Arsenal made the short trip to local rivals Tottenham Hotspur yesterday to play their seventh game of their Premier League campaign. The season had started badly for them with three defeats in the first six games, and 14 goals conceded. Their away form was a real problem with 12 of those 14 goals conceded in their last two away games.
The Arsenal team went through an awful lot of changes in the summer, and those new players always need time to adapt to a new team. With most of them arriving in the final days of the transfer window there has been very little time for them to settle so far, and Arsenal have looked disjointed in all of their displays so far this season. To make matters worse for Arsenal they have some of their most important players out injured too, and they need to get them back as soon as possible.
It meant Alex Song had to leave the defensive duties in midfield to Francis Coquelin, as he filled in at centre back alongside Per Mertesacker. I've never been a fan of Song in the defence, but there were no other options available to Arsene Wenger on the day. I had thought Emmanuel Frimpong would be the man to replace him in midfield, but Coquelin was chosen and he played very well too.
Arsenal came into the game on the back of three consecutive victories in three different competitions, but they were all at home. Arsenal had the best away record in the Premier League last season, but this time around they have been far too vulnerable on their travels. Spurs are exactly noted for their defending either, and the game promised to deliver plenty of goals.
The first half was a fairly even affair with Arsenal playing quite well, but the fit again Gervinho missed a gilt-edged chance for them. At the other end Wojciech Szczesny was again in fine form in the Arsenal goal, as he made a couple of excellent saves. It looked like the teams would go in all square at the break, but Rafael Van Der Vaart changed that five minutes beforehand.
The Arsenal defence were all at sea with both Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna well out of position as Spurs attacked. When Emmanuel Adebayor floated a ball over the defence Sagna was nowhere to be seen, as Van Der Vaart took the ball down and finished into the corner of the net. It's the job of the right back to hook in behind his central defenders when a ball comes in from the other side, but Sagna was yards out of position and Arsenal paid the price for his lack of positional awareness.
Van Der Vaart was shown to have controlled the pass with his arm rather than his chest in the television replays, but the officials didn't spot it and the goal stood. The officials did see him go into the crowd to celebrate though, and under the rules he should have got a yellow card for it. He had already been booked earlier in the half, and if the officials did their job correctly Arsenal would have had a one man advantage for the second half.
Arsenal started the second half looking determined to get back in the game, and they did so after only six minutes. Song came forward from his defensive duties and drove into the Spurs box on the left hand side. He cut the ball back across the goal and Aaron Ramsey was there to crash it home from six yards out in the style of Freddie Ljungberg.
Arsenal were on top at that stage and Spurs looked more than a little worried, but they couldn't make their domination pay. They still looked fragile at the back though, and Szczesny needed to be at his very best to deny Adebayor. The game slowly turned in Spurs favour and they regained the lead with 17 minutes left.
Both Mikael Arteta and Ramsey allowed Sandro to jog past them from a Spurs throw in, and he cut the ball back into the box for Luka Modric whose shot was blocked by Song. The ball came out to Kyle Walker whose 30 yard shot was well hit, but Szczesny should have kept it out. He wasn't helped by the ball dipping and swerving in front of him, but he got his hands to it and should have done better.
Arsenal didn't seem to have the determination or belief to get back into the game, and Spurs looked more likely to add to their lead on the break. There were five added minutes and Mertesacker pushed up front beside Robin Van Persie for them, but to no avail. The final whistle arrived after a flurry of Arsenal corners, but Spurs dealt with them all fairly easily.
With a little over 20 minutes left Bacary Sagna went off on a stretcher after a clash with Benoit Assou-Ekotto at the sideline. Sagna won the ball and I thought Assou-Ekotto jumped into him deliberately, but he seemed to hurt himself when he landed. The club confirmed last night that he has broken his right fibula, and he will be out for approximately three months.
Arsenal's defence may have had their problems last season, but it's very difficult to play with a completely different defence. Gael Clichy has been sold and now young Carl Jenkinson has to fill in for Sagna for the next three months at least. Both Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny are both injured, and it's very difficult for a defence to find any consistency when it's constantly changing.
Hopefully Koscielny will be back for Arsenal's next game in two weeks time, but Vermaelen will take a little longer to return to the team. Jenkinson is still very inexperienced and he will have to learn his trade in the team, as Arsenal have no other players available to play at right back. It will be interesting to see who plays in that position when Arsenal take on Bolton Wanderers in the next round of the Carling Cup.
Arsenal are missing any real drive in their midfield, and their passing in and around the opposition box is no longer as good as it was in previous seasons. Both Arteta and Ramsey are good players, but they don't offer as much to the team as both Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere did last season. The absence of Wilshere has been a real blow to the team since Cesc was sold, and he will be severely missed for the next four months.
They have signed some very good wide players though, and it's vital for them that those wide players play well. On the day both Theo Walcott and Gervinho had very little to offer, and I thought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have made a difference, but he wasn't included in the squad. When Andrey Arshavin came on he didn't offer too much either, and Chamberlain looks the player most likely to make a difference at the moment.
The majority of the Arsenal players will now go off on international duty for the next 10 days, and hopefully they will all return in one piece. The current injury crisis at the club is a real worry with some of the most important players missing. The Arsenal fans will be very nervous when the Nrtherlamds are playing because an injury to RVP could be the final nail in their coffin.
His goals have been one of the few bright points for Arsenal in 2011, and the team simply cannot afford to have him injured. The likely replacements for him would be Marouane Chamakh or Ju Young Park, but neither of them fill me with much hope at the moment. Chamakh wasn't even in the squad for yesterday's game, and Park has hardly got a kick of the ball so far in his month at the club.
It was a tough day for Arsenal fans yesterday, but things could get a whole lot tougher if they don't sort out their away form very soon. Realistically fourth place is what they have to aim for in the Premier League, and they need to start making up the eight point gap that has opened after only seven games. Despite their lowly 15th position in the league I have absolutely no fear of Arsenal getting relegated, as they are far better than most of the other teams in the league despite their short comings.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights of yesterday's game with thanks to 101 Great Goals as always.
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