Arsene Wenger’s continued reluctance to buy a decent keeper came back to bite him in his stubborn arse as we dropped vital points again on Saturday.
The last time Almunia played in the league was also against West Brom at the Emirates in our 3-2 defeat last September. In a balls up of perfect symmetry he replicated that disastrous performance by handing the Baggies a point with a joke goal, steaming out of his area unnecessarily to allow Odemwingie a simple finish. The last time I saw a keeper do anything as ridiculous as that wasn’t Hackney Marshes last Sunday believe it or not – it was at Wembley in 2009 when Fabianski did the same thing to let Drogba knock us out of the FA Cup. You can’t half pick ’em Wenger.
"Blimey Reidy, that was easy - are this lot really title challengers?"
The blame for not winning isn’t solely Almunia’s though. The jittery defence in front of him played poorly as well, the lead up to the first goal being a case in point. Squillaci conceded a needless throw in and when the ball went down the flank Koscielny hesitated and could only clear it behind. Then rusty Ramsey let Reid run off him to head in the simplest corner routine in Premiership history.
How can we be so indecisive and sloppy at the back?
The answer is so simple that even Alan Hansen mentioned it on Match of the Day – there are no leaders at Arsenal, no Tony Adams figure to organise things at the back. Youngsters like Koscielny and Ramsey are thrown in at the deep end and expected to swim. Come the business end of the season when the pressure is huge and every game is a cup final it’s little wonder we choke every year.
The midfield and strikers shouldn’t be spared any criticism. As demonstrated many times before, they’re woefully blunt without Fabregas, lacking any urgency or incision in the final third, even against West Brom. I don’t want to repeat myself week after week so the less said about Denilson the better, but at least Wenger replaced him at half time this week. With Chamakh or Bendtner out wide and Nasri in the middle we improve so much when we are going for it in the last 20 minutes. We may as well start that way.
We do deserve some credit for the fightback, but it’s a bit like handing a thief the keys to your house and expecting to be praised when you go round there in the nick of time to stop him robbing you. It shouldn’t detract from the real issue of being dumb enough to give him the keys in the first place.
Arshavin’s goal on 70 minutes was quality. Unfortunately it’s been too fleeting from our pocket maestro this season. As for our equaliser, I’m surprised nobody’s made a big deal of the fact Bendtner knocked it back across goal with his arm – it was a clear handball! The Almunia farce has deflected attention from it, but we were lucky it stood.
I wouldn’t have minded a 2-2 draw if Man Utd had stayed 0-0 with Bolton. But of course, they nicked a jammy late winner. Fergie summed it up perfectly when he had a sly dig at Arsenal in his post-match comments:
“We have had five massive games in the last couple of weeks. It has been a hard programme and the lads deserve a lot of praise for that. This was not a 100% top performance from us but we never gave in.
That is what the character of this club is all about. No other club in the country has got that. We are fantastic at gritting our teeth and getting something out of a dead situation.”
It saddens me to say it, but he’s absolutely right. With just as many injuries as ours, they dug deep and showed lots of bottle and spirit to get the result. Even with seven defenders injured and one sent off, they kept Bolton at bay until they could nick a goal. If we could’ve kept West Brom at bay, we’d have nicked it 2-0. But even though we restricted them to just three shots in the whole match, two went in. Not good enough.
So Man Utd claimed a scrappy win while we claimed a scrappy draw. Wenger claimed, surprise surprise, that we “showed great character”. Actually it was our title rivals who showed real character Wenger, not us.
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