I think it’s fair to say that when things are going badly for a football club, any bits of luck you get seem to reflect that. If you’re flying high you get the bounce and deflections, the referee’s mistakes work in your favour, and the opponents end up injured.
I’m not putting what happened yesterday simply down to bad fortune, Arsenal were the architects of their own defeat, but a goal which should have been disallowed for a handball, one of our best players breaking his leg and a goalkeeping mistake from a man who had made three outstanding and much more difficult saves in the game is really just a measure of how things are going for us at the moment.
Early on Szczesny was called into action to make a stop from Scott Parker, put through after careless play by Alex Song. The big Pole stood up well and made a fantastic stop. There were some worrying signs from Arsenal, our passing was sloppy and we gave it away a bit too much, but in general the first half was pretty even, I thought. Neither side looked especially dangerous, only our defensive jitters made them seem threatening.
And we should have been 1-0 up by the time they scored. Robin van Persie skinned Kaboul down our left, drove into the box, to the byline, pulled it back for Gervinho and could only watch in disbelief as the Ivorian put it wide from less than 10 yards. We can certainly talk about having bad luck but when a £12m player shanks one wide from there you’re always going to make life more difficult for yourself. You just cannot spurn those kinds of chances at this level.
And so it proved. When Adebayor crossed for van der Vaart the Dutchman clearly controlled the ball with his arm before shooting through Mertesacker’s legs. I’m not even vaguely interested in talking about him going to the fans. Yes, by the letter of the law it’s a yellow card but it’s one of those stupid rules which seeks to sanitise the game, the same as taking off your shirt. I never understood that. Are FIFA protecting us from footballer’s nipples?
However, van der Vaart was on a yellow and a deliberate handball, because that is what it was, designed to cheat the referee and gain an advantage for his team, could easily have been a second. Amazingly, Mike Dean didn’t see it. Nor did his assistant. And the goal stood. Maybe we could have defended a bit better but the simple fact is without the handball van der Vaart would not have had anywhere near as good a chance.
I thought we started the second half quite slowly but after a little period of pressure we were level. A corner/cross was headed away, it fell to Song who took it into the box and slid it across goal for Aaron Ramsey to stab home at the near post.
Again we had to thanks Szczesny for keeping us in it a few minutes later. Adebayor looked more than a touch offside when played through but with just the keeper to beat he found out why the big man is so highly rated. It was another fantastic save and only made what was to come later so cruel.
When Sagna was injured after landing badly following a clash with Assou-Ekkoto, Carl Jenkinson was thrown on at right back, Benayoun brought on to offer some experience in front of him to replace Walcott. People talk about him not being ready yet, which might be fair comment, but I didn’t see him do anything wrong yesterday. For the winner you have to look at our midfield, Arteta and Ramsey got into a pointing muddle, neither of them picked up Sandro’s run from a Sp*rs throw, and when Modric’s shot was blocked from his cross, it fell to Kyle Walker who thumped it goalwards from 25 yards.
The ball moved in the air a bit, no question, but Szczesny will certainly feel he should have done better with it. As I said, it was cruel considering how much he’d done beforehand but football really does know how to kick you in the balls like no other sport. That said, there were still the best part of 17 minutes + injury time to go. Plenty for Arsenal to respond.
And for me this was the most disappointing period of the game. Because there was barely a response at all. In fact, Sp*rs should have been 3-1 up. Song and Mertesacker let a ball bounce between them, Bale was lurking and put it wide when it was probably easier to score.
And up the other end I don’t think we had a shot. Not one. There was a lack of urgency, a lack of directness which might have changed the game. When we’ve put a 6’7 centre-half up front, wouldn’t it be a good idea, even now and again, to go a bit industrial? Lump it up towards him and see if he can get something on it. I don’t remember us doing that even once. Lots of passing sideways and backwards but not once did we go the direct route.
I’m also pretty sure that Mertesacker going up front was Mertesacker’s idea, not a tactic from the boss. I don’t have any problem with that, by the way, but there’s not much he can with it if our players at the back decide playing keep ball on halfway is the answer with just a couple of minutes left. As well as that, I do have to question why it is that throwing a centre-half up front is the only option available to us. Why is it that a club like Arsenal only has one striker capable of scoring goals.
Where was Chamakh yesterday? Why buy Park if you’re not prepared to play him? If van Persie has a quiet day, as he did yesterday, where is our alternative? Again it shows the danger of becoming reliant on one player for the majority of your goals but in general it was a poor team showing from an attacking point of view. There was little cut or thrust to what we did. Compare to the final few minutes at Blackburn where at least we looked like we were trying and made some chances.
So, it ended 2-1. Arsene said afterwards:
I felt we played a little but with the handbrake on. We lack a little bit of confidence at the moment, and we just need to protect a result when we have one.
I am, I have to say, increasingly frustrated at our handbrake. If you’re playing with the fucking handbrake on, take the fucking handbrake off. It’s another of Arsene’s soundbites that becomes more and more difficult to listen to. This was the North London derby, how can you have the handbrake on. What is the fucking handbrake anyway?
The bottom line is results are awful. In our last eleven away games in the Premier League, we have won once. This season we have lost four times already, we have 7 points from from 7 games and lie 15th in the table, 12 points behind the leaders already. To give that some context – this time last season we had lost 3 times but had 11 points.
It’s just increasingly difficult to see how this team can pull itself out of the mess it’s in. Every time we get a little bit of momentum going we go off the rails again. Yesterday was damaging, from the point of view of the result and the fact that we’ve lost our best defender for 3 months with a broken leg (get well soon, Bac). It dents the little bit of confidence we might have built up, we now go into an Interlull to stew over another disappointing defeat and no doubt we’ll get some ‘our season starts now’ stuff for when the players come back.
Unfortunately, the season started weeks ago and we’re being left behind.