Arsenal went to Swansea City yesterday afternoon knowing that a win would put them one point behind fourth placed Chelsea. It would also have opened up a gap of four points over Liverpool who had failed to beat Stoke City the day before.
Early in the day there were rumours that Mikael Arteta had picked up an injury an wouldn't play. When the teams were announced the rumours proved to be true, and Yossi Benayoun took his place im midfield. Johan Djourou returned from injury, and Per Mertesacker played again after his bout of illness.
The only other changes for Arsenal from the team that beat Leeds United on Monday night were the inclusions of Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott. It was probably the strongest team available to Arsene Wenger, but there were 11 players unavailable through injury and international duty. Arsenal's squad is stretched to the limit at the moment, and with it Wenger's options are limited too.
The game started with Swansea on the attack from the off, but Arsenal scored from their first real attack. Andrey Arshavin played RVP in, and he finished excellently with his right foot. There were only five mi nutes on the clock, but Arsenal had the lead they wanted.
Swansea continued to press forward and dominate possession, as Arsenal looked to hit them on the break again. In the 16th minute Swansea got their chance to get back into the game when Nathan Dyer fooled the referee into giving him a penalty, and Scott Sinclair drilled it home. It was a terrible decision by the referee, and he was right beside Dyer when he dived.
The standard of refereeing seems to be at an all-time low, and it's not only Arsenal who are suffering from it at the moment. Red cards are being given for challenges in one game when similar challenges go completely unpunished in other games. Poor refereeing decisions seem to have influenced the outcome of almost every Premier League game this weekend.
From an Arsenal perspective it was very disappointing to concede a penalty that should not have been given when Arsenal have had so many legitimate appeals turned down recently. The sooner the better the football authorities wake up and introduce video replays similar to those used in rugby. I would also like to see each manager given a chance to appeal two refereeing decisions per game, similar to the system used in American football.
There might be a slight delay while decisions are made, but at least there would be lot more correct decisions for all teams. The excuse that these systems cannot be implemented in the lower regions of the game is an old one, and it has become boring at this stage. In the lower regions of the game there is only a referee in charge in some cases, but that doesn't seem to bother the authorities at all.
The game was still tied at 1-1 at half-time, but Swansea were looking the better team. RVP did have a great chance to put Arsenal ahead a few minutes before the break, but his effort was well save by Michel Vorm. He was again set up by Arshavin, and I really expected him to score with only the keeper to beat.
Swansea took the lead 12 minutes into the second half when Aaron Ramsey was dispossessed, and the ball was played to Dyer who finished very well. Arsenal quickly brought on Thierry Henry and Tomas Rosicky for Arshavin and Benayoun, but they still struggled to get a foothold in the game.
They did equalise in the 69th minute when a great ball from Djourou played Walcott in on the right, and he finished excellently over the advancing Vorm. The stage looked set for a strong finish from Arsenal, and the three points seemed to be there for the taking. However, within a minute of equalising Arsenal were behind yet again.
A quick ball behind the Arsenal defence caught out Laurent Koscielny who was trying to play offside, and Danny Graham finished very well past Wojciech Szczesny. He was helped a little by Szczesny advancing and retreating which meant he didn't get his angles quite right. Arsenal now had to battle to try to take a point, and arrest their recent slide.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on for Mertesacker soon after the third Swansea goal, but try as they might Arsenal could not equalise. They had good chances, but failed to put them away which meant they fell to their seventh Premier League defeat of the season. A few weeks ago the team looked to be in a very promising position, but now their lack of form is becoming a real worry.
In their last four Premier League games Arsenal have dropped eight points from winning positions, and that simply isn't good enough. The injuries to all of the full-backs in the first team squad are affecting the teams performance in defence as well as attack. It seems Arsenal are no closer to signing even one full-back on loan, and they face the reigning champions next Sunday.
I think at least one full-back should have been signed on January 1st, and even if he was unfit he would be able to play now. Wenger has money in the bank, and the squad simply isn't strong enough to cope with the trials and tribulations of a full season. The simple solution is to use some of that money to attempt to halt the slide.
When the transfer window closed at the end of August I hoped Arsenal's new players could do enough to get the team through to the January window in a healthy state. They just about managed to do so, but now the opportunity is there to add to the squad, and it has to be take. There is no use in hoping the squad can muddle through until all the players are fit again.
Injuries are a fact of life in football, and the club has to ensure they have enough quality to cope when players are missing. At the moment Arsenal do not have that quality in depth, and it is costing them points. If it also costs them an FA Cup exit to Villa the chances of a trophy will be gone for yet another season in my opinion.
I was particularly unhappy with the awarding of the man of the match award to Dyer yesterday, as I felt it was a reward for him cheating. Surely the TV pundits have enough brains to know you cannot condone players conning a referee. I like to watch Swansea play, but Dyer is one player who will be added to my list of dislikes.
An awful lot can happen in a week in football, and the possible returns of Thomas Vermaelen and Arteta would certainly make Arsenal stronger against United. I worry about that game though, because Swansea's wide players were a handful for our makeshift defence. Imagine what the likes of Nani or Antonio Valencia could do if they get a chance.
I feel Arsenal are very vulnerable to any team that attacks them at the moment, and Swansea showed that yesterday. If United come to Arsenal next Sunday and decide to attack it could be a very tough day for the team and the fans. As long as the team continue to let in a much higher rates of shots against them than they score at the other end Arsenal are going to suffer.
Time after time the opposition score from very few chances while Arsenal miss chance after chance at the other end. It's alright to miss chances as long as the team take a few of them, but only if they can defend properly. With the complete inability to defend properly that the team has at the moment opponents are actually relishing playing Arsenal, and who can blame them.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights of yesterday's game.
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