Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Arsenal: A Little Perspective

Only a few weeks ago Arsenal were 2-0 down at home to fierce rivals Spurs and their season looked as good as over. They faced the prospect of trailing Spurs by 13 points, and being out of the running to finish in the top three. All that was left for them was to fight with Chelsea and a couple of others for the hope of a play-off to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Arsenal's sensational comeback in that game has been well documented, as has their seven game winning streak in the Premier League. All good things come to an end at some stage, and unfortunately Queens Park Rangers were the team to stop Arsenal in their tracks. On Saturday afternoon they did enough to get a 2-1 win at home to Arsenal, but they were helped by a display from Arsenal which simply wasn't up to standard.

It leaves Arsenal still in third place in the Premier League, but unfortunately the three teams directly behind them all managed to win their games. The gap to Spurs is now almost as narrow as it can get with no points and only one goal separating them on goal difference. Both Chelsea and Newcastle are a further five points back, but ready to pounce if Arsenal should falter again.

If Arsenal fans were offered the current scenario after 40 minutes of that game at home to Spurs I don't think there would be a single one of them that would have turned it down. However, now that Arsenal are third in the table some fans feel the need to have a real go at the team after the result aggainst QPR. Surely a little bit of perspective is what's needed, as the situation is infinitely superior to what the fans feared when they trailed Spurs 2-0.

It doesn't take a genius to realise the performance against QPR wasn't good enough, and some of the players need to look at how they performed on the day. Thomas Vermaelen made two crucial mistakes that led to both goals, but he was also let down by other players not doing their jobs. When he was beaten on both occasions he should rightly have expected others to be there to help him out.

For the first goal I felt Kieran Gibbs was too far forward considering Arsenal were not in possession. If he had been in the correct position he might have been able to put enough pressure on Abel Taarabt to stop him scoring. I've never been overly impressed by Gibbs' defensive abilities, and Andre Santos is waiting in the wings for his chance to impress since his recovery from injury.

Gibbs may have been slightly at fault for that goal, but the dereliction of duty by the mudfield for QPR's winning goal was far more serious in my opinion. When Vermaelen slipped on the edge of the area there was every chance Arsenal could still prevent a goal if others did their jobs. However, Samba Diakite was able to stroll forward from midfield and stroke the ball home. The Arsenal midfielders just stood back and watched as Diakte made his way forward, and none of them showed any interest in tracking back.

I have no doubt that Arsene Wenger will be letting the players know that their performance wasn't up to the expected standard. They have a really big game at home to Manchester City on Sunday afternoon, and the players will have to perform a whole lot better in that game. Maybe the players had their minds on the City game rather than the matter in hand when they were playing QPR.

Of course Wenger made at least one mistake of his own with the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey on the left side of the Arsenal midfield. Ramsey has lost his place in the team to the born-again Tomas Rosicky in recent weeks, and if he is to play it should be in his preferred role in the team. It's not fair on Ramsey to play him on the left, and the team suffers along with him when he plays there.

I think he was included to give the team some more defensive stability, but since when do Arsenal worry about defensive stability. Surely the thought of having to defend against Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been a far more worrying one for the QPR players. I know Arsenal included Ramsey in that position in the team in their last away victory at Everton, but he was hardly impressive then either.

Arsenal pride themselves on their attacking flair and their ability to hold on to the ball. For the team to do so it has to be balanced, and the team against QPR didn't have that balance. During their seven game winning run Arsenal won three games away from home, but they were all won by the odd goal.

It only took one below par performance for the balance to shift in the other direction, and Arsenal to lose. The players now have to show that they have the mental resolve to bounce back and get a result against City on Sunday. They have shown plenty of mental strength in recent weeks, and now is not the time for them to be found wanting.

City's title challenge is faltering and their away form is nothing short of disastrous for a title chasing team. Arsenal have the opportunity to finally end their chances of winning the league on Sunday, and if they can show enough mental resolve City are there for the taking. It will take a much better performance than the one shown against QPR on Saturday though.

The defeat against QPR was not the end of the world, and it was by no means Arsenal's worst performance of the season. It's been a roller coaster ride for Arsenal all season long, and the players have to ensure that the current drop is only a very short one.

Maybe the result will show those who believe the current squad is good enough that changes still need to be made this summer. The money available to Wenger needs to be wisely invested in players who can make a real difference to both the team and the squad. If they are added to those players Arsenal possess there is every posdibility that they will be genuine contenders next season which is surely what all Arsenal fans want.

I'm far from down over one poor result in a season which has seen an awful lot worse, and I have no doubt it will be a fight to the bitter end for Arsenal to try to finish third in the Premier League. Even if they don't manage to take that third place I will still be happy with a top four finish. It would be tough to finish behind Spurs, but I've seen worse before and no doubt I will again.

Supporting your team is all about being there for them through thick and thin, and Arsenal fans are just on a little bit of a diet at the moment. I've been through seasons when relegation was a real possibility or when Arsenal had to wait 18 years for a league title. Even if it takes that long again I know there never will be any other club for me no matter what.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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