Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Arsenal Snatch A Draw From The Arms Of Victory

After the weekend humiliation away to Chelsea it was back to league action for Arsenal last night with a game against struggling Swansea. A reaction to that awful 6-0 defeat was needed and three points were an absolute must to keep Arsenal safely in fourth place ahead of Spurs and Everton. The fans wanted to see a reaction from the players at home to a team who have only taken eight points in the league since the turn of the year.

What they were treated to instead was a team who played within themselves and were nervous and anxious from first to last minute. Whatever the manager said to them to try to turn things around clearly didn't work as they again struggled in defence and found it very hard to penetrate the opposition. The corner which we all thought had been turned after the win away to Munich last year is now a distant memory as the players bottled it in true Arsenal style again.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the team which lost to Chelsea with Thomas Vermaelen coming in for the injured Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Flamini coming in for Lukas Podolski. The midfield axis of Flamini and Mikel Arteta which should have been deployed away to Chelsea was instead deployed at home to struggling Swansea. I can understand why the boss chose them both after what happened at the weekend, but surely Arsenal needed a more attack minded line up at home.

Arsenal dominated early on but in a throwback to recent seasons the opposition scored with their first attempt on goal. After just over 10 minutes Neil Taylor ambled into the Arsenal half with the ball and picked out a cross from 35 yards out with no pressure on him whatsoever. The cross was met perfectly by Wilfried Bony who beat Vermaelen to the ball and headed past the helpless Wojciech Szczesny. 

If things were going to be difficult for Arsenal they got a whole lot harder with that goal and the reaction was muted at best. Half time came and went with a few speculative efforts but Arsenal never really looked like scoring. With just an hour gone Podolski came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and his presence was exactly what Arsenal needed to get back into the game.

With slightly less than 20 minutes to go Arsenal got the breakthrough they needed after some great work from Kieran Gibbs. He burst past Angel Rangel and cut the ball back across the goal from the end line for Podolski to prod home from close range. It was just the lift the team needed and things got even better within a minute.

Arsenal won possession from the Swansea kick off and Podolski went forward on the left. His ball into the middle was so good that even Olivier Giroud couldn't miss it and he stabbed home from close range. The game had turned on it's head in a minute and Arsenal were now 2-1 ahead and looked like they were on the road to recovery.

To Swansea's credit they didn't sit back and accept the situation and they came straight at Arsenal right away. They didn't make too many chances but Michu did have a decent chance with a header and Arsenal dropped further back with each minute as they looked increasingly worried. They were hanging on for dear life but it looked like they might just survive as the minutes ticked by.

With normal time just over disaster struck though when Swansea were awarded a dubious free kick and won the second ball. Leon Britton was played in behind the Arsenal defence but Per Mertesacker got a challenge in just as he closed in on Szczesny. Unfortunately for Arsenal Mertesacker's touch rebounded off Szczesny and then Flamini before trickling into the back of the net. 

Afterwards Arsene Wenger said it was a good performance from the team but he must have been watching a different game from the one I was watching. Arsenal were nervous in possession, slow and predictable in the build up and looked very shaky in defence. In a game where they had to win they played well for a couple of minutes when they scored the two goals, but they were completely unconvincing otherwise.

The effects of the Chelsea game were there for all to see and they're going to take a long time to go away. They weren't helped by the injuries to very important players and those injuries have taken their toll in my opinion. In their last nine league games they have won three, drawn three and lost three while City, Chelsea and Liverpool have being racking up the points.

Those three teams are now going up against each other for the title while Arsenal suddenly find themselves in a desperate fight to hold on to fourth place with Everton closing quickly on them. Everton are six points behind Arsenal with a game in hand and Arsenal's next two games are at home to City and away to Everton. Only a few weeks ago Arsenal had a huge goal difference advantage over Everton, but that has been almost completely wiped out thanks to the big defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea. 

If Arsenal don't take something out of at least one of those games against City and Everton they will find themselves fifth in the league. I just can't see how the team can recover from the Chelsea blow in time for the City game this Saturday and right now it's a game I'm dreading. City are in fine form at the moment and looked very good in winning 3-0 away to United last night.

On a positive note there's still an FA Cup semi final against Wigan to come and hopefully it will be followed by a final against either Hull or Sheffield United. A trophy wouldn't be such a bad return for this season as long as it is accompanied by fourth place, but only a few weeks ago the league tilt was a very real possibility. The players who are available have proved not to be up to the task in the league, but hopefully they will be up to it in the cup if they can be supplemented by some of those injured players returning.

It's not an easy time to be an Arsenal fan at the moment but that's part and parcel of supporting any club. There's always ups and downs and Arsenal are going through a down at the moment with the light at the end of the tunnel difficult to see. They will always have my support though no matter what players take the field or who is in charge of the team.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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