Since Black Sunday at Old Trafford, Arsenal had been taking slow but sure steps on the road to recovery. The signing of five experienced players on deadline day boosted morale, while a first league win against Swansea and a creditable draw away to the German champions restored some self respect and confidence.
Yesterday undid all that rehabilitation in one stroke.
It wasn’t just that we lost to arguably the worst team in the Premiership. It was the manner in which we gifted them all four goals in a wretched defensive performance that has put us back to square one. Our players have regressed into the nervous, dispirited group we saw post-Carling Cup final who don’t know how to hold onto a lead or defend simple set pieces.
It is truly depressing to once again be writing the kind of match report I had to pen from March to May last season. I had hoped those dark days and performances were behind us, but the same basic errors have once again made Arsenal a laughing stock.
Now it’s important to stress that going forward, we actually played very well. Arteta in particular was superb throughout in his deep-lying playmaker role, threading neat, unspectacular passes through to the front men. We had 20 attempts at goal, hit the target seven times and scored three. Throw in 13 corners and a 63% domination of possession and that should be enough to win any match. If you’re still losing with those stats – especially against the bottom club – there is something fundamentally wrong with your defensive game.
He was offside ref! Another terrible injustice costs us dear
I will write a more detailed defensive analysis in another post because there are so many deficiencies to pick up on that it merits its own article. I’ll say this for now though – Djourou and Koscielny do not have the temperament to play for a top club. Whilst they’ve had a sprinkling of good games over the past 12 months, they lack the mental strength to perform competently under pressure.
The fourth goal illustrated that perfectly. As Blackburn broke down the wing following our corner, Djourou came across to cover. He needed to jockey the speedy Olsson and hold him up so we could get men back. So what did he decide the best course of action was? He rashly dived in (even though he was on a yellow) allowing his man to easily skip past him. Where is his football brain? Where is his composure?
Olsson was then confronted by Song in the area and went past him far too easily. Song looked too shell shocked from scoring an own goal and throwing away a 2-1 lead to actually make a decent tackle. More signs of mental weakness, although I have to say he was superb in the first half.
When Olsson’s cross went past Szczesny’s outstretched hand Koscielny demonstrated the reactions of a drunk tortoise and allowed the ball to hit his leg and trickle in. There was plenty of time to judge the trajectory of the ball once it left Olsson’s foot, but he panicked under pressure and wasn’t concentrating. Just like in the 89th minute of the Carling Cup final.
Not good enough.
Koscielny, Djourou and Squillaci cannot be relied upon in times of need and when three of your five centre backs can’t do the basics under pressure it’s no wonder we concede four at Blackburn and eight at Man Utd. Cahill in January is an absolute must.
Our goals were the one crumb of comfort on a woeful day. Gervinho took his well but also showed he has a lot to learn about the Arsenal way when he selfishly tried to score when a simple pass to van Persie would have put us 3-1 up before the break. He was rightly lambasted by his captain. It reminded me of the time Adebayor didn’t play a simple pass for Henry to tap in and Henry beat the ground in frustration and gave Adebayor a massive telling off. It worked with Adebayor so we have to hope Gervinho also learns when to pass and when to shoot. He also skied another good chance when he had time to take a touch and needs to improve his final ball.
Arteta’s goal was a neat finish from a classy player. Ramsey did well down the right (although he faded very badly in the second half) to provide the assist. Chamakh also took his goal well but missed an easier chance in injury time to earn us a point.
We still could have nicked a draw at the death when Walcott was brought down by Robinson for a stonewall penalty. That we didn’t get the decision is in keeping with the terrible bad luck we’ve had so far with referees this season. How Dalglish had the nerve to complain about his side’s injustices last week is beyond me – he clearly ignored the fact Suarez was offside for Liverpool’s first goal against us. Throw in Gervinho not being awarded a penalty at Newcastle and Yakubu’s offside goal yesterday and it’s starting to get ridiculous. We are due a serious amount of luck soon.
That we had more chances in injury time than Blackburn created in the whole match tells you the difference in quality between the two teams. Steve Keane was lauded a hero at the end as he walked down the tunnel at the final whistle, but his limited team (which would get beaten by half the Championship sides) had in truth been gifted an unlikely victory. That is what makes yesterday so difficult to accept.
Follow oohtobeagooner on Facebook
for more latest Arsenal transfer news, injury news, team news and rumours.