So, yesterday we said anything could happen, and pretty much anything did. Like in the opening minutes of the game Bacary Sagna slipped which allowed space for Glen Johnson to cross. Then Thomas Vermaelen’s flying leap and wild slash at the ball saw him miss it entirely and present a great chance to Sturridge. Which Szczesny saved, which then rebounded off Aaron Ramsey’s heel, fell to Stewart Downing who played it to Luis Suarez whose fairly tame shot deflected off Per Mertesacker’s heel and just beyond the despairing hand of the keeper.
That kind of anything. There was more of it in the second half when Mertesacker’s Denilsonesque ‘tackle’ saw Jordan Henderson clean through in the box. There was little Andre Santos could do; touch him and he’d have crumpled like a buck-toothed Uruguayan, it’d have been a penalty to Liverpool and a red card for the Brazilian. But even then Szczesny came out, blocked the toe-poked effort only to see it cannon back off Santos into the path of Henderson who rolled it home for 0-2.
Not the good kind of anything. But then we got a healthy dose of that when Olivier Giroud headed home a Jack Wilshere free kick for his 5th goal in a week. And just two minutes later Giroud cushioned a Cazorla pass into the path of Walcott who, in confident mood, lashed it first time from a tight angle past Pepe Reina to make it 2-2. Incredible, barnstorming, character-filled, responsetacular anything.
From then on the anything was good anything and Arsenal could have gone ahead a number of times. Walcott looked to have beaten Reina with a left footed curler which drifted just wide, a swift break from a corner saw Cazorla put a good ball across the 6 yard box with nobody able to get a touch, Giroud shot, Reina saved, and the Frenchman headed over from the corner, and the HFB was unlucky not to grab the winner when he combined with Podolski but the German’s cross took a nick off a defender and slightly wrongfooted Giroud who was 6 yards from goal.
In typical Arsenal style there was also time for the Mugsmashers to almost nick it. Santos gave it away in midfield, then slipped (this practice of players wearing ballet shoes must stop), Suarez ran into the box, wasn’t closed down anywhere near quickly enough for my liking, and got a decent shot away which Szczesny just about saved before Sagna whacked it clear.
I suppose, if you were a neutral, it would have made for fairly enjoyable viewing, and you can’t really argue with it from an entertainment point of view, but as an Arsenal fan it was all a bit uncomfortable. The fact we went two goals down was depressing, if not altogether unexpected. Nor is the fact we dug deep, showed some character and quality to get back into it and draw the game level. This ability to score quick-fire goals, one after the other, is great to see but too often it only happens as a response to something bad at the wrong end.
It makes me wonder, very strongly, about the hypothetical situation of us doing transfer business today: all season I’ve been of the opinion we needed more up top, another striker, maybe a bit more creativity, but scoring doesn’t really seem to be an issue. Maybe we only want more strikers so we can score more because we know we let too many in. Wouldn’t the smart money be spent on players who can improve our defence?
Because let’s not beat around the bush here, it has long been a weakness, and it’s now as bad as it ever has been. On paper you look at the players and think ‘Ok, they’re decent’, but the sheer number of individual errors which leads to goal makes you start to think that they’re not anywhere near as good as we’d like to think. For their first, the Vermaelen swipe was the kind of thing you’d get a clip around the ear for if you were playing Sunday league, at this level it was ridiculous. Yes, they had a bit of good fortune but that ball should have been halfway up the pitch and not at the feet of Sturridge.
A few moments later Wojciech Szczesny is trying clever turns on the edge of his own 6 yard box. Why? What on earth is he thinking there? I know it’s not something a manager will ever instruct a player to do, they know better than to do stuff like that but it’s still done. I like Szczesny, I think he’s got the potential to be a very, very good goalkeeper but I can’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t benefit from a bit of real competition rather than one guy who is desperate to leave and the other who the manager admitted he’d have let go last summer. That’s not competition for your place, that’s as comfortable as it gets.
I’ve long said defending isn’t the sole preserve of the back four/five, that it’s a team effort, and I stand by that. But such belief is predicated by the ability of those players to do the basics correctly, and we just don’t. Far too regularly we forget what’s in the textbook, fuck it up and pay the price. It doesn’t matter if your whole team is switched on and defends from the front if your centre-halves go rogue.
Scoring two at home should be enough to win a game. We’ve scored three and not won this season (again due to dodgy defending), and as long as that continues we’d need a front three of Messi, Ronaldo and clone of an 18 year old Pele to win games on a consistent basis. Arsene Wenger spoke of a psychological problem at home, a nervousness at the start of games, but I fear even speaking about it makes it self-perpetuating. It’s not as if we’re being torn to shreds by teams, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot time and time again, with a bigger, more ridiculous gun. Our defending is blunderbussing our ability to win games. End of story.
On a more positive note I thought Giroud, late miss aside (which he was a bit unlucky with) had another good game and scored when we needed him to, and Theo Walcott’s performance was really very good indeed. His goal was that of a man filled with confidence and he was dangerous and willing down the right all night long. Again, we can point to the bench and wonder ‘What if’ we had another striker or a winger (Ox?), but it’s not as if we didn’t create a load of chances.
In the end though, it’s got to go down as two points dropped. When you gift the opposition goals, regardless of what elese they did in the game, you can’t help but feel it’s a game you could have won. Ultimately disappointing.
Finally for today, it’s Transfer Deadline Day, and if you haven’t already seen Gunnerblog’s wonderful Les Mis tribute then you’re missing out. For the rest, we’ll be live blogging the day over here on Arseblog News – any and all news of Arsenal related transfers can be found there, right up until 11pm tonight.
Transfer Deadline Day – live blog - you know you want to. There’s no need to refresh the page, the updates (heh) will appear automatically.
Right, that’s that, back tomorrow with some kind of Arsecast. Until then.