Monday, 14 March 2011

Arsenal Must Now Deliver In The Premier League.

Where do you start? I said in my preview of Arsenal's FA Cup quarter final away to "Manure" that Arsenal cannot play Abu Diaby and Denilson in the same team, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday. I also said that Samir Nasri had to be played in the creative midfield role with Cesc Fabregas out injured, but he was again played in a wide right role. Those decisions were all taken by Arsene Wenger and there can be very few Arsenal fans who agreed with them. Added to that a clearly far from fit Robin Van Persie led the line, and it all made for a very unbalanced team in my opinion.

After the disappointment of Tuesday night's Champions League exit to Barcelona I wondered how the Arsenal players would react, and unfortunately the answer was all too evident. "Manure" have a Champions League game of their own on Tuesday night, and their manager chose a team with that in mind. His team selection should have given Arsenal a distinct advantage, as he chose to play seven defenders in his starting 11. It was clear that his plan was to defend in depth, and hit Arsenal on the break when possible. It's a tactic that has worked so well against Arsenal in recent seasons, and there was every chance it would work again.

The two strikers he chose were hard working players, and the whole team was prepared to give everything they had for the entire 90 minutes. A midfield which included Darren Gibson, John O'Shea and the Da Silva twins should have been no match for Arsenal, but it proved otherwise due to their determination and commitment. "Manure" had a week to work on their tactics for the game, and they clearly went into it with a game plan. Every player knew their role and exactly what was expected of them, as opposed to Arsenal including players in their team who are on a par with those players at least, but who did not seem to know what was expected of them.

The match statistics might say Arsenal had more of the ball and far more chances both on and off target, but the only statistic that counts is goals on the scoreboard. In the cold light of day it was obvious that they took their chances and Arsenal didn't but the reasons those chances were tucked away by "Manure" showed up the difference between the teams on the day. Arsenal didn't have the desire that their opponents did, and that desire was the reason their players were in the right places at the right times to score the goals. Arsenal missed some very good chances to score, and on another day they might have put them away, but once "Manure" got their first goal there was only going to be one outcome to the game.

Arsenal missed chances that were far easier than the ones their opponents scored, and against a team like "Manure" that is just not good enough. In games like that good chances are at a premium, and Arsenal have the habit of not taking them far too often. It will be a long time before Arsenal get so many attempts both on and off target at Old Trafford, and they have only themselves to blame for not taking them. Bacary Sagna gets plenty of criticism for his crossing at times, but he set both Marouane Chamakh and Tomas Rosicky up with chances that should have been converted and weren't.

To add insult to injury Arsenal are now without the services of Johan Djourou for the rest of the season after his late collision with Sagna resulted in a dislocated shoulder. It's quite bizarre how Arsenal players manage to get injured without opponents being anywhere near them at times. Wojciech Szczesny more or less ended his season making a fairly standard save against Barcelona, and now Djourou has followed him after what looked like a fairly innocuous collision.

It means Arsenal are faced with 10 Premier League games where their central defensive partnership will be Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci. Those two have proved on quite a few occasions this season that they perform very poorly as a central defensive pairing, and the signs are not encouraging for Arsenal. Manuel Almunia has played very well since being called into emergency action against Barcelona, but I worry at the prospect of him being Arsenal's only fit goalkeeper for the rest of the season.

As it stands Arsenal will win the Premier League title if they win their last 10 matches, and it's entirely within their own hands. The big question will be how they react to the defeats to Birmingham, Barcelona and "Manure" which have put them out of all three cup competitions in two weeks. The Birmingham game should have been won, the Barcelona game was always a huge task, and on the face of it so was the trip to "Manure" on Saturday. However Arsenal should have beaten the team they faced on Saturday, and they should be the ones in the FA Cup semi final.

It's now up to Man City to stop their local rivals from reaching the FA Cup final, as the thought of their current team possibly winning a double is inconcieveable to me. I have said before that I consider their current squad/team to be the worst one they have had since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, and it will be a sad indication of the current state of that league if they win a domestic double. Arsenal can stop them in the Premier League, but I wonder what belief Arsenal have left, and if they will have any when "Manure" come calling in April.

The manager has a week to work with his players ahead of the next game away to West Brom next Saturday, and that week could be crucial to Arsenal's hopes of a trophy this season. At the start of the season I thought Arsenal did not have enough to win the league, but I didn't see Chelsea slipping so badly, and that has opened the door for Arsenal. The big question is whether the players that are left have enough within them to believe the league can be won, and then to go out and do it. The clever money would seem to say not, and it's up to them to disprove that. It's something I hope they can do, but my doubts are growing by the day.

Last season the manager said he would be judged by the outcome of the season, but the incredible injury crisis Arsenal suffered put an end to their hopes in my opinion. This season he again said the same, and he must deliver a trophy or his job is on the line. Things have gone wrong at certain times throughout the season, as they will do for any team, but far too many of those mishaps can be traced back to bad decisions for the manager. I am loathe to call for his head, and I believe he will walk away rather than suffer the embarrassment of the club sacking him if it comes to that, but he must take responsibility for his mistakes.

They include the failure to play a full strength team away to Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga in the Champions League which resulted in Arsenal coming second in their group and drawing Barcelona in the last 16. He has chosen to play Cesc Fabregas on a couple of occasions this season where he clearly wasn't fit, and it has resulted in Cesc missing further games due to relapses. When Cesc has been missing he has not played Nasri in the creative role in the centre of midfield often enough, but he is the only player currently capable of fulfilling that role in Cesc's absence.

It seems that he thinks Arsenal will have enough to get by on some occasions, but it invariably backfires. His gambles have nearly been lost this season, and the result is Arsenal's season is teetering on the edge of collapse. He has to install belief in the players that they can go out and win at least eight of their last 10 league matches, and they cannot lose at home to "Manure" on May 1st or the title will be lost. How they get to May 1st is another matter altogether.
The first three steps are three must win league games away to West Brom, at home to Blackburn and away to Blackpool. If Arsenal cannot win those three games I firmly believe their season will be over before "Manure" visit them, and that's something that cannot be allowed to happen. The Premier League will be won with a very low points haul this season, and if arsenal and "Manure" aren't careful Chelsea will come with a  late run to claim it.  No team can expect to win every game they play, but the time has come for no more excuses for Arsenal. It's going to be very difficult, but with no other distractions they must knuckle down and bring home the trophy their fans want.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights of Saturday's game.

See You Tomorrow.

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