Monday, 15 February 2010

At least we won. Liverpool match report.

Because of our FA Cup defeat to Stoke, this has been a football-free weekend for Arsenal. So I thought I'd take my time to consider my thoughts about the Liverpool match, rather than rush into writing something whilst still in the euphoria of victory. To cut this rather long and bloated preamble a little bit shorter, I simply don't agree with a lot of what I've read in the blogosphere and in the papers: this was not a performance based on old-style footballing values. It was merely that Liverpool are not as good a side as Man United or Chelsea.

Alright, there are some mitigating arguments: William Gallas was imperious in probably his best performance for the club and Almunia did put in a much-improved performance but to suggest that this means we're suddenly much more defensively sound is profoundly untrue.

Lets make no mistake: the reason we lost to Chelsea but beat Liverpool three days later, is because Liverpool are not as clinical: Drogba scores lots of goals; David N'Gog does not.

If Drogba had got into the box, in the position N'Gog was in, he would have buried it. I'd bet my left testicle on that outcome. If Drogba had been over the free-kick at the end, it would have been in the back of the net. This isn't supposed to be some kind of Drogba love-in, merely a reminder that without Torres, Liverpool will struggle to score goals against a fellow 'big side'.

What's more, the suggestion that having been beaten by Chelsea and United, Wenger and the team have decided to change the style of play is (and I cannot stress this enough) completely and utterly untrue: perhaps those two results were an indictment on the style of play on the team, but they have not pre-empted the team to change what they do.

Matt Hughes in The Times had this to say:
Arsenal scrapped their way to a hard-fought, if not downright ugly, win, which while not quite putting them back in title contention, gives them complete control in the race for third place. Given the torrid time they have endured over the past fortnight, a return of “1-0 to the Arsenal” will have done nicely.

It was scrappy, and it was hard-fought, but this idea being pedalled around that Arsenal have suddenly started playing ugly is preposterous. Sure, we lacked fluency: but that was because the players were unsure of themselves having been monumentally spanked in their two previous matches.

But basically, the evidence for this "ugly Arsenal" is coming from one thing and one thing only: that Tomas Rosicky put a good cross into the box and Abou Diaby powerfully headed home, in a goal which would more usually be scored by Didier Drogba or Wayne Rooney. To quote Joseph Conrad, "The horror! The horror!".

Seriously. You would have thought that Arsenal had radically changed their style of play. But that is completely and utterly disingenuous. With Bendtner and Diaby both together in the team for the first time since October (and hence we had some big men to cross to) it made much more sense to try and score a goal from a cross.

That doesn't make our play ugly. Alas, that does not mean it was a good performance either. One would hope that lessons had been learnt from the oft-mentioned defeats. But it didn't seem that way.

There were several times when it was left far too easy for Liverpool to counter. Ultimately, we won the game so in the context of this individual match it did not matter; but results went our way. The League could be a three horse race.

In spite of not signing anyone; in spite of losing four times out of four to United and Chelsea; in spite of playing without a striker for two months, this League is still winnable. But to make us genuine contenders, we need to make sure we can defend properly. And that still wasn't really there on Wednesday night, at least in my eyes.

It is fixable, but it will require work on the training ground. History suggests Arsene Wenger does not devote enough training time to defending. The one thing the papers were right about, is that this team - even if not its manager - is prepared to compromise its ideals to get a result. Will the manager follow suit and give us defensive solidity? One would hope that the allure of two pieces of silverware would let him give up on this attacking utopia.

Maybe then we'll win something. But the Liverpool match, whilst a turned corner, was not a milestone in terms of us playing differently; Arsenal can play their usual style against Porto and win. But the real acid test for this team is how they perform in the next few weeks in the Premier League. We'll just have to wait and see...

Keep the faith,

1 comment:

bang said...

no other team put a weakened team out in the FA cup, not spurs, not chelski, not villa, not anyone, absolute disgrace

every season is now exactly the same. JUST doing enough to scrape into a champions league place to keep the books balanced. since when did THE arsenal become like this

wins like this only 'paper over the cracks' (pretty sure you said something like this last season)

havn't won anything for a ridiculous number of years

manager too stubborn to admit he's fouled up, club desperately in need of a striker and he goes and signs sol. all he had to do was go and spend £10 million this transfer window and sort it out

as much as he will always be our greatest manager, wenger has to realise that arsenal is not his pet club/project