Sunday, 18 April 2010

Eleven conclusions from Wigan-Arsenal

Wigan 3 Arsenal 2

1) It was, for all we can get angry about the defeat, a freak result. The last time Arsenal led 2-0 in the Premiership and lost was November 1998, against Aston Villa. I remember that day: it put me in a foul mood for my seventh birthday party. These things happen: the reality is, its better it happened today than a few weeks ago. The title was already lost before we started playing today. Chelsea still - even after losing to Spurs - needed to drop four more points from their remaining three matches. It was a slim possibility and losing to Wigan - in terms of the result itself - should have no long-term impact on the club.

2) But it was only a freak result in terms of it ending up as a defeat. Arsenal were 2-0 up at Upton Park and drew. Arshavin scored the goal at Old Trafford and despite completely outplaying the opposition, this team conspired to lose the game. The short of it, is that this team cannot hold a lead for very long. And the reason for that, is sheer defensive ineptitude. Okay, on Wednesday there was nothing wrong with Almunia punching. But there is still a bottom line: Arsenal have two goalkeepers who cannot claim crosses.

3) It has been noted that Arsenal perhaps pick up more injuries because they end up having to play for the full 90 minutes as they cannot close out victory. Well surely that's preferable to trying to shut the game down and conceding three soft, soft, goals.

4) More pertinently though, scoring late is the only way for this team: if they score really late, it makes it much harder for the opposition to get level. It probably isn't a conscious tactic, but scoring late is a good idea if you have an inability to hold a lead. With retrospect, Samir Nasri's goal at Birmingham - scored in the 81st minute, remember - was still too early for this team. And that says it all.

5) Defensively, this club is a shambles. Forgetting the preposterous Johan Djourou injury situation, Wenger brought in Sol Campbell in January. But he loaned Philippe Senderos out! So sure, Campbell is a good player; but at 35 he cannot play every game and yet became third choice centre back. Now, Gallas and Vermaelen are both knacked, Campbell and 32 year old Mikael Silvestre are expected to play four games together. Aside from questioning what happens if one of them gets injured, its an indictment on the manager. It was an act of sheer folly not to address the defensive situation properly in January. Perhaps a World-Class player wasn't available; but someone better than Silvestre probably was. The goals we conceded were soft, but Silvestre is lacking match fitness having barely played all season; Campbell was probably tired having played three hours football in four and a half days. If there were some fresh legs, Charles N'Zogbia would have been closed down. And that's your bottom line. Yes, this club needs experience: but its about mixing youth with experience, not two extremes.

6) Theo Walcott confirmed today he was useless. At least if you start him. He was given the opportunity to run at a defence which sat off Arsenal and consistently made the wrong decisions. Fine, he isn't useless but his decision-making is poor. I genuinely believe it is a coincidence that we lost the game after he went off. Four and a half years he's been at Arsenal and sure, he's shown flashes of brilliance; but if you give a monkey a typewriter it was produce Shakespeare occasionally. He's good off the bench; but considering how injury-prone he is, is it reasonable to have a player on 80k a week to play ten brilliant cameo roles a season? No. We need to see more from him. And pronto.

7) The point about Abou Diaby being a flat-track bully rings ever truer. He was quite good today. But so what? In the big matches, he is consistently found wanting. A couple of years ago, everyone said Arsenal needed to do better against the smaller teams: but that's because they could already beat the big teams, at least sometimes. Its a regression to consistently beat teams like Hull but consistently lose to United and Chelsea. Because they could already beat teams like Hull.

Diaby shouldn't necessarily be sold, but he needs to harness his strength and not get over-awed by the occasion. The bottom line, is his season will be remembered for one thing: that calamitous own goal at Old Trafford.

8) Bacary Sagna looks like he's lost all his confidence. The current run of form has been wretched, but it's at times like these where a manager paid 6 million pounds a year should be inspiring his players and imbuing them with confidence. And I don't believe he's doing this at the moment.

9) Wenger still cannot make substitutions. When Arsenal need a goal - as we have down in practically every game since the turn of the year - he throws extra strikers on and sometimes it works, but it is still not technically correct: he doesn't try and change the game; he just hopes that another striker will fashion a chance from somewhere.

But it is when Arsenal are ahead that his naivety is telling. Why bring Merida on when you have Robin Van Persie who really wants to play and Merida is on his way in the summer, despite the protestations to the contrary of this blog. His substitutions cost Arsenal the match: the tired players were the aging defenders and they were left on to concede three goals.

Victor Moses came on in the 62nd minute and immediately threatened the Arsenal defence. Yet it wasn't until the 81st minute, when Wigan scored, that Wenger tried to protect what he had, by bringing on Eboué and Merida. Once again, all he did was watch the match and not think like a tactician. I don't want to bang on about this, but he is reactive not proactive.

10) Wigan do not deserve to stay up. Their fans - in their half-empty stadium - did not make any noise until they got a lucky winning goal. Their support is a joke.

11) This does not mean that Wenger should go. Merely, that he needs to get rid of some of the dead wood and try and rebuild. Once again, we have come close and this team is only a few players away from winning trophies. But previously, he has refused to buy anyone. Of course the club is run on a budget because of the new stadium, but if the fans don't come then the debt won't be paid off.

Arsenal need something to inspire their fans with. Surely, a couple of clever signings could do that. They don't have to break the bank; they merely need to fix the team.

Keep the faith,

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