Sunday, 12 June 2011

10 Games That Defined Arsenal's Failure In 2010/11.

With the season now three weeks over it's time for me to look at some of the games which defined Arsenal's failure in 2010/11. Arsenal suffered 14 defeats in their 58 games, and some of those games defeats were very hard to take for a number of reasons. Not all of the games I will look at were defeats, as there are two draws and even one victory in there too.

1: Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal (Premier League Feb 5 2011)
This was the game when Arsenal's season started to go wrong in my opinion. It showed the good side of Arsenal, but also the bad side too. I still find it hard to come to terms with the events of that day, and hoe both teams went down in Premier League history.

Arsenal played beautiful attacking football throughout the first half, and cruised into a 4-0 lead with Newcastle looking dead and buried. The football Arsenal played in that first half was some of the best they had played all season, and goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou, and a brace from Robin Van Persie looked like they had secured an easy away win. The second half started off much the same, but things turned when Djourou limped injured in the 49th minute.

Alex Song wasn't playing that day, and Abu Diaby had performed admirably in his position in the first half. However, shortly after Sebasten Squillaci had replaced Djourou things changed when Diaby took exception to a typical bone crunching over the ball Joey Barton challenge. Diaby pushed Barton in front of the referee, and he was given a straight red card with no action taken over Barton's challenge which also should have been a straight red in my opinion.

Arsenal still managed to hold out for another 20 minutes, and halfway through the second half they were still 4-0 up. A few years ago Arsenal mastered the art of winning when they were down to 10 men by hitting their opponents on the break, but the current Arsenal team don't have that mental strength. Newcastle pulled their first goal back through a penalty in the 68th minute, and the fear was visible in the eyes of the Arsenal players.

Newcastle managed three more goals in the last fifteen minutes, as Arsenal put up a defensive display worthy of a team three leagues below them. Certain players were found very wanting that day, and they will never be viewed the same way by Arsenal fans again. As a lifelong Arsenal fan I will always love and support the team, but unfortunately all but the most blind Arsenal fans knew that the current squad was capable of capitulating in that manner.

I hope I never again see Arsenal put up a display like they did in the second half of that game.

2: Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League November 20 2010).
This was another game which was a tale of two halves, as Arsenal led 2-0 at the interval and ended up losing 3-2. Sice Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal in 1996 Spurs have not actually been footballing rivals to Arsenal, as the rivalry has been due to the proximity of the clubs more than anything else. In those 15 years Spurs have never finished above Arsenal in the league, and it's something the Arsenal fans are very proud of.
They had managed to beat Arsenal for the first time in 10 years at the end of the previous season, but that was an away game for Arsenal. They came to the Emirates and they were outplayed in the first half with the goals coming from Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh. Arsenal fans looked forward to more of the same in the second half, but it was not to be.

The second half saw Arsenal start very slowly and they just couldn't get out of that groove for the remainder of the game. Gareth Bale scored an early goal, and that was followed midway through the half by a Rafael Van Der Vaart penalty. As the minutes ticked by it became inevitable that Spurs would score, and the goal came with only four minutes left.

Like so many other Arsenal fans I was disgusted by the team in the second half, and no excuse could be offered for their failure in a game which clearly meant more to the fans than the players. I hoped it was finally the game in which lessons would be learned, and it looked like it might have been until the last few months of the season. Arsenal have since drawn away to Spurs in the league which means they have failed to beat them in their last three league encounters.

It's a situation which cannot be allowed to carry on, and the players have to be seen to be willing to die for the cause the next time the clubs meet. It may have been 50 years since Spurs won a league title and Arsenal may have won six titles in that time, but it still hurts when we don't beat them. The manner of the 3-2 defeat was completely unacceptable, and it cannot be allowed to happen again.

3: Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City (Carling Cup final February 27 2011). 
This was supposed to be the game where the current Arsenal team made the breakthrough, and finally won a trophy after almost six barren years. They were without the services of the injured Cesc Fabregas, but at least RVP was playing and in great goalscoring form. Birmingham took the lead, but Arsenal fought back through that man RVP, and started to turn the screw.

As the game wore on Birmingham's goalkeeper made save after save to keep them in the game, but surely it was only a matter of time before Arsenal got the winner. However, in true Arsenal fashion things took a dramatic turn for the worse in the 89th minute. A harmless ball into the Arsenal box was destined for the arms of Wojciech Szczesny until Laurent Koscielny swung a leg at it, and deflected it straight to Obafemi Martins who had the simple task of prodding it into an empty net.

I don't think Arsenal fans will ever know exactly what happened between Szczesny and Koscielny, but it looked to me like the keeper had called for the ball and Koscielny should have left it to him. It gave Arsenal no time to recover, and their season effectively ended on that day, as the players were unable to recover from the disappointment. From what should have been joy for the Arsenal fans their season turned to despair.

4: Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Arsenal (Champions League November 3 2010).
Arsenal had won their first three Champions League group games with ease, and they merely needed to see the last three games out to top their group. A draw away to Shakhtar would probably have been enough to secure first place, and a win would have virtually guaranteed it. However, the manager decided to play a weakened team against a side notoriously difficult to play awy to, and Arsenal took nothing from the game.

The signs were good early on, as Theo Walcott streaked away to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute, but by half time they were 2-1 down. It hurt even more when ex Arsenal player Eduardo da Silva scored the second goal, but it was no more than Shakhtar deserved. I firmly believe that Arsenal would have won their group if a stronger team had been played, and it could have made things a lot easier for them in the knockout stages.

They came into the game on the back of five consecutive wins in all competitions, but they went on to lose in the Premier League at home to Newcastle in the next game as well. The players who were rested against Shakhtar failed to do the business against Newcastle, and Arsenal suffered as a result. I hoped the manager had learned his lesson, but clearly the team picked in their next Champions League game proved me wrong.

5: Braga 2-0 Arsenal (Champions League November 23 2010).
Arsenal had lost their previous Champions League group game away to Shakhtar, but they still had the chance to win the group by getting a result from this game. Braga are a good team at home, and Arsenal needed a strong team to get a result from this game. A draw would have guaranteed qualification for the last 16, and a win would have almost guaranteed that they won their group.

However, the boss yet again fielded a weakened team, and once more it came back to haunt him. Arsenal had lost at home to Spurs the previous Saturday, and it was not a good idea to field a weakened team yet again in the Champions League. On the night Arsenal probably deserved at least a draw, but Braga won the game with two goals in the last ten minutes, as Arsenal were looking for a win themselves.

I could argue that Arsenal should have had a clear penalty given when the scores were level, or that they only had 10 men on the pitch after Emmanuel Eboue went off injured with all of the substitutes used already. However, the fact remains that Arsenal would have had a much better chance of winning the game with a full strength team, and the boss chose not to play one. The decision was his and his alone, and it ended up giving Arsenal the most difficult tie of all in the last 16 against Barcelona.

6: Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (Champions League March 8 2011).
Arsenal had beaten Barcelona 2-1 in the home leg of their last 16 tie, and they needed to put in a fantastic performance to make it through to the last eight. There were a few crucial decisions on the night, but the most crucial one of all may have been the inclusion of Cesc in the starting 11 for Arsenal. He had picked up an injury at home to Stoke City only two weeks earlier, and he clearly wasn't fit to play.

Apparently it was his decision to play that night, and I'm sure he still regrets it now after his mistake handed Barcelona their first goal. Arsenal needed 11 players who could give everything they had for the whole 90 minutes, but Cesc had very little to offer for the 76 minutes he lasted. At that stage  Arsenal were 3-1 down and they needed to find a goal from somewhere to progress to the next round.

Of course that wasn't the only disappointing event on a night in which the darlings of UEFA proved yet again that they are exempt from the rules other teams have to play under. The ludicrous sending off of RVP by a referee who has never refereed a losing Spanish team in almost 30 games was no surprise at all, and the constant play acting and badgering the referee by the Barcelona players was a complete disgrace.

Even with so much going against Arsenal they almost got the result they needed in the end. Nicklas Bendtner had a great chance in the very last minute to put Arsenal through on away goals, but he wasted it with a poor first touch and Arsenal were out. It also has to be remembered that Arsenal were winning the tie early in the second half, and dealing with Barcelona's non stop attacking until RVP was sent packing.

After that result Arsenal's season went from bad to worse, as it seemed it was just too much for the players to take following their Carling Cup final defeat.

7: Arsenal 2-3 West Bromwich Albion (Premier League September 25 2010).
I chose this game because it showed what was missing from Arsenal on so many occasions throughout the season. They were playing at home to a newly promoted team, and they should have had more than enough to beat them despite a few absentees. However, Arsenal simply failed to show up on the day until they were 3-0 down with 15 minutes left.

When they did finally wake up Nasri bagged a brace of goals, and they almost rescued a point. The problem to me was that Arsenal believed they would beat West Brom, and they didn't put in the effort required to do so on the day until it was too late. On various other occasions at home against supposedly lesser opponents throughout the season they did the same thing, and ultimately it was their home form which saw them slip to fourth.

It's an attitude in the Arsenal team which has to be altered, and in my opinion it will take a couple of new players to do that.

8: Wigan Athletic 2-2 Arsenal (Premier League December 29 2010).
Arsenal had a lot of games in quick succession over the Christmas programme, and the trip to Wigan was right after the game at home to Chelsea. Arsenal had not beaten Chelsea in a long time, and their 3-1 victory over them looked like it might be the turning point for them. They had finally managed to get the better of Chelsea, and now they needed to keep up the momentum to challenge for the league title.

Yet again the boss decided to make wholesale changes to the team, and yet again it didn't pay off. Wigan took an early lead when a dive earned them a penalty, but Arsenal fought back to lead 2-1 at half time through Andrey Arshavin and Bendtner. They never had control of the game though, and with only 10 minutes left Squillaci scored a ridiculous own goal to gift Wigan a point.

9: Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League April 17 2011). 
Arsenal's season was in rapid decline when Liverpool came to visit them at The Emirates. They simply had to win the game to keep their chances of winning the league title alive, and the manner in which they threw their lead away will take a long time to forget. Arsenal played very poorly on the day, but they were thrown a late lifeline when they got a penalty in the seventh minute of added time. RVP put the penalty away to give Arsenal the lead with injury time as good as over.

All that Arsenal had to do was defend for the minute or so he referee might add for the time to take the penalty and celebrated afterwards. However, Liverpool attacked straight from the kick off, and Arsenal looked visibly frightened at the prospect of conceding a goal. Liverpool got a free kick just outside the Arsenal area, and the nerves of the Arsenal fans were fraying.

The free kick hit the wall and was cleared towards the edge of the box to the right hand side. Lucas took possession for Liverpool and Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue was the nearest man to him. With Lucas's back to goal all that Eboue had to do was shepherd him towards the sideline, and the game would have ended in an Arsenal victory.

Eboue has never been my favourite Arsenal player because I think he is a loose cannon on the pitch. He proved me exactly right by running into the back of Lucas inside the penalty area, and knocking him over to concede a penalty. Liverpool put the penalty away, and Arsenal's took yet another turn for the worse with their third draw in a row at home in the league.

10: Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United (Premier League May 1 2011). 
The reason I chose a win among all the defeats and draws was because of the manner of that win in the middle of Arsenal's complete collapse. United came to visit Arsenal knowing that a win would end Arsenal's chances of winning the league, and almost definitely guarantee their 19th title too. On the day they were completely outplayed, and only some poor refereeing saw Nemanja Vidic stay on the field after a first half hand ball wasn't spotted in his own penalty area.

Arsenal showed the spirit, determination and discipline that had been missing in almost every game since the Carling Cup final, and Aaron Ramsey scored the goal to give them three points. It gave some brief hope to Arsenal fans, but it was followed by only one point in their last three games. Arsenal could easily have finished second or third if they had continued the form they showed in that game, but the reasons why they didn't are the ones which infuriate their fans so much.

It's difficult to explain how the Arsenal players were able to raise themselves in the middle of that terrible run to beat the eventual champions. If they were capable of that performance on that they then why were they not capable of it against so called lesser teams. Hopefully Wenger can find the answers to that question over the summer, and the Arsenal fans can look forward to a better season starting in August.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights of the draw away to Newcastle if you can bear to watch them.

See You Tomorrow

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