As we moved into the New Year I looked at the fixtures that I believed might have the biggest influence on the title race. Arsenal vs Aston Villa was one of the ones I picked out. I was worried that their organisation, hard work and pace on the counter might cause us problems. That is exactly what happened yesterday afternoon. Wenger is right that scoring in the last minute could be a confidence boost but I do feel the advantage has swung Man Utd’s way.
The performance yesterday was on par with those we produced at ‘Boro, Newcastle and Pompey. We lacked creativity and potency. The problem seems to be that we are not playing at the same pace we showed at the start of the season. We are slowing the play down far too much and this enables the opposition to form a solid barrier. The reason we had so much success at the start of the season was that we went at teams with pace from the start, moved defenders around and were clinical in front of goal.
There is no doubt that we are missing three crucial players in the set up that provided this type of play. Kolo Toure often brought the ball out from the back and drew players too him, thus creating space for midfield runners. Tomas Rosicky gives the team that spark, that drive that we are missing. He looks to get the ball and make things happen. Robin Van Persie had that aura about him, that feel that he could score at any moment. I am positive that some of the chances we created against Milan, Birmingham and Villa would have been taken by Robin.
We are currently struglling due to this injury crisis. It begs the question as to whether Wenger should have bought in January. The money was available to him but he decided to keep his money in his pocket, with Luke Freeman the exception. Lets look at the two sides of the story:
Yes Wenger should have entered the transfer market:
Right now we lack creativity in midfield and more importantly we have no one who can score from these positions. We were relying on Eduardo and Adebayor for goals and this was not enough. With Rosicky, Diaby, Denilson, Song and RVP also out Wenger was relying on Eboue (0 goals), Hleb (4 goals), Theo (3 goals prior to Birmingham), Flamini (3 goals) and Fabregas (11 goals).
Fabregas has only scored once since November 3rd so therefore our midfield was lacking goals going into 2008. Rosicky only had 7 goals also; it was clear we could have done with a goalscoring midfielder. We also had two strikers scoring goals, but Bendtner has rarely scored when he has played. With Van Persie out we were one injury away from becoming blunt up front. Lo and behold, the horrific injury to Eduardo, and we are in the shit.
No, Wenger shouldn’t have entered the transfer market:
If Wenger had bought in the window, our squad would have been too big once players return. Buying another midfielder would leave us the same problem we had with Lassana Diarra. Had we brought in another striker, we would have 6 and surely one would have to go. This squad is developing how Wenger wants and he would have to make certain changes that he maybe would not want to make.
Wenger cannot foresee the future and who would have expected Eduardo to have his leg broken in a horrific challenge? A manager cannot simply buy players because we MIGHT get injuries. Granted, we had players out already but they are to come back and Wenger knows the problems having a huge squad can cause.
As Wenger said in his programme notes, "We have built a squad that has been thought through and Carlos Vela is part of that. We will assess the situation during the summer." The squad we have is part of a plan in Wenger’s mind and I do feel this squad is ahead of schedule, to be where we are now is fantastic and as Wenger said, the changes we need will be made in the summer, these players need a chance first.
Answer: I feel he could not buy unless he wanted to sell a few more players (that is a whole different debate)
Credit to Manuel Almunia for his performance yesterday. He was the main reason we were not dead and buried before Bendtner popped up. He made a string of quality saves to keep the score at 1-0. He has been put under pressure by Lehmann recently but once again has proved to be very solid.
Philippe Senderos has played well up to the Villa game but yesterday he had a bit of a shocker really. In the first half he had a major influence on the game; it was not a good influence for Arsenal. First of all he fluffed his lines with Carson on the floor at a corner and then scored a ridiculous own goal. It was clear Agbonlahor was going to cross the ball to Carew yet Senderos never got set, lost his footing and managed to divert it into the net. Senderos also tried to emulate Toure’s driving runs forward but got in a muddle most of the time. Senderos is all about aerial power but his lack of ability on the ground was shown up yesterday.
Alongside him I thought Gallas had good moments and bad moments, I guess that sums up the whole of the back four yesterday. Gallas was often caught sleeping as both Agbonlahor and later Harewood got through on goal. Clichy and Sagna were kept busy by Young and Maloney and our attacking threat from full back was stifled.
In midfield it was a shambles really. Flamini did not put in the tackles where he gets the ball and within seconds provides a springboard for attacks. Cesc Fabregas seemed to give the ball away so much when in good positions. He really does look jaded and in need of a rest but do we have the midfielders to cope with his absence, I doubt it.
Alex Hleb disappointed me the most in this game. He gave the ball away almost every time he had it and did not show the usual skill he does. Whenever he got past someone he always wanted to turn back and slow the game down. Hleb is at his best when he runs at people and causes them problems with his quick feet. Yesterday this was all missing. His shooting was also very poor but at least he had some attempts on goal.
Is it me or does Abou Diaby looks like he is on sedatives whenever he plays? The guy seems so lethargic and this is emphasised by the slowness with which he releases the ball to his team mates. He lacks the energy that encouraged Arsenal fans when he first arrived. I cannot help but think his drive would come back if he was moved into the centre. He is not the type of player suited to the left despite the agility he has shown on occasions. He is certainly one player whose future should be looked at in the summer in my eyes.
Up front Adebayor needs to find his Mojo once again. When he is not scoring Arsenal look lifeless up front and we will need him against Milan. The problem is that he is off form. He was kept out of the game against Villa and seems less willing to work an opening. Things are not falling for him but the players must hit him early. On many occasions he peeled away but the pass did not come as we continued to move it from side to side.
One bright light from the game was Theo Walcott. From the 1st minute he looked lively and often looked to come short. He always wanted to link up with Adebayor and was unlucky not to get a goal. He tested Carson a few times and created our only real chances. He finally used his pace to good effect rather than simply running around like a loose cannon. He looked more comfortable up front than on the wing but he could be a useful weapon on Tuesday. We must not get carried away though. His performance was not brilliant but the will for him to succeed often makes us overreact to good performances and over-criticise bad ones.