’s not even as if Sp*rs played particularly well, we just folded in the second half and gifted them the game.
Losing at home to Newcastle was bad, but they had one chance that day, took it and we couldn’t break them down. West Brom was not pleasant either but as Sunderland showed at Chelsea last week it’s one of those things that can happen, but losing a North London derby in that manner is almost impossible to take. We should have come out flying in that second half, been quick and aggressive and put them on the back foot until they realised that the game was up.
Instead we got complacent, we didn’t do anything well enough and what we did badly we did quite badly indeed. And for me, ultimately, it comes down to the manager. You can point all the fingers you want at individuals but this is a team game and yesterday our team didn’t perform anywhere near well enough in the second half. That comes down the manager. At the end of the day he’s the one who gives the instructions, who guides the team’s approach, who is responsible for their attitude on the pitch and yesterday we got punished, ruthlessly, for our hubris.
The time for Ole‘s is at 4-0 with 5 minutes to go. Not just before half-time. What does it do but motivate the opposition? The team came out for the second half thinking they could Ole their way through it. It just doesn’t work like that. It was, by any standards, a horrendous capitulation and on home soil too. ‘Just like Wigan away’ was a phrase heard often post-game. Bad as that was, this was worse.
This was an abject surrender, at home, against Sp*rs. We have brittleness to us, a mental weakness which can sink us at any stage. There’s no doubting the quality and the ability, just look at the first half and the way we got ourselves into that position, but we choke far too often. We’re chokers. I know the players are hurting, I’m sure the manager is too, but that makes it no easier for fans. We’ve lost three at home, three games, nine points, and instead of being a fortress our home ground is now a place where any team will feel they can come and get something from Arsenal.
And at the end of the day the buck stops with one man and that’s Arsene Wenger. He has serious questions to answer about his team, how he motivates them and how well he manages them. I mentioned yesterday how nearly every time he talks about how we’ve matured or how we’ve got the strongest squad ever he ends up with egg on his face. Yesterday they were fried, scrambled, poached and hard boiled. Whatever he said to that group of players at half-time yesterday was wrong. Or it wasn’t said with enough conviction.
You just don’t lose a derby 3-2, having been 2-0 up at half-time, if you’re properly motivated and properly focussed. As much as we like to play the blame game and talk about this player’s mistake or that player’s lack of effort, today it all comes down to Arsene.
Chelsea’s loss to Birmingham means that despite not going top the defeat yesterday is not as damaging as it might have been. At least in terms of the league table. What damage it’s done to the team, and people’s faith in it, remains to be seen. We continue to struggle at home, we cannot find any consistency whatsoever, and every team in this league will have looked at what happened and gained some measure of positivity from it. Even if Arsenal get a couple of goals ahead they could implode. We nearly did it at Everton, Sp*rs did it to us yesterday, we have no idea how to close a game out properly and until we learn how to do that we’re going to make life very difficult for ourselves.
Yesterday – a day to forget, for so many reasons, but unless we learn from it, and fast, we’re going to have a hard time in the future.
A final word to all the ‘bloggers at The Tollington, great to see you all again and any pub that lets me skip the queue and use the ladies is all right by me. Highlight of my day that! Which says it all, really.