Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool : Mental fragility costs us yet again

There is something wrong with this Arsenal team. Very wrong.

Only this Arsenal team could be 2-0 up at home against Sp*rs and lose. Only this Arsenal team could be 4-0 up at half-time and ship four goals in the second half to draw the game. Only this Arsenal side could contrive to lose a cup final in the ludicrous way that we lost the Carling Cup. And only this Arsenal side could score the first goal of the game in the 98th minute and still not win.

Arsene Wenger - post Liverpool

When Robin van Persie’s penalty went in that should have been that. A last gasp get out of jail goal that would keep our title hopes alive. We had the ball immediately after kick off, a shot from halfway taken by Szczesny, and from then we should have just kept possession. Instead, when Liverpool got it back and came at us, we panicked. The sheer terror was obvious as we tried to get it clear in the run-up to the free kick on the edge of the box. Legs and arms flailing, I’m pretty sure there was probably some high-pitched shrieking too.

And then the penalty. Suarez took the free kick, it bounced up in the air, Eboue clattered into Lucas from behind and down he went. And of course down he went. The same way any player who has been hit from behind, in the box, in the dying seconds of the game, would go down. For me it was a definite penalty and it was a moment of madness from Eboue. He had no need to be that close to Lucas, he just had to stay on his feet, shepherd him towards the touchline and that would have been that.

It’s basic defending. You’re taught it as a kid, to just stand up, and never give the opponent the chance he needs. In terms of sheer stupidity I still think his decision to just lie down on the ground as Liverpool attacked down our right hand side in the second half was worse. They got a corner that time, which we defended, but please, somebody tell me why any player would do that? He wasn’t hurt. He got up and hobbled for a few seconds and was then fine, as is always the case when Eboue pretends to be hurt. When you have a player who will do that it’s no surprise that he gives away a penalty so utterly dense.

Kuyt took it, the final whistle went, and with it our slim hopes of the title. Immediately afterwards the cameras cut to Arsene walking towards Kenny Dalglish. Arsene said something, Dalglish looked incredulous and then told Arsene to piss off. This, apparently, has created some kind of furore amongst some Arsenal fans. Who knew we had so many puritans following us? If they’re going to get offended by somebody telling somebody else to piss off then I assume they go to the games with ear-plugs and iPods on lest they hear foul language and cursing.

And here’s the thing: if I were the opposition manager, whose team had just scored an equaliser like that, and Arsene came over to me moaning because one of his players had given away the most stupid penalty of all time, I’d tell him to do a lot more than piss off. Credit also to Dalglish for not rising to the bait offered by the risible Geoff Shreeves in the post match interview on Sky.

So what if he told Arsene to piss off? What the fuck does it matter? To be quite honest, as much as I love Arsene, he deserved it. Dalglish didn’t give away the penalty. If you want to mouth off at somebody may I suggest a certain Ivorian right back. And before people go too mental about Eboue, put it in perspective. It was stupid, and I have little time for him as a player, but the reason it was so costly is what has come before. 17 points dropped at home this season is too many. 0-0 against Sunderland and 0-0 against Blackburn in recent weeks (on top of everything else) are what’s made his error so damaging. With those four points we’d be just two behind United.

Sure, when the pressure’s on the results count even more, and while criticism for the penalty is fair and justified for yesterday, it’s not as if the rest of the season hasn’t played a massive part in where we are now. Let’s face it, yesterday was shaping up to be another home 0-0. I wouldn’t fault us for effort but we just found Liverpool very tough yesterday. They worked extremely hard, all over the pitch, and made life extremely difficult for us.

Defensively they were excellent. People criticise us for not making more of the fact Liverpool’s full backs were 17 and 18. Which I understand but maybe, just maybe, the 17 and 18 year old played very well. Perhaps more than anyone we know what it’s like when promising young kids play their first few games. Often they perform without fear and at a pretty high level so fair play to them. Even the loss of Carragher, to a nasty clash of heads, didn’t affect them that much.

We did our usual trick of bringing on Bendnter and playing him out wide. How hard would it be to just throw two strikers up top? Let Robin and Nick trouble the defence, get Arshavin and Nasri wide, and you know, chuck in a couple of crosses for them to attack. Instead we get the frustrating sight of Bendnter out right, crossing it for van Persie. And the one time he made it into the box, Clichy dallied, failed to get the ball in there and it ended up back in the centre of midfield as Liverpool forced us back.

We had a few hesitant moments at the back which might well have been exploited better by Liverpool but when you’re throwing everything forward to try and win that can happen. Eventually we made the breakthrough, finally the tippy-tappy got behind the Liverpool defence but Reina stood up to make a decent save from Robin van Persie. 21 goals in 22 games is an excellent return but I’m not sure you’d give him high marks for that attempt. It was crying out for a shot low towards the near post, going across goal made it a much easier task for Reina.

And then we came to where we began this post. And, honestly, despite the fact I’ve never seen anything like that before, there was an air of inevitable familiarity to it. I wasn’t angry, just disappointed, but slightly bemused also. Bemused that this Arsenal team keeps showing me things I never thought possible, that they come up with ever more inventive ways to chuck away points.

Arsene can moan all he likes about the amount of time added on but here’s another thing you’re taught as a kid: play the whistle. His insistence on Sky that it wasn’t a penalty was way off the mark too. He can point fingers at the referee as much as he wants but he’s not the reason we dropped two points. He needs to look at his team, his brittle, fragile team, to find the real culprit.

And unless he does something about their mental frailty then we’re doomed to repeat these kind of mistakes over and over again. We don’t seem to be learning from them, that’s for sure. Experience is required this summer, some players need to be moved on, some left in baskets on church doorsteps with notes attached saying ‘Please care for me’, because there’s not a hope in hell of a Man United team, or a Chelsea team, doing what we did yesterday.

Bemusement turns to embarrassment at how we can continually nobble ourselves, and frustration at how it’s clear there’s real talent that needs to be developed properly by augmenting the squad in a sensible way. The question that will get asked more and more often is whether or not Arsene is the man to do that. You think back to the points we’ve dropped this season and it’s facepalm territory. United have dropped two points at home all season. Like it or not, they are the benchmark. Imagine where we’d be if we’d just dropped half as many points. That’s why there’s so much dismay at where we are.

All we can do is lick our wounds, hope Sagna is fit for Wednesday, and try and bounce back against Sp*rs on Wednesday night. At the moment, however, all I can do is visualise the 50 yard screamer that one of our players scores in the final minute. In his own goal.

So as not to finish on a down note, big congratulations to Jack Wilshere who was name PFA Young Player of the Year last night. A tremendous achievement in his first full season and that it has been so widely accepted by everyone shows just how well it was deserved.

Well done also to Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasir, deservedly named in the team of the year.

If you can face it, you can find highlights etc on the video page. Personally, I’d rather watch Phil Collins and Adam Sandler do a fifty hour stand-up comedy musical based on the life of Emmanuel Eboue, but there you go.

Till tomorrow.

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