After yesterday’s frustrating draw, Norwich striker Steve Morison said: “I think Arsenal thought we were going to be a pushover today.”
You’re absolutely right Steve. Arsenal often do that against so-called ‘weaker’ teams because they are a bunch of incredibly arrogant players who think the style of football they play and the technical skills they possess makes them superior to most other sides. They are too vain to understand that you need to match the opposition’s work ethic in order to be successful and ultimately that boils down to a failure on the part of Wenger. He mollycoddles them too much by rarely criticising them and rarely dropping them after a poor performance.
Take Alex Song for example. Lately he has been sauntering casually around the pitch because he knows our squad is so weak that his position is not under threat. Who can Wenger drop him for — the raw and injury prone Frimpong? Or the raw and injury prone Coquelin? It looks like the manager’s stubborn refusal to splash out a modest £5m on Scott Parker last summer has come back to bite him on the arse, because Song’s lack of desire and reluctance to sit in his defensive midfield position makes him an inadequate shield for our back four, as yesterday demonstrated.
The second Norwich goal is a perfect example. The visitors break and suddenly there are three yellow shirts looming large against just two defenders. Ramsey and Song are slowly ambling back after yet another failed attack but are too far away to help and we concede. Quite why we leave ourselves two against three in the first half I just don’t know — that’s what you do in the last few minutes when you’re chasing the game. Song shouldn’t have been in such an advanced position and this has happened many times over the season.
People point to the fact that Song has so many assists and indeed he chipped in with another yesterday, but that is not the primary function of a defensive midfielder. First and foremost he should be a screen for his centre backs — assists are merely a bonus. If you’re floating around the edge of the opponent’s area so much then you’re pretty useless when the move breaks down.
As a quick comparison, the best defensive midfielder I have ever seen in the Premiership was Chelsea’s Claude Makelele. For five years he sat deep and broke up opposition attacks, allowing the more creative players freedom to go forward and wreak havoc. In those five years he scored just twice and probably didn’t get many more assists. Not because he was a poor offensive player, but because he was rarely in the attacking third and spent most of the time diligently protecting his back four.
If Arsenal are to prevent the likes of Wigan and Norwich coming to the Emirates and scoring five goals between them, they need a disciplined defensive midfielder to sit deep and protect what is a pretty fragile defence. It’s time Song did his job properly and until he does we will continue to concede sloppy goals and drop points.
This is only partly Song’s fault of course as it’s Wenger who encourages him to get forward so much, constantly praising his attacking qualities. It’s another example of the manager’s over-the-top commitment to attacking football which, although admirable, is starting to look very naive.
What use is another excellent Song assist when you’ve just conceded three at home to Norwich?
Why weren't we back defending our lead?!
I’m still bewildered I’m forced to write such a critical analysis of the game because it all started so well after Yossi Benayoun scored that early goal. Unfortunately it came too early because the players became complacent and assumed the match was won after 120 seconds. This stems from their arrogance (which in turn trickles down from the manager) and they got the deckchairs out, only to be shocked as Norwich knuckled down and outplayed them for the rest of the half, going in 2-1 up and also having been denied a couple of penalties and a red card for Benayoun.
I wish this was an isolated event but it’s become all too common for us to take it easy against the lower sides. It’s also no coincidence that our poor run of late coincided with us beating Manchester City to go five points clear of Spurs in third place. Everybody then assumed third place was in the bag (including the media and fans) and the players relaxed, thinking their mere presence on the pitch from then on would guarantee enough points to seal third spot.
We need to stop doing this. We need to approach every match with the same intensity as if it was Manchester City at home. Because we haven’t, we missed the chance to have third place wrapped up already and now we need to beat West Brom away.
People have pointed to the injured Arteta as a big miss. Whilst I accept this, it is not the reason we have picked up only two points from our last three home games. Arteta was in the side when we had that horrific run in January so that doesn’t add up. Back then people pointed to having no full backs as the reason for losses against Fulham and Swansea. Well, Sagna and Gibbs have played every one of the last four games and we still haven’t won, so again, although injuries don’t help I don’t accept them as an excuse.
It seems that no matter who the personnel involved are, the same problem keeps cropping up — a lack of motivation for matches against ‘inferior’ opponents. So if it’s not down to personnel, there is something fundamentally wrong with the attitude of the squad as a whole and again, this comes from the manager.
Of course there was still the chance to have grabbed a dramatic victory yesterday when van Persie made it 3-2 with ten minutes left. “Phew, we got out of jail,” I thought, assuming the players would have the intelligence and tactical nous to tighten up and see the game out. We should’ve played keep-ball with everybody but van Persie sitting deep, but instead we got caught trying to score a fourth.
Wenger or Rice should’ve been on the touchline screaming for them to get back and show some discipline. Do some of the dirty work for ten minutes and the game is won, but we swagger forward looking for a fourth. Ridiculous.
As has happened a few times over the last six weeks, Spurs (and Newcastle) have failed to capitalise on our poor result. Just because they are crapper than us doesn’t excuse such an unprofessional lack of focus, but we should be grateful it’s still in our hands.
So will we finally produce a determined, committed performance next week at West Brom? Who can tell with this lot. All I know is that things are a lot harder than they needed to be and even a thick footballer like Steve Morison can tell you why.
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