Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Fulham game embodied Arsenal's season perfectly. Match report

Arsenal 4 Fulham 0

It's a shame I have little money at the moment. Because although I do not believe in certainties, I was certain Arsenal would beat Fulham. And a bet on Arsenal to win could have increased my net worth by up to 25%. Net worth being one of those vacuous phrases used by teenagers to hide behind the fact they're skint.

Alas.

Arsenal beat Fulham because Roy Hodgson made eight changes in the hope he could win the Europa League. The advantage of writing this six days after the match is that I can point out these changes were not very useful as Agent Reyes helped Athletico Madrid win the Repechage. (The last three finals have all involved teams who were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage yet could still reach the final. The standard is not very high.)

But on a broader scale, Arsenal beat Fulham because that is what they have done this season. What I mean by this, is that it's very hard to pick out poor results against teams at the bottom of the League. Alright, we lost to Wigan and Blackburn but it was probably all over by then. In competitive games, it's hard to point out monumental slip-ups: sure we drew at Upton Park and lost to Sunderland but no team can have a season of brilliant results. Chelsea lost to Wigan: the League is about consistency, but no team can win every game.

The reality is, Arsenal didn't win the League this season because this squad was inferior to that of Chelsea's. I would postulate that United were fortunate to finish above us but the League tells a different tale.

But the difference between Arsenal and the teams who finished above them was Arsenal's abject failure in matches against those teams: 0 points, 2 goals scored, 10 goals conceded. Arsenal were never going to be champions.

Successful at beating the poor teams, but that's only two thirds of winning the League; its very hard to win the League without beating the opposition. A couple of years ago, Arsenal had a style of play that could beat United and Chelsea but struggled against Wigan and Bolton. For all my protestations to the contrary, they have learnt and adapted: the situation has been reversed. The question for the coaching staff, is can this squad now adapt to do both? With a new goalkeeper and a couple of other signings, my feeling is probably.

The other interesting thing about the Fulham game was how it went. Most notably, I refer to how it was Arsenal who scored the third goal. But it was very fortuitous - Baird happened to score an own goal which if this match had meant anything would have been described as 'dodgy'.

But without it, there would have been a hint - until the 85th minute - that Fulham could get back into the game. It's all about scoring the third goal of the game. The successes of Arsenal's season - the comebacks against Barca, Bolton, and Liege, as well as the comeback win at Anfield and the 12 second derby, were all so because Arsenal scored the third goal of the game. Where we failed to score it, we were either pegged back - like at Upton Park - or lost games like happened recently against Wigan and Blackburn. Abou Diaby's own goal at Old Trafford also springs to mind. This is, of course, obvious - being 3-0 up or down is a pretty surefire way of knowing how the match will end. But it also shows one obvious area where Arsenal can improve: defending leads.

Arsenal won't play a competitive match until mid-August. In that three month period, I intend to use this blog to discuss the season which had just gone (in the short-term) and look at new signings (hopefully!) and Arsenal's prospects for the future). It is now five years without a trophy. Sure, the 1960s were a worse period to be an Arsenal fan; but right now, Arsenal must look at what has gone wrong and what must change. The MD says this will happen. So I urge you, I implore you to..

Keep the faith,
Adam

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