A lack of free time means I struggle to post consistently these days and my last article was three weeks ago. Funnily enough it was a report of the Napoli game. Some of the optimism I felt back then has been put into perspective by tonight’s defeat, however, which leaves us as outsiders to qualify from a group we were in control of following that exciting victory over the Italians.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t play badly and we have certainly improved from this time last year when we were struggling to qualify from a group consisting of Schalke, Montpellier and Olympiacos. But the contrast between tonight and the Napoli game was stark. We looked weary from the off, allowed the Germans to control the first half and never really clicked going forward during the whole match.
The first goal was down to a poor choice from Aaron Ramsey, who was far too confident on the ball and allowed himself to be robbed in a dangerous position. Szczesny’s balance was wrong as he set himself to dive to his right and couldn’t adjust in time as Mkhitaryan’s tame shot slid past his left foot.
We responded just before the break when Giroud profited from a mix up between keeper Weidenfeller and Neven Subotic — a just reward for a mounting period of pressure as we sought to get back into the game.
In the second half it looked as though the Germans had settled for a point, yet Arsenal struggled to break them down. Substitute Cazorla had a positive impact, clipping the bar in the nearest we came to getting a second goal. But it was Lewandowski who scored the late winner, volleying home a swift counter attack that saw Arsenal caught short at the back as they pushed too hard for a winner.
There is no disgrace in losing to one of the best teams in Europe, and in fact it might do the fans and the players some good to realise we are not the all-conquering juggernaut some have made us out to be. We’ve profited from a relatively easy start to the season, amassing 19 points from our eight league games, yet in those same eight games last season we actually got 24 points! So it’s pointless placing too much stock in our current position at the top of the league — the real time to judge us will be Christmas (by which time we’ll have played Liverpool, Man Utd, Everton, Man City and Chelsea) and the table will provide a more reliable barometer as to how good we really are.
What worries me the most right now is how tired we are looking already. The injuries and lack of cover up front has meant Wenger couldn’t rotate enough and we are already paying the price. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ozil rested against Crystal Palace on Saturday, and if Bendtner was any good perhaps we could afford to give Giroud a breather too, but that’s unlikely.
So with two tough trips to Dortmund and Naples to be negotiated, qualification looks a tough ask now. Certainly not impossible, but we’re third favourites. Hopefully we will bounce back as well as we did to our last defeat and be professional and ruthless against a poor Palace side on Saturday.
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