Sunday, 3 March 2013

Arsenal's Top Four Hopes Fade With A 2-1 Defeat To Spurs

Arsenal traveled to Spurs on Sunday knowing that they could not afford to lose to their local rivals. A win was the ideal scenario, but failing that they at least needed to take a point out of the game. They finished up with no points though and now find themselves seven points behind their local rivals with 10 games to go.

Chelsea are a little closer as they are only five points ahead of Arsenal, but it means Arsenal will have to win almost all of their remaining games to finish in the top four. It's a task that's still not beyond this team, but they cannot continue to shoot themselves in the foot as they have done at crucial times all season long.

They were on top of the game on Sunday until two lapses in concentration handed Spurs two goals. If Arsenal are going to play the offside trap then pressure has to be put on the opposition when they are in possession. For both of the Spurs goals yesterday they had time to pick out the runs of players behind a defence that was pushing up.

It's pretty obvious to defenders when there is no pressure on the ball and they have to adjust their offside tactics accordingly. If the midfielders aren't doing their job of closing the ball down they need to be told to do it and surely that's a captain's job. Thomas Vermaelen is the Arsenal captain at the moment and he's having a hard enough time trying to get his own game right.

I can't imagine that Arsene Wenger would consider dropping his captain, but there has to come a time when Laurent Koscielny gets a chance to form a partnership with Per Mertesacker. Koscielny was Arsenal's best defender last season and only lost his place at the start of the season due to injury. It's Wenger's job to make the tough decisions that are best for the team and maybe he needs to consider giving his captain some bench time.

Arsenal controlled possession and dominated the game against Spurs without ever really looking like opening their opponents up. Spurs waited for Arsenal to make mistakes and took advantage of those mistakes when they inevitably happened. The big difference between the teams was the defensive discipline Spurs showed and which Arsenal could not maintain for the whole game.

It's very hard as an Arsenal fan to see the team struggle to create chances when you know there is more than £120 million in the bank waiting to be spent on players. A couple of years without Champions League football would put a large dent in those reserves and they have to be invested before it is too late. A top four finish is not a lost cause yet, but it's going to be a very difficult task now.

Arsenal have really lost their way in front of goal in recent weeks too and it's come at a very bad time for the team. I like Olivier Giroud but he would have been far better off as an understudy to a too class striker in his first season in English football. Inexplicably the club have allowed a situation to develop whereby he is the only striker available to the manager and it's really harming the teams chances at the moment.

It's hard to understand how this situation has been allowed to develop and it strikes me as extremely negligent. I don't think the club even considered trying to sign another striker in the January transfer window. Did the boss really think the striking options available to him were good enough to finish in the top four as well as try to compete in the Champions League and FA Cup.

I know he has faith in his players but that faith is increasingly becoming blind faith. There is no longer a player at the club with the ability to go out and win games all on his own and Arsenal is becoming a collective of above average players. If they're going to compete at the top again they need to find players who are better than the ones they currently have.

That can't be done until the summer though and for now the players at the club have to find it within themselves to play better than they have done for almost all if this season. There's a break of over a week before the next game and the boss has to use that time to somehow get these players to up their performance level. There are 10 league games left this season and Arsenal are probably going to have to win at least eight of them to finish in the top four.

For a team that had over 60% of possession against Spurs there was very little created in terms of real chances. Far too often Arsenal pick the ultra safe pass just to retain possession and don't look to put actual pressure on the opposing defence. They need to make better use of the possession they have and learn to hurt teams when the opportunity arises.

Despite the loss to Spurs I still haven't given up all hope of a top four finish yet. Maybe I'm the one with blind faith, but I still think this team can come good and win enough games to overtake either Chelsea or Spurs. I won't give up hope until it's mathematically impossible and that's still a long way off yet.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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