Monday, 16 January 2012

Arsene's Questions

Arsenal lost to Swansea. 3-2. In Swansea. So why is it that much of a surprise or treated as the equivalent of when Arsenal last visited Wales for a competitive fixture against a side from the principality, as when they lost 2-1 at Wrexham back in 1992.

Swansea have only lost once at home in the league all season (to Man United, 1-0), they are a well drilled unit governed by the magisterial eye of Brendan Rodgers who gets them to play as well with the ball as when they are without it.

The key to Swansea's football (some call it the Barcelona way) is to get the ball back as quickly as possible once they lose it giving the players Joe Allen and Leon Britton the chance to shine both with and without the ball.  They have pace down the wings in Scott Sinclair (who converted the penalty to equalise for the Swans), Nathan Dyer (who scored the second in a man of the match performance) and up front they have a hard working centre-forward who never gives up a lost cause and scores the odd goal, in this case the winner, in Danny Graham.  The scorers may well get the credit, but the solid defence and impressive Michel Vorm provides solidity at the back, they are difficult to score against - although both Arsenal goals came from through ball played into space behind full backs.

As for Arsenal, this is just another sorry episode in a season that may well go down in history as the worst of Arsene Wenger's tenureship.

Having navigated the quagmire of uncertainty following the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, Wenger seemed to have steadied the ship thanks in part to the irresistible form of Robin Van Persie who was winning games single-handedly.  He even got Thierry Henry back on loan for two months to fool people into thinking there were no real problems at the Emirates.

Yet the problems remain, an inconsistent goalkeeper who was at fault for the winner at Swansea as he did not lessen the angle for Graham to shoot at, his back peddling and dithering made Graham's decision to shoot across goal a lot easier.

The defence still is leaky, it did not help that he had four centre backs playing in defence owing to injuries sustained to Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna and Santos during the season.  Laurent Koscielny and Ignasi Miquel looked lost as they combated the pace of Sinclair and Dyer, whilst Per Mertesacker was given the run around by Graham all afternoon, and it was no surprise that he was sacrificied near the end for Oxlade-Chamberlain as Arsenal, chased an equaliser, on 77 minutes.

Yet the midfield trio of Aaron Ramsey (whose lazy pass led to Swansea taking a 2-1 lead), Alexandre Song and Yossi Benayoun could not compete with Swansea's tenacity and resilience.  There is a real sense of belief ringing around the Liberty Stadium at the moment - a team that plays attractive football, and keeps to that ethos even when they concede like they did yesterday.

The worry for Arsene Wenger was the near invisibility of certain players - Arshavin was non-existent and a non-factor until he had to come off for Henry midway through the second half, apart from his well taken goal Theo Walcott could not match Dyer for potency and end product but most worryingly, Robin Van Persie apart from the goal looked flat at times, even when they are chasing a goal at the end where was Arsenal's player of the season to stand up and be counted and carry the team to a point and salvation.

Instead, Arsenal must now re-assess hope some players return from injury as this is not Wenger's best starting XI and this season should be written off as one to be forgotten.  Again after a costly defeat, he looked to deflect blame from his team that were simply not good enough, and instead blame Michael Oliver for awarding a penalty to Swansea.

Frankly the team is not good enough to compete in this league at the moment, be it Man City's superstar line-up, Man United's experience of the big stage, Tottenham's similar Barca-style football, Arsenal have lost to all three of these teams as well as Blackburn, Fulham and now Swansea away from home.  The part-time signing of Henry is an attempt to paper over the cracks of his feeble transfer policy and failure to bring through any quality youth players - how he must regret not signing Tim Krul, nor Gary Cahill in the summer.  Cahill has now gone to Chelsea, Krul's value has shot up now.

Arsenal need to save the season, oddly enough their best performanes have been saved for the Champions League and maybe some glory in that remains, but the League has gone. They need to get back on track, yet they are at home to Man United this Sunday, whilst it should not be a 10 goal thriller again, do not bank on a goalless draw.

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