Arsenal's ability to self destruct in big games has been a major flaw for many seasons now, but they have taken that to a new level this season. The 17 goals they have conceded away to the three other teams they were challenging for the title with are inexplicable and they show a flaw right through the heart and mentality of the team and management. Viewed alone each game can be considered a one off or a bad day, but taken together they are symptoms of serious problems at the club.
We can of course point to the players missing on Saturday, but none of the injured players are defensive stalwarts of the team. Sure those players might have kept the ball better or might not have been caught in possession so easily but some of those players played in the games against City and Liverpool. The only conclusion to draw is that Arsenal just got everything wrong again including their tactics, formation and mental attitude to the game.
Thankfully the media lockdown at the club has meant we haven't had to listen to a series of apologies from players and statements of intent for the next game. The only place the players can do their talking is on the pitch and they get a chance to do so right away against Swansea. It's a game they quite simply have to win by any means possible or they risk seeing the rest of the season implode.
I have no doubt there has been soul searching and harsh words spoken between the players and the manager and I don't imagine they will have found any answers overnight. Hopefully they will have at least decided that they have be able to change their game plan if things aren't going the way they had planned. The insistence on playing the same way from first minute to last against City, Liverpool and Chelsea proved to be a disaster on each occasion but nobody did anything about it.
The good news is that Kieran Gibbs has had his red card rescinded and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain won his appeal after the red card was transferred to him. The whole scenario of the red card was ridiculous and the fact Chamberlain is free to play shows there should never have been a red card in the first place. I don't think the game would have gone any differently if Arsenal kept 11 men on the pitch as they were already three goals behind, but it does again show the need for video technology.
Speaking of video technology I would love to know who made the call to give Chelsea the penalty and send Gibbs off. The referee certainly didn't make the call and I don't think his assistant did either which surely means the fourth official had to make the call from video evidence. I was of the opinion video evidence was out of bounds but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was used. Wasn't Zinadine Zidane sent off in a World Cup final on the video evidence of a fourth official at a time when there was no precedent for it. I doubt if we will ever know the truth of the matter and it clearly should have been a penalty, but if the referee and his assistant missed it then under the current rules surely that's the end of that. Chelsea might have felt cheated at the time but far worse incidents go unpunished on a weekly basis and there is no hint of fourth officials snatching a sneaky look at video evidence to decide them.
I have been a long time admirer of Arsene Wenger but it increasingly looks like he might not be the man to turn things around for Arsenal. If he can't get the response he needs from his players from now to the end of the season then maybe it's time he did go in search of a fresh challenge. I would of course be sad to see him go but I want what's best for my club and if it's best for him to leave then so be it. I will look back fondly on his time at the club and how he has helped to build us into what we are now, but huge cracks are there for all to see and they have to be fixed by somebody.
I can't see there being too many changes to the team for the game against Swansea with the current spat of injuries and lack of options. Laurent Koscielny will miss out through the injury which saw substituted at half time on Saturday and Thomas Vermaelen will surely come in for him. I think the rest of the defence will stay the same as the boss gives those who played so badly a chance to prove how good they can be.
In midfield I think Mathieu Flamini has to play and probably alongside Mikel Arteta to form some sort of a defensive axis in front of the back four. The other midfielder will probably be Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla and I doubt if Kim Kallstrom will come into the starting line up. His signing in the transfer window, while injured, still puzzles me to this day.
Up front Olivier Giroud's lack of pace and inability to put away good chances at crucial times should really see him dropped, but the alternatives are young and untried. He's still by far the most experienced and best goal scorer in the team and that says an awful lot about the club's transfer market failings last summer. The team needs some genuine pace in attacking positions and for that reason I would like to see Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry in the wide roles.
Chamberlain is still very raw and was cruelly exposed by Chelsea in a central role at the weekend. He was badly caught out twice in the FA Cup game by Everton too but managed to chase back and atone for his mistakes against a less clinical Everton team. Maybe his long term position is in a central midfield role but it's asking an awful for him to learn that role in such important games. His confidence might well have been damaged by events on Saturday and I hope he can show the strength to bounce right back if he plays.
Swansea are a good team but they're on a very poor run at the moment and sliding dangerously close to the relegation zone. They have only taken two points in their last five games and have only won two of their last 16 league games to leave them four points above the bottom three with eight games to play. They have lost nine of their 15 away games and are coming up against an Arsenal team with the best defensive record at home in the league. In 14 home games Arsenal have only conceded seven goals and three of them were in their only home defeat on the opening day against Villa.
Arsenal's defence have actually conceded half of their 34 goals in the three away games against City, Liverpool and Chelsea. It's an incredible statistic to think half of all of the goals they have conceded came in those three defeats. The Arsenal defence has been very good so often this season, but when they have got it wrong they have really got it wrong.
I can't see Arsenal going all out and throwing the kitchen sink at Swansea and I think they will more than likely adopt a cautious approach. Swansea showed they can play well against Everton on Saturday but they give up chances to the opposition and Arsenal need to take those chances when they come along. I have no doubt they are more than capable of winning and I hope the players believe so too.
With City coming up on Saturday three points against Swansea are an absolute must and then we can worry about what might happen against City. I know it's a home game but it still worries me what could happen to Arsenal and I would gladly take a 0-0 draw right now. A top four finish is vitally important and no more encouragement can be given to the teams looking to close in on Arsenal.
I'm not saying a win against Swansea will put the hurt of Chelsea to bed, but at least it will be the first step in helping the team and fans to move on. It's a long road to recovery but the prospect of anything other than a victory is one not worth thinking about. Let's hope the players can find it within themselves to put in a performance to take the three points.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.