Arsenal played away to Aston Villa yesterday evening in the first of three Premier League games in eight days. They came into the game having rediscovered their attacking flair with eight goals in their last two league games. Their defence had been nowhere near it's best in those games, but the goals tally made up for that.
Villa were in the relegation zone and had conceded eight goals in their previous two league games. The stage was set for Arsenal to surely take all three points and move into fifth place in the table after Everton had drawn 1-1 at home to Norwich earlier in the day.
Arsene Wenger had said his players were feeling the effects of so many games and he made three changes to the team which had beaten Montpellier on Wednesday night. Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson came in as the two full backs with Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna dropping to the bench. In midfield Aaron Ramsey replaced Jack Wilshere.
It made sense to to rest both Sagna and Wilshere as they had just returned from long term injuries. The omission of captain Vermaelen while Laurent Koscielny kept his place at the centre of the defence was a curious one. I had always assumed Vermaelen would revert to the centre of defence when Gibbs returned but maybe his place isn't quite so secure.
Only a few weeks ago the team were struggling to create chances, but they seemed to have turned the corner before yesterday. Villa set up to close Arsenal down at every opportunity and give their midfield no time or space to play in. It's a tactic which had worked so well for Norwich when they beat Arsenal 1-0.
Unfortunately Arsenal were yet again unable to find a way to counter their opponents stifling tactics. The game very quickly became a dour affair with misplaced passes the order of the day for Arsenal. As the game wore on it was clear Arsenal needed to change something to try for all three points.
With 20 minutes to go Gervinho replaced Lukas Podolski and seven minutes later it was Andrey Arshavin who came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The final substitution came with only five minutes left and it was a baffling one for me and many other Arsenal fans too. With Arsenal needing a goal they withdrew Olivier Giroud and replaced him with Francis Coquelin.
How can a defensive midfielder replace an in form striker in a team looking to score a goal. It meant Gervinho moved in to play as the central striker, but he's just not good enough in that role in my opinion. Arsenal continued to get the ball wide and try to cross it, but with Giroud off the pitch it was a futile tactic.
Towards the end Jenkinson did put in exactly the type of cross that Giroud thrives on, but there was nobody there to finish it off. The game ended scoreless and Villa were clearly the happier of the two teams with the result. If it hadn't been for a very good save from Wojciech Szczesny Villa could have won the game.
The traveling Arsenal fans were far from happy when Giroud was taken off and they made their feelings known. It's not often you will hear them chant "you don't know what you're doing" directly at the manager. I'm sure he knew exactly what he was doing and the real problem was the lack of depth in the squad.
The fact that there are no real alternatives to Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Mikael Arteta in the current squad means they are being asked to do too much. Yesterday would have been an ideal opportunity to rest those players ahead of the trip to Everton on Wednesday. It couldn't be done though as there are no alternatives.
With money in the bank to spend on transfers the blame for the lack of depth has to rest firmly with the manager and the board. If they felt Arsenal had a strong enough squad to cope with the rigours of Premier League and Champions League football they got it badly wrong. It's not as if it hasn't happened in the past and the need to ensure real value for money is one which is hurting the team.
Of the three league games in eight days the Villa one was probably the easiest and all three points were there for the taking. If Arsenal are to be considered serious contenders for any trophy they have to have a squad capable of competing with the best. It's clear there are players who are too injury prone or just not good enough to be considered proper members of the squad.
Those players are taking the places of players who could have a real affect on the team and it's fortunes. It's a situation which had to be rectified in January with a couple of top class additions to the squad.
There is already a substantial transfer fund available to spend and the news of the new sponsorship deal from Emirates adds even more to that kitty. The future of the club is dependent on their ability to compete with the best and under investment in the squad is hampering that. To attract the best players Arsenal need to qualify for the Champions League and challenge for trophies.
The team have looked so good in attack recently because they have played against teams who have opened up against them. When Villa, Norwich, Sunderland and Stoke stuck to a very defensive plan Arsenal could not find a way around it. The options from the bench just weren't there to change those games and Arsenal just kept playing the same way against them.
In my opinion Arsenal need to sign at least one player who can take defenders on and beat them. They have to find a way to counter teams who park the bus or they will continue to suffer for the rest of the season. Those players have to be identified now and brought in at the earliest opportunity to build on the potential that this team has.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.