Another away day, another defeat, and in truth we were lucky the score was just 1-0 in the end. Sp*rs profligacy in front of goal, coupled with some outstanding saves from Petr Cech, ensured the beating we got yesterday looked respectable in terms of the scoreline, but anyone who watched knows that we got ripped to shreds.
I thought the first half was pretty even all things considered. Arsene Wenger went with a back four, put the extra man in midfield, and generally we were ok. We didn’t do a great deal from an attacking point of view, and sadly someone had replaced last week’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan with an almost identical replicant version but without programming him with the knowledge of how to kick a football, which was a bit unfortunate.
Still, there was that moment when Jack Wilshere played in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but the striker was flagged offside. We can’t really have any complaints given how offside his goal last week was, but this was pretty marginal and it might well have changed the complexion of the game. These things are supposed to even out over the course of a season, not in the very next game.
Defensively we didn’t have a lot to worry about either. There was that one moment when we completely switched off and let Harry Kane head over from eight yards when he really should have scored but that was about it. In hindsight, you might consider that a warning sign based on what was to come but it wouldn’t be like us to pay attention to things like giving the Premier League’s most goalscoring striker multiple chances to try and add to his already impressive tally.
The second half was a different beast, however. It was apparent in the opening seconds that we had sleepwalked our way from the dressing room to the pitch, and Mustafi was forced into a good block as they got in behind way too easily. Then, after Ozil lost the ball on the right, they worked it back over to that side, Xhaka didn’t close the bloke down, hanging out a lazy leg at the cross, and Kane rose highest to head home.
There was no foul, just solid centre-forward play which left Laurent Koscielny flat on his face, and after that we saw one of the real issues we have this season. It was a case of Arsenal responding, or going to pieces, and sadly for us it was the latter. When things go wrong, this is a group of players who have no idea how to correct it. To their credit, at least they realise something is wrong, but that’s as far as it goes.
I don’t know if you’ve ever hurt yourself quite badly, but I’d liken it to those moments when you understand it’s bad and your reaction is ‘Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit’ as you try and come to terms with what’s happened with no clue how you’re going to make it better. You clutch the part that has been damaged and hope there’s no blood but you take your hand away and Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit Oh shit there’s loads of blood and this is so bad oh no why did this happen and this is going to get much worse and that’s basically the way Arsenal reacted to that goal yesterday.
Petr Cech made at least three outstanding saves. One from a free kick which was going in the top corner. Another from when we decided the best way to deal with Harry Kane was to ignore him and pretend he didn’t exist – allowing him all the time and space in the world to volley at goal from the edge of the box; and another from right-back Trippier who, if he’d scored would have made things far worse because the only person on earth with a face more punchable than him is Erik Lamela.
He probably made some other ones too that I can’t remember this morning, but we also had their finishing to thank. Kane headed wide from six yards out when he really should have scored, and our ‘defence’ stood watching as Dele Alli went through on goal and poked the ball wide which I was thankful for because he has a face that is, on mature reflection, even more punchable than a Snapchat face-swap between Trippier and Lamela.
Honestly, they should have been out of sight by the time we fashioned the two chances that might have stolen a point for us. Both of them fell to substitute Alexandre Lacazette and both of them did little to enhance the French international’s sadly steadily sinking reputation.
The first was down to Hector Bellerin, easily our best outfield player on the day, who bombed down that right hand side he had to deal with entirely on his own all day, and his cross found the former Lyon man at the back post. He caught the ball on the volley and will today have to deal with a lawsuit from Elon Musk after the ball hit his electric car in space.
The second chance came from an excellent Alex Iwobi pass which saw him in behind with a clear sight of goal. I have no issue with him shooting from there rather than squaring to the back post where Aubameyang was, but you have to hit the target and he trickled the ball wide. It might well have been unjust on the balance of the game, but fairness isn’t actually a thing I’d have worried about as I bathed in the Sp*rs fans tears of unfathomable sadness. It was a bad miss from a player who looks absolutely in bits right now.
That was that, and afterwards Arsene Wenger bemoaned our inability to make more of our chances to counter-attack in the first half, saying:
I felt in the first half we missed three or four opportunities on the counter-attack. At that level it’s difficult to swallow, always the final ball.
I get it, but that’s a real stretch. We didn’t miss chances to score, we missed chances to possibly create chances to score, and it ignores the fact that defensively we were an absolute shambles again. On the road this season we’ve won just three of our fourteen games, with just a meagre thirteen points to our name.
And for those who think this is a new thing that we’re struggling with this season, it’s a problem which has been ongoing for some time now without the manager being able to find a solution:
Arsenal's last 26 Premier League away games
Points 26 out of possible 78
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) February 10, 2018
At this point you don’t need me to make any declarations about what’s going on. I’ve said it countless times before and the numbers, the stats, the results, and our inability to do anything about them tells its own story far better than any words I could use this morning.
What I would say is that despite insistence that we have to keep going in the league – a point of view I understand fully – our best hope of qualification for next season’s Champions League now lies with the Europa League. Cup football is the one area in which we’ve shown ourselves to be actually proficient in recent seasons, so the burden lies there.
Our next game is in that competition, away at Ostersunds in Sweden on Thursday, and that’s where the focus needs to be now. Wenger has to get Lacazette out of this funk he’s in because he’s actually important for what we need to achieve, and anything good that happens in the league is basically a bonus at this point.
Yesterday we were beaten by a better team and considering the opposition, that stings. It’s time to face some harsh realities about who we are now and what we’re capable of.
Till tomorrow when James and I will be here with an Arsecast Extra.